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Grave Matters: Encounters with Death Around the World
Within the multitude of attitudes toward grieving, Grave Matters reveals that after death the body may be preserved or obliterated, transformed into furniture, or eaten. In this cross-cultural study of how people lend meaning to death, Nigel Barley uses autobiographical vignettes and a careful blend of ethnography and comparative theories to reflect on...
Within the multitude of attitudes toward grieving, Grave Matters reveals that after death the body may be preserved or obliterated, transformed into furniture, or eaten. In this cross-cultural study of how people lend meaning to death, Nigel Barley uses autobiographical vignettes and a careful blend of ethnography and comparative theories to reflect on today’s mortuary practices and issues. For some, the road to death is enlightening, for others it is ghastly. Not one to slight death’s sting (or its caress by the overly solicitous mortuary industry), Barley agrees with Aristotle that humor is also a key distinguishing feature of humanity. At his own father’s cremation, the worship space, which was designed for measured grief, could be converted into a basketball court. This evocative and edifying text shows that death is a mirror in which human diversity can be seen, exposing a society’s culture and the possibilities for mourning or robust eruptions. While a polished coffin with brass handles may be appropriate in Western society, in Ghana a poultry farmer is buried in a giant carved chicken. Life and death go hand in hand, as illustrated during the French Revolution when fashionable ladies wore elegant little guillotines in their ears as jewelry. Underlying these peculiarities is the premise that, when it comes to death, it is not what we feel that counts, it is what we do.
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