A semiotics of fear: death, play, and the black humor

Publication type Article
Status Published
Occupation: Professor
Affiliation: Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University
Address: 14 A. Nevskogo Str., Kaliningrad 236016, Russian Federation
Journal nameChelovek
EditionVolume 30 Issue №1

An attempt is made to look at the problem of fear in general and the fear of death in particular through a prism of semiotic and linguistic analysis. The author shows that the concept of fear is a rather vague conceptual area. At the lexical level, the vagueness is reflected in the presence of a number of words with marked semantics. Different types of fear denoted by different lexemes, differ in terms of strength and intensity. But only the extreme mode of fear that changes the mind of the person, can become a method of acquiring some kind of knowledge by the person. In Russian this mode is denoted by the word ‘horror’. It is the death that is the key subject matter of fear. Certain aspects of human understanding of the death can be reconstructed on the basis of three semiotic codes — language, symbolic images, and rituals. In particular, the etymology of death words in different Indo-European languages and the images on the basis of which it was presented in traditional cultures and the rituals accompanying it are presented. Black humor is seen as one of the verbal rituals to cope with the fear of death. It is shown that the basis of black humor is a play element, and any display of black humor actually constitutes a special ritual act, which a person carries out within the framework of figurative, kinetic or verbal codes. In this act on a playing basis, a person touches the symbolic ‘eidolons’ of the death. Playing with its artificial models — images of deadly situations or their verbal descriptions — one comes to the conclusion that one is conquering death. The usual joy of the playing is transformed into the joy of victory over the fatal force. Thus, the victory is won not by laughter, as one might suppose from the very nature of all humor, including black, but by the play.

Keywordsplay, ritual, symbol, death, laughter, existential fear, black humor, language
Publication date29.03.2019
Number of characters38604
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