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


Sleeping Beauty: A History of Memorial Photography in America

Edited by Stanley Burns, M.D.

“Postmortem photography, photographing a deceased person, was a common practice in the 19th and early 20th centuries. These photographs were often the only ones taken of their subjects, and much pride and artistry went into them… These photographs were a common aspect of American culture, a part of the mourning and memorialization process. Surviving families were proud of these images and hung them in their homes, sent copies to friends and relatives, wore them as lockets or carried them as pocket mirrors… Discussions of death in books are prolific, and we are accustomed to images of death as part of our daily news, but actual death as part of private lives has become a shameful and unspoken subject.
“This volume presents a chronological arrangement of postmortem photography 1840-1930; no other collection of this material has been made available despite recent interest in the American way of death. What emerges is a vivid visual history of the changes in American customs. We can see the change in death concepts and funerary practices, from the image of death as a stark Puritan journey for a sinner to the late Victorian beautification of death and its interpretation as a restful sleep for a redeemed soul… More than anything else, I hope these photographs will help the modern American overcome the death taboo and better understand the fear of death, to solve some important death-related cultural issues, and to choose to use photography as part of the grieving process.”—Dr. Stanley Burns

Publisher: Twin Palms
Hardback: 140 pages

Soul in the Stone: Cemetery Art from America’s Heartland

John Gary Brown

This essay on mortality and materiality addresses the inevitability of death and the impulse to survive in the hearts and minds of those who follow. Straightforward black-and-white photographs of gravestones are accompanied by thoughtful, and often factually detailed, captions which speculate on and interpret the varied desires expressed through sculpture and poetry found in cemeteries. “Life Is, Death Only Dies,” says one; another stone immortalizes, “I’d rather be drag racing.” In one Kansas graveyard an overstuffed limestone armchair suggests that the dead are just waiting in the parlor for the living to join them. The morose and the sensual are given equal standing in some monuments where young women dressed in clinging gowns are depicted as surrogate mourners, continuously standing in for absent family members. The author’s opening chapters on the history of burial, religious and secular iconography, and ethnic and economic factors are instructive. Discussion of children’s graves, folk art monuments, and markers commemorating worldly concerns are gracefully handled by the author. But the photographs of the monuments, which are often touching and sometimes astonishing, are the heart of this book. JTW

Publisher: Univ. Press of Kansas
Hardback: 232 pages

Understanding the Tricks of the Funeral Trade: Self-Defense for Consumers

Lisa Carlson

Taped speech by the author of the book Caring for Your Own Dead. “When the distraught widow didn’t think she could afford the $3,000 casket, she asked if there was something less expensive. She was taken to a dank, cold basement… “ and other horror stories of funeral directors using psychological tricks and price gouging to get you to shell out for interment. 53 minutes. GR

Publisher: Upper Access