Thursday, November 30, 2006

More Death

It's hard not to be gripped by the American Way of Death - the embalmed and exposed cadavers, the vast 'memorial parks', the baroque euphemisms, the whole Loved One palaver. And there is something consoling about the fact that this culture has spread to the internet in the form of online memorial web sites. Here is an example, complete with music. Unlike most Brits - including, of course, Evelyn Waugh and Jessica Mitford - I don't sneer at all this as evidence of Yank vulgarity and commercialism. In fact, I think the American attachment to elaborate rites is preferable to our detachment. A very great book indeed - Philippe Aries' The Hour of Our Death - explains why far better than I can. But, in a nutshell, secular society, deprived of the rites of death, resorts to the lonely technological death, free of all consolation. The Americans have their rites, we have our tongue-tied, embarrassed friends and relatives, waiting in quiet desperation for the earliest decent moment to leave. Anyway, while I am on the subject, it seems death is a problem for bloggers and other online hoodlums. They take their passwords to their grave. Their virtual identities, their work, their lives are locked in the immaterial vault of the web. Like ghosts, in fact, or souls in limbo. We need a web Dante to visit them. Oh and Harvard says bacon sandwiches can kill you. Have a good one and, hey, let's be careful out there.

5 comments:

  1. And, yikes, Nige draws my attention to petloss.com, a pet loss grief support website. I'm having second thoughts about these American rites.

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  2. Virtual candles I suppose are no different to wind-powered tibetan prayer wheels...

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  3. Jesus wept! I might as well throw in the towel now. I eat the fags, don't play any sport (don't even watch it anymore) and as for my diet, well, if it doesn't move I'll gobble it. To me the bacon sandwich was health food. I had better not read any biographies of Mao, I might end up admiring him. And that would be the final nail in my coffin.

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  4. You have all been kind enough not to point out that I just started two posts with, 'It's hard...' Sorry, won't happen again, but it really IS hard.

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  5. Speaking of death, I was in London some years ago when the German anatomist (Gunter H.? Gerhard Hagens? I cannot remember this guy's name) with the "Body Worlds" show -- actual cadavers, plasticized in a variety of athletic (and occasionally comic) poses -- was going to perform a public autopsy to augment his show. I seem to recollect London officials absolutely freaking out, summoning up references to the Anatomy Act (which dated back to Burke & Hare days), & otherwise going on and on about desecration of corpses, public spectacle, etc.

    In fact, we left London and went off to Devon, so I don't remember what happened with that public anatomy, though I later saw "Body Worlds" here in Phila. It was quite strange: The German anatomist had done things like put a cigarette between the phalanges of a guy who died of lung cancer, and a bowler hat jauntily adorned another corpse. One could not help but find it less a scientific study than a black comedy routine. That "danse macabre" all over again....

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