Assenting to life even in death is a challenge to death, in emotional eroticism as well as physical, a challenge to death through indifference to death. Life is a door into existence: life may be doomed but the continuity of existence is not. The nearness of this continuity and its heady quality are more powerful than the thought of death. To begin with, the first turbulent surge of erotic feeling overwhelms all else, so that gloomy considerations of the fate in store for our discontinuous selves are forgotten.

And then, beyond the intoxication of youth, we achieve the power to look death in the face and to perceive in death the pathway into unknowable and incomprehensible continuity — that path is the secret of eroticism and eroticism alone can reveal it. If this train of thought has been closely followed the significance of the sentence already quoted will be abundantly clear in the light of the oneness of the various modes of eroticism: “There is no better way to know death than to link it with some licentious image.”

What I have been saying enables us to grasp in those words the unity of the domain of eroticism open to us through a conscious refusal to limit ourselves within our individual personalities. Eroticism opens the way to death. Death opens the way to the denial of our individual lives. Without doing violence to our inner selves, are we able to bear a negation that carries us to the farthest bounds of possibility?

From Erotism: Death & Sensuality, Georges Bataille, 1957


Ethnicity and the American Cemetery

Edited by Richard E. Meyer

The American lawn-park cemetery seeks consolation from the idea that the dead have been integrated into a beneficent natural order, represented by the depersonalized, manicured Forest Lawn-scape. This collection of academic essays examines immigrant grave-site ornaments and customs frequently at odds with the mainstream, Protestant-derived memorial park. Italian, Jewish, and brooding Ukrainian monuments seek to preserve the memory of the individual against the dilution of time, rather than celebrating its re-absorption by the natural order, while Gypsy family plots in Ohio are surprisingly restrained and inconspicuous. Also examined are Asian and Polynesian traditions in Hawaiian cemeteries, and assimilated Native American traditions in New Mexico. RP

Publisher: Bowling Green
Paperback: 239 pages

Forest Lawn Memorial-Parks: A Place for the Living

Forest Lawn Memorial-Park Association

Forest Lawn’s five Southern California funeral parks are a perfect metaphor for suburban America: beautifully landscaped, spotlessly clean, impeccably trimmed gardens… spread thinly over a putrefying mass of human decay.
But it is so much more, as this picture book attests. Commissioned by Forest Lawn itself, and put together by a Santa Barbara marketing firm, Forest Lawn Memorial-Parks: A Place for the Living was no doubt meant to be sold as a memento—or memento mori—in park gift shops. But no fan of cadaver camp should shuffle off this mortal coil without it.
Why? Because Forest Lawn is the Disneyland of the dead. All that’s missing is the snack bar. Send grandpa to his final reward, then have yours: stroll among the “exact replicas” of Michelangelo’s sculptures… enjoy a touch of Old Mexico among full-scale replicas of Toltec totems… reflect in your pick of a series of churches inspired by historic buildings… and gaze in awe at some of the most amazing Christian kitsch murals this side of Wisconsin’s Precious Moments chapel. Or just buy this book instead. It’s all here in heavenly color, including Robert Clark’s monumental 1965 canvas, “The Resurrection,” featuring a foxy Jesus “regal in his victory over death, radiant with the fulfillment of His Mission.” Of course, you won’t be able to hear the dramatic taped narration and “Hallelujah Chorus” that play in the hall housing the painting… but what do you expect for $12.95? A miracle? JAB

Publisher: Forest Lawn
Paperback: 79 pages

How To Embalm Your Mother-in-Law: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About What Happens Between Your Last Breath and Your First Spadeful

Robert T. Hatch

This is a nice little book written in a straightforward manner that covers what happens when one dies. The book details the basic biological transitions of death including heart failure, brain failure and lung failure. Brief definitions of such terms as “cadaveric spasms,” “algar mortis,” “rigor mortis,” “livor mortis” and “putrefaction” are included. Information is provided on embalming—its history, procedures and such alternatives as cremation—even mummification is briefly explained. The book talks about various religious beliefs surrounding funerals and wakes, and includes a glossary and bibliography. MC

Publisher: Citadel
Paperback: 104 pages

Japanese Death Poems

Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death

Hundreds of Japanese death poems, many with a commentary describing the circumstances of the poet’s death: “My whole life long I’ve sharpened my sword, and now, face to face with death I unsheathe it, and lo—the blade is broken—Alas!”

Publisher: Tuttle
Paperback: 366 pages

The Last Great Necessity: Cemeteries in American History

David Charles Sloane

From the first pioneer burial to Potter’s Ville to the urban yards then to the memorial park—The Last Great Necessity maps out the history of the American cemetery from holy grounds to big business, delivering the message of just how much death is a commodity in today’s society. TD

Publisher: Johns Hopkins University
Paperback: 294 pages

Last Words: A Dictionary of Deathbed Quotations

C. Bernard Ruffin

“Nearly 2,000 deathbed quotations from saints, popes, statesmen, scientists, soldiers, athletes, artists, entertainers, writers, criminals and others are included in this reference work. Each entry includes a brief biographical sketch of the person and sets the quotation in context.”

Publisher: McFarland
Hardback: 304 pages

Looking at Death

Barbara P. Norfleet

This is a loving look at the subject of death assembled from the photographic archives of Harvard University. What distinguishes it from a lot of the other death-photo books currently available is the breadth of its field of inquiry and the quality of the photography. These are not merely “scene of the crime” documents, but portraits of the dead and other depictions meant to be actual finished works of art. Among the categories included are: staging death, death by violence, death at medical school, remains of death, death and the family, and mourning and ritual. Dignity is the underlying motif. Despite its potential to tread macabre territory, there is no cheap shock value in this book’s presentation. SA

Publisher: Godine
Paperback: 141 pages

On Suicide: Great Writers on the Ultimate Question

John Miller

Dorothy Parker: “Razors pain you/Rivers are damp/Acids stain you/And drugs cause cramp/Guns aren’t lawful/Nooses give/Gas smells awful/You might as well live.” Also William Shakespeare, Graham Green, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Plato, Tolstoy, Langston Hughes, Camus and Jorge Luis Borges. “A taboo subject, a courageous act, a crime, a compulsion, a choice… “ To be or not to be? GR

Publisher: Chronicle
Paperback: 271 pages

Prescription: Medicide: The Goodness of Planned Death

Jack Kevorkian, M.D.

“In advocating ‘medicide’ and its ethic of indvidual self-determination, the famed ‘suicide doctor’ expands a view that began more than thirty years ago with his opposition to those who would deny to death row inmates the choice—requested by many—to be executed in a manner that permits life-saving organ donation… Kevorkian willingly takes on the medical establishment, politicians and all others who actively resist a rational program of dignified, humane and beneficial planned death.”

Publisher: Prometheus
Paperback: 268 pages

The Revival Styles in American Memorial Art

Peggy McDowell and Richard Meyer

From the late 18th to the early 20th centuries, the Revival Style dominated American memorial art. Harkening back to cultures of yore, Americans channeled their funereal energies into the creation of spectacular edifices and memorials to prominent citizens. Often designed by the leading sculptors and architects of their time, the great majority of these striking artifacts exist to this day for future generations and will provide a chronicle of our nation’s formative years. JAT

Publisher: Bowling Green
Paperback: 206 pages