|About the Book|
Memento mori is a broad and understudied cultural phenomenon and experience. The term memento mori is a Latin injunction that means remember mortality, or more directly, remember that you most die. This terminology is applied both toMoreMemento mori is a broad and understudied cultural phenomenon and experience. The term memento mori is a Latin injunction that means remember mortality, or more directly, remember that you most die. This terminology is applied both to items---including artifacts, images, texts, performances---and to experiences that bring a renewed consciousness of human mortality. In cultural history, memento mori appears widely, especially in medieval folk culture and in the well-known Dutch still life vanitas paintings of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Yet memento mori extends well beyond these points in history. In contemporary culture, I suggest a prominent form of memento mori is the medium and genre of documentary film. Documentary film may best be understood as offering a composed transformative experience in which the viewer is offered an opportunity to renew her or his consciousness of mortality---and, perhaps, renew his or her action in life.-In this dissertation, I introduce and provide context for the phenomenon of memento mori, its features, and its functions, with special attention to how it is referenced by documentary film. Employing a method informed by contemporary rhetorical and communication studies, I build upon the work of Kenneth Burke, Bernard Lonergan, and Michael Calvin McGee to establish memento mori as a cultural ideograph. Ultimately, I suggest memento mori is a composed transformative experience, which operates on intellectual, ethical, and affective levels.-Having established memento mori as consciousness of mortality, as a cultural convention, and as composed transformative experience, I argue, with the help of film theorists Laura Mulvey, Bill Nichols, and Vivian Sobchack, that documentary film is an especially apt form of contemporary memento mori and is ultimately transformative, not simply informative. Specific levels of analysis are outlined by which memento mori may be identified in particular documentary films, and three films are discussed. The three films are Charles and Ray Eamess Powers of Ten (1968/1977), Wim Wenderss Notebook on Cities and Clothes (1989), and Derek Jarmans Blue.