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Skip the pompous introductory text by Mark C. Taylor to Grave
Matters and dip straight into the wonderful black and white photographs by
Dietrich Christian Lammerts. We see the
graves and last resting places of major thinkers of the western world. Lammerts is a talented photographer, and he
has traveled Europe and North America in his job as visual cataloger. He starts with Francis Bacon, 1561-1626, in
St Michaels Church, St Albans, England.
We see a stone sculpture of the great man in a lonely graveyard. We move, in order of the dates of their
deaths, through Galileo Galilei, Rene Descartes, Blaise Pascal, and other
well-known philosophers and scientists, musicians and poets. Particularly striking is the little known
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, 1729-1781, in Braunsheig, Germany a large
tombstone, among others of similar size, in a graveyard surrounded by
blossoming trees. For anyone who
believes in the importance of this tradition, its a mesmerizing collection of
artistry is most apparent in his photograph of a stone of Lord Byron,
1788-1824, in Hucknall, England. All we
see are words on a stone book, but somehow the words are glowing in the light,
and theres a sense of supernatural to the image. Wagners grave, a large stone slab horizontal on the ground,
surrounded by ivy in a wooded grave, with suffused sunlight lighting the scene,
is similarly mystical. But Lammerts
most creative work is for those who do not have graves, whose ashes were
scattered. For Friedrich Engels, we see
the sea of the Channel, from the seaside town of Eastbourne, England. Wisps of delicate clouds decorate the sky. A
photograph of Lake George, New York represents photographer Alfred
Stieglitz. We only see the surface of
the calm water, making abstract shapes, and these go to make up a beautiful
For many of
the twentieth century figures have more unconventional graves. The 12-tone composer Arnold Schoenberg is
memorialized by a white cube with a corner pointing up in the air. Playwright Bertolt Brecht has just his name
in white carved in a slab of irregular stone against a brick wall. Jackson Pollocks name is on a far more
massive stone, and the shadows of trees in winter throw lines of shadow across
the stone, perhaps bringing to mind his famous painting style. The final grave pictured is of Ralph
Ellison, in Trinity Church Cemetary, New York City; a wall of granite bears his
name in one of its squares, and in the far background we see high-rise
apartment blocks. Its an austere
liked more information about the graves, especially when theres a revealing
story to how they were designed or chosen.
But this is a beautifully produced book, and it is a pleasure to browse
through its pages time and again.
© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.
Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College,
Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research
is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in
exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is
keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health
professionals, and the general public.
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