We arrive. We live. We leave.
That’s pretty much what I believe: In the three-act play of life, I didn’t audition for this role, but wtf. That’s all she wrote; that’s all there is, yatta, yatta.
But it’s hardly the end of the story.
Had lunch yesterday with Kris Groberg and Larry Schwartz. In a three-minute conversation before Larry arrived, Kris and I fairly spontaneously conceived our next team-teaching gig: “Necrotecture: the art and architecture of death.” Among our shared interests is a fascination with cemeteries; with dying, death and the often astounding, sometimes absurd rigmarole that has come to surround the disposal of what we once were.
There is a surprising array of methods for dealing with the dead, including burning, burial, boiling off the flesh and keeping the bones, tanning, freezing, taxidermy, drifting off toward the horizon on an ice flow as a buffet for seals and walruses, allowing vultures to eat us, and on rare occasions eating one another. We’ve even been herded to death camps and recycled as soap. My favorite method was a 19th century proposal from the pages of The Scientific American: electro-plate the dead and place us in the living room or on the front lawn as our own ornament. The instructions for my own disposal are simple: 1) baggy; 2) twist tie; 3) curbside; 4) Tuesday morning before 8:30.
Ten or twenty thousand years of the so-called civilizing process have brought considerable sophistication to the table. We’ve been lifted, leveled and lowered; buried horizontally, vertically, in the fetal position (apropos of a birth into the next life), and, in the spirit of feng shui, aimed at various points of the compass. In “The Loved One,” the film adaptation of a novel by Evelyn Waugh, actor Jonathan Winters’ character suggests that we should be launched, shot into orbit–“Resurrection now!” he exclaims with televangelistic glee. Architecturally, what’s left of us more often than not finds its way into a mausoleum (whole bodies), ossuary (bones) or columbarium (ashes).
The Soane family tomb in St. Pancras Cemetery, London, designed by Sir John Soane.
Poets have romanticized the dead; composers rhapsodized them. Artists and architects have created an astounding array of imagery related to being dead, all of it unappreciated by those memorialized by them. Cemeteries, it has always seemed to me, are for the living; not for the long-term residents.
The cemeteries of Agincourt are pretty tame, I’m afraid. They’ve been located but not designed, though at least one of them has been populated with Neil Klien, grave-digger with an agenda. I see a design project in my immediate future.