Posts Tagged ‘funerals’
June 2, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
Are you enjoying yourself at the moment? Please stop. It’s Thomas Hardy’s birthday, and he will wipe the smile right off your smug, contented, life-affirming face. You’re dealing with a man who knew how to deploy the word Niflheim, defined by the OED as “the region of eternal darkness, mist, and cold inhabited by those who died from old age or illness.” Hardy uses it to dispirited perfection in The Woodlanders, relating a kind of failure to connect: “But he continued motionless and silent in that gloomy Niflheim or fog-land which involved him, and she proceeded on her way.” Actually, The Woodlanders is full of an evocative, despondent murkiness. It extends even to the tiny twigs on the ground, which Hardy takes care to describe as they’re destroyed by a passing carriage: “they drove on out of the grove, their wheels silently crushing delicate-patterned mosses, hyacinths, primroses, lords-and-ladies, and other strange and common plants, and cracking up little sticks that lay across the track.”
But I’ve already digressed. I’m writing mainly to share a few excerpts from his letters that find him at his morose peak (nadir?). As a kind of warm-up, here’s a note from 1898 in which he critiques a prime minister’s funeral—always an exercise in good taste. Read More »
May 31, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Hot take: There’s a new miniseries adaptation of Trollope’s Doctor Thorne, and it’s not good. Just follow Laura Miller’s lead and read the book instead: “Seemingly everything that happens today has already been covered in one of [Trollope’s] books, albeit in a less technologized form … The resemblance between particular current events and Trollope’s fiction is like the weather: however much it changes from day to day, in one form or another, it’s always there. His novels amount to a compendium of every recurring pattern of human behavior as observed by a wise, amused, and tenderly exacting deity. He sees all our little self-delusions and vanities, but he loves us just the same. In fact, sometime they make him love us more.”
- Plenty of novelists love cinema. The rarer thing, Adam Thirlwell writes, is the filmmaker in love with literature. It’s just Whit Stillman out there: “Stillman has never been shy with his literary provenance. Stillman’s cinematic innovation—in his 1990s trilogy of high bourgeois melancholy, Metropolitan, Barcelona, and The Last Days of Disco, and his 2012 film Damsels in Distress—has been to bathe cinema in a literary tone, a charmed artificiality. (Like his characters, Stillman admires the value in apparently outmoded things.) The atmosphere of his films owes as much to Henry James as it does to Truffaut or Max Ophüls … Stillman’s characters are monsters of literary conversation … People talk syntactically, at high speed, with absolute artistry (one comparison, in a different register, but at a similar pitch of artificiality, is Tarantino). Stillman uses dialogue the way Matisse uses color: it does not necessarily correspond to anything in the real world.”
- In the Middle East, realism is out of fashion—to take on the political moment, writers have had to get weird. “Five years after the popular uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and elsewhere, a bleak, apocalyptic strain of postrevolutionary literature has taken root in the region. Some writers are using science fiction and fantasy tropes to describe grim current political realities. Others are writing about controversial subjects like sexuality and atheism, or exhuming painful historical episodes that were previously off limits. In a literary culture where poetry has long been the most celebrated medium, writers are experimenting with a range of genres and styles, including comics and graphic novels, hallucinatory horror novels, and allegorical works of science fiction.”
- If you’ve lately been avoiding the comments section of your favorite site, fear not—it’s still a wasteland of misogyny, racism, and homophobia. Dawn Foster cites a new Demos report that “analyzed comments over a three-week period, using an algorithm to determine whether tweets that used the words whore and slut were sexist insults or conversational. They found that 6,500 users were targeted by 10,000 ‘explicitly aggressive and misogynistic tweets’ … Has the internet made people more hateful? Perhaps. Or it may simply have made it easier for people to express their hate … Quite often men will tweet photos of their erect cocks to me, in response to nothing at all, and their profiles show they do this to as many women as possible, several a minute, before their accounts get shut down. It must be an easy way to get a kick without leaving the house.”
- When next you encounter a group of med students, be sure to grill them on how they memorialize the cadavers in their lives: “According to Cynthia Klestinec’s book Theaters of Anatomy, Italian students in the fifteenth century felt guilty about their part in ‘defiling’ the human body in the name of scientific advancement … After the demo, students prepared and organized the final ritual: a funeral … A body ‘carried into the anatomical hall, and the cover of the box in which it had been transported was returned to the executioner, who remained at some distance for this purpose,” Roswell Park writes in the 1903 book An Epitome of the History of Medicine. ‘If the corpse was one that had been decapitated, during these solemn ceremonies the head was placed between its legs.’ The proceedings were not always so solemn, though; sometimes there were performances. ‘Finally, an entertainment with music, often furnished by itinerant actors, was given.’ ”
March 10, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
Trawling through eBay recently, I came across a folder of sample funeral cards from the early twentieth century. As near as I can tell, salesmen would roam from funeral home to funeral home peddling these to undertakers, who would in turn press them on bereaved families. They were standard thank-you notes, essentially—“The family of _________ will hold in grateful remembrance your Spiritual Bouquet and kind expression of sympathy”—but unattached to any death in particular, their messages were gauche, even funny. That they were framed in advertising copy didn’t help. Imagine: Someone you love dies, and before you can even pick out the announcement cards, you have to read sentences like “Genuine engraving achieves its inherent beauty from a correlation of width and depth which no other process possesses.” As a character in Terry Southern’s The Loved One says: “Death has become a middle-class business. There’s no future in it.” Read More »
December 4, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- In the sixty-five years since Orwell’s death, his reputation has only grown, spawning a cottage industry for Orwell tourism. “The strangest place associated with Orwell is Wigan, the town in Lancashire where he stayed in February 1936 … one of the warehouses by the canal, opposite National Tyres and Autocare, has been converted into The Orwell, which offers weddings and civil ceremonies from £900. The local specialty is meat pies. Outside the pub a poster shows Uncle Sam holding out a pie, with the slightly Big Brotherish message: ‘We want you to eat more pies.’ ”
- “Adrift on warm currents, no longer of this world, she became aware of him gliding into her … The universe was in her and with each movement it unfolded to her. Somewhere in the night a stray rocket went off.” The long-awaited winner of this year’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award.
- A bunch of prominent scholars are bickering about the possibility that Shakespeare was gay. “Such figments of the critic’s imagination not only produce quantities of waste paper but … are inimical to the proper reading of poetry,” one wrote.
- And while we’re being litigious: the Maurice Sendak estate is embroiled in a debate about his will, which stipulates that his house in Ridgefield, Connecticut—where, two years after his death, his slippers still sit next to his bed—become a study center and museum. “I really don’t know who’s going to go there,” his longtime British editor said. “It’s in the middle of nowhere.”
- A new book of photographs “reveals the British West Indian experience of death in all its pathos, occasional comedy, and life-affirming sense of the funeral as essentially a fun-for-all … In [Charlie] Phillips’s moving and often beautiful images, dating from 1962 to the present, the bereaved are seen to face the mystery of the end of life in stush black suits, spidery hat veils, Rastafari head-ties, spiffy trilbies and strictly-come-dancehall white socks.”
May 14, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
Sophie Calle’s “Rachel/Monique” is currently on view at the Church of the Heavenly Rest on upper Fifth Avenue, a ZIP code the artist says the eponymous subject—her mother—would have appreciated, “because she always loved the Upper East Side.” The show, which wrests with the life and death of the woman most often known as Monique Sindler, is full of things she would have liked. Indeed, she liked being the subject of one of her daughter’s works. As Calle writes,
My mother liked to be the object of discussion. Her life did not appear in my work, and that annoyed her. When I set up my camera at the foot of the bed in which she lay dying—I wanted to be present to hear her last words, and was afraid that she would pass away in my absence—she exclaimed: “Finally!”
The space itself is austerely beautiful, and the show’s installation complements the neo-Gothic confines of the chapel—they’ll continue to hold services for the duration of its run. Madame Sindler’s last words were “Don’t worry,” and that last one—souci—is a motif throughout, wrought in a lace hanging, written out in multicolored butterflies on a stone wall, represented by a bouquet—since the word also means “marigold” in French. The prettiness is disarming, but not necessarily misleading. There is no distinction made between prettiness and toughness, prettiness and the macabre, prettiness and death, even. Read More »
April 28, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
The New Orleans Advocate reports that “Mickey Easterling, a New Orleans socialite known as much for her grand lifestyle and outlandish hats as for her civic, cultural, and political activism, died Monday at her Lakefront home.” Easterling was a character of the old school: a generous benefactor of many charities who wintered in Morocco and was given to sweeping pronouncements.
Her family honored her wishes by throwing a festive wake-cum-cocktail party. The centerpiece of the shindig was the deceased herself—propped up in full regalia and makeup, just as in life. Reports the Daily Mail, with photos,
Read More »
The consummate hostess, she was never without her glass of champagne or cigarette holder, and wore a flamboyant feather boa, bonnet, and a diamond-studded brooch that said ‘Bitch’ … To Easterling’s right, on a small table, sat a bottle of her favorite Champagne—Veuve Clicquot—as well as a pack of American Spirit cigarettes, and in her right hand was a Waterford crystal Champagne flute, the kind she used to carry around with her sometimes when restaurant glassware wouldn’t suffice.