Dying in Full Detail

Mortality and Digital Documentary

Book Pages: 264 Illustrations: 21 illustrations Published: March 2017

Cultural Studies, Media Studies > Digital Media, Film

In Dying in Full Detail Jennifer Malkowski explores digital media's impact on one of documentary film's greatest taboos: the recording of death. Despite technological advances that allow for the easy creation and distribution of death footage, digital media often fail to live up to their promise to reveal the world in greater fidelity. Malkowski analyzes a wide range of death footage, from feature films about the terminally ill (Dying, Silverlake Life, Sick), to surreptitiously recorded suicides (The Bridge), to #BlackLivesMatter YouTube videos and their precursors. Contextualizing these recordings in the long history of attempts to capture the moment of death in American culture, Malkowski shows how digital media are unable to deliver death "in full detail," as its metaphysical truth remains beyond representation. Digital technology's capacity to record death does, however, provide the opportunity to politicize individual deaths through their representation. Exploring the relationships among technology, temporality, and the ethical and aesthetic debates about capturing death on video, Malkowski illuminates the key roles documentary death has played in twenty-first-century visual culture.


"Well written, with a good message on the tabooed topic, this book is a good dare-to reading for everyone being arrested or rejected by everyday mediated images of death." — Ana Peraica, Leonardo Reviews

"By intervening as she does, Malkowski not only provides readers with insight into the long-standing visual pursuits of documentary with regard to death, but also with important methodological concerns that are applicable to a number of other contexts. As digital platforms continue to evolve and provoke new apprehensions, one’s understanding of such phenomena as murders streamed over Facebook Live will be vastly enriched by the work that Dying in Full Detail so adroitly performs." — Kelsey Cummings, Film Quarterly

"Of the many strengths of Dying in Full Detail, perhaps the greatest is Malkowski’s compassion and care in handling such extremely personal and sensitive material. . . . Her work is culturally sensitive and critically engaging, as well as clearly written and academically thorough." — Stephanie Salerno, Journal of Popular Culture

"I really value Malkowski’s willingness to unflinchingly critique the intersection of death and media and question if and how these various media might better serve political activism against injustice. . . . Her book emphasizes the irony that while some might fetishize death through spectacle and digital recordings, recorded death can also function as visual and ethical rhetoric against repressive regimes and hegemonic forces. I think this is her most significant contribution and reason to read this important book." — Candi K. Cann, Journal of Death and Dying

"Dying in Full Detail is a topical and indispensable text." — Panagiotis Pentaris, Mortality Journal

"As more people have the digital tools at their disposal to produce and disseminate images of death, whether as a conscious choice or due to circumstance, Malkowski’s careful unpacking of the ethics and limitations of the various gazes that organize these images will continue to be recommended reading." — Emily West, International Journal of Communication

"In our current media moment, where to record and distribute images of anything—including death—is becoming increasingly mundane, Jennifer Malkowski carefully draws out the complex and changing relations between aesthetics and ethics, and as importantly, aesthetics and action. Exploring what the digital reveals about death and how death reveals the digital, Malkowski makes an exciting contribution to film and documentary studies." — Alexandra Juhasz, coeditor of A Companion to Contemporary Documentary Film

"Jennifer Malkowski's innovative and engaging book covers a crucial and yet still understudied topic in film and documentary studies, showing how death complicates the usual approaches to the study of digital video. Bringing together a number of productive contradictions and intersections around death, time, and movement, Malkowski plumbs and develops the history of documenting death in American culture, making this book valuable to students and scholars across a range of disciplines." — Leshu Torchin, author of Creating the Witness: Documenting Genocide on Film, Video, and the Internet


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Price: $26.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jennifer Malkowski is Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies at Smith College.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction  1
1. Capturing the "Moment": Photography, Film, and Death's Elusive Duration  23
2. The Art of Dying, On Video: Deathbed Documentaries  67
3. " A Negative Pleasure": Suicide's Digital Sublimity  109
4. Streaming Death: The Politics of Dying on YouTube  155
Conclusion. The Nearest Cameras Can Go  201
Notes  207
Bibliography  231
Index  241
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6315-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6300-2