Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Into the face of death: 9/11, the destabilization of America's creation myth, and theories of death denial
by Donovan, Thomas Patrick, Ph.D., Pacifica Graduate Institute, 2010, 245; 3475546
Abstract (Summary)

"The idea of death, the fear of it," writes Ernest Becker in his Pulitzer Prize-winning, The Denial of Death, "haunts the human animal like nothing else." This theoretical, text-based hermeneutic dissertation seeks to problematize the events of September 11, 2001, as a moment when death anxiety was made salient across America.

Focusing on the works of Otto Rank and Ernest Becker, this dissertation sets forth to research whether the events of 9/11 touched the American population with a sense of socio-cultural vulnerability. A crucial aspect of this research is determining whether America's creation myth was shaken as a result of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon being undermined as symbols of enduring meaning and safety.

This dissertation seeks to hermeneutically explore if there is anything in America's Founding Myths/American Dream that is constructed on, and sustained by, the human propensity to deny death. On this basis, the research question orienting this dissertation is woven from three strands.

The first is, can we find evidence within America's founding mythos that implicates it as a talisman created to ward off mortality?

Second, if it can be shown that America is determined to defend against death anxiety by projecting fear of mortality, how has that manifested in terms of its impact upon its citizenry, the people of the world, and the global environment, as provoked by the events of 9/11?

Third, if the American way of life is threatened as a hedge against mortality by 9/11, how might depth psychology respond to the questions posed within a culture challenged to examine death anxiety and death denial; specifically: can depth psychology respond in a way as to imagine a new mythos that assists in creating a less destructive and more meaningful relationship with immanent death?

This dissertation concludes that the traumatic events of 9/11, especially when seen as stimulating psychic dissonance with regard to socio-cultural myths designed to assuage anxiety regarding mortality, holds important social, political, and psychological implications for depth psychology.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Selig, Jennifer Leigh, Perluss, Elizabeth
Commitee:
School: Pacifica Graduate Institute
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-B 72/11, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: American studies, Social psychology, Psychology
Keywords: 9/11, America's myth, Creation myth, Death denial, September 11, 2001
Publication Number: 3475546
ISBN: 978-1-124-88441-7
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