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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Death see Tibetan Book of the Dead

Grave Matters essay by Mark C. Taylor, photographs by Dietrich Christian Lammerts (Reaktion Books) Mark Taylor's sensitive meditation on the personal and public significance of the graves and memorials of notable 20th-century cultural personalities introduces a portfolio of evocative, occasionally startling, photographs by Christian Lammerts of the gravesites of 160 modern artists, writers, philosophers, and theologians, such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson and Vincent van Gogh.

Grave Matters is an extraordinarily beautiful black and white photo essay by Professor Mark C. Taylor and photographer Dietrich Christian Lammerts that illuminates the subject of death in an often haunting and poetic manner.

Grave Matters is Professor Taylor's ruminations on death and his examination of the artists, philosophers, and writers who had a marked influence on his life. As his thinking on these matters began to take shape, he began to ponder difficult questions: "What place do modern greats have in the postmodern age? Who decided where and how they should be buried? What do their deaths and graves tell us about their lives and suggest about our own?

In Grave Matters, Professor Taylor attempts to provide answers in a poignant essay, interweaving personal narrative, historical analysis, cultural commentary, and philosophical reflection on the subject of death and the gravesites where the "greats" are buried. It is the place where we is dispersed and I is stripped bare, and where Professor Taylor's ghosts become our own.

Professor Taylor, in discussing the inevitability of loss in our modern culture states, "In a world dominated by new technologies, we are constantly reading about the ways of extending life. The tragedy of the past year, however, has forced us to confront the reality of death and mourning. As we struggle to come to terms with loss and one's final destiny, the great writers and authors of the past have important lessons to teach us. Grave Matters is a memento mori to help see life anew.

Accompanying Professor Taylor's thought provoking text are Dietrich Christian Lammerts's photographs showing us the graves of artists, architects, writers, philosophers, and musicians who helped shape Western culture. For example: Adolf Loos, Van Gogh, Beethoven, Emerson, and Emily Dickinson, among many others. Beautiful and disturbing, the photos are meant to suggest a different perspective on the history of the famous. Over a two‑year period, Mr. Lammerts traveled abroad to more than 15 countries as well as to different gravesites in the United States.

In summarizing his work on Grave Matters, Mr. Lammerts describes his fascination with the subject, "'Photography, perhaps more than any other medium, is about haunting and ghosts ...in the physical world, the dead leave behind the body; in photography, however, a body leaves behind an image, rendering understanding ambiguous."

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