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Thanatopolitics and Fugitive Mourning in Pandemic Death

Hugo Canham


COVID-19 has reminded us that death is not only inevitable but also, for those who are constructed as death bound, imminent and immanent. In this paper, I contend that this season of mass death has led to an intensified thanatopolitics where the state has sought to take over full control of corpses and the death world. This has major implications for how we order and relate to the African death world. Mourning and funeral rites are important sites of sociality for the processing of loss, ritual cleansing and renewal. The COVID-19 pandemic and the dramatic rise in deaths associated with it mean that mourning, rites, sociality and potential renewal are fundamentally disrupted. This disruption occurs because rituals and customs associated with how Africans honour and bury the dead have to change as a result of health protocols and government regulations that are promulgated against contagion. However, through media reports on those killed by COVID-19, I demonstrate that thanatopolitics remains fragile in the face of the erotics of mourning and fugitive mourning that families and communities engage in. This paper is an effort to engage with the subject of pandemic death and the meaning of what we lose when ritual and relation are threatened. It presents the erotics of mourning and fugitive mourning as forms of resistance that the black underclasses are always insurgently engaged in.

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eISSN: 1728-774X