Beyond Death: The Aesthetics of the Human Corpse

Screen shot from http://www.bodiestheexhibition.com/newyork/ retrieved 11.12.13

Screen shot from http://www.bodiestheexhibition.com/newyork/ retrieved 11.12.13

Against a sanguine backdrop a skinless man stands tall. This is quite a feat considering he has been bisected down the center of his body, a foot for each side to stand on. Through the gap between his separated sides, his organs have been neatly shuffled to the left or right, providing a jigsaw view of the human abdominal cavity. Despite his exposure, the man is confident: he’s got one fist against each hip, as if inviting the viewer to peruse his innards. And why shouldn’t he be confident? He’s been gifted with a new lease on life. His fat has been melted away, his fluids replaced by silicon. As a display in Bodies: The Exhibition, he will never rot, ignominiously, in the ground; instead, medical students, children and the curious can pay Premier Exhibitions for the privilege of staring into unseeing eyes. But whose? The process this nameless, skinless man has gone through is called “plastination,” an invention of German doctor Gunther von Hagens, who founded the Body Worlds exhibition, which features preserved human and animal corpses (“Plastination”). In 2011, the then 66-year-old anatomist announced that he was dying. He requested that his body be plastinated after death and put on display.

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I’m Actually Going to be Published. In a Book. That Will Actually be Bound. Like Books Are.

Something I wrote is going to be published.

It’s not a book.

But it’ll be in a book?

And it’s not the best thing I’ve ever written.

Thank goodness. I really don’t want to peak in college. That would just almost be as bad as peaking in high school, which, come to think of it: I may have actually peaked in high school.

Nah. Well…maybe. I’m way less cool in college, that’s for sure.

Mathematician John Nash was obsessed with making it before thirty: apparently a number of his contemporaries did their best work in their youth. And while Nash did do great work which eventually won him a Nobel Prize, the prize in question was for…economics. (And strictly speaking it’s not an actual Nobel Prize because it’s not in one of the original categories; it’s actually the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.)

Okay, as a writer/sound engineer I think I may not actually be allowed to take shots at economists. Also, my sister majored in econ. So everyone should just pretend my math major friend said it instead.

“As a writer.” Do I get to say that now? Probably not: that’s like calling myself a blogger because I keep this site. The terminology is technically accurate, but but you’ll never be able to take yourself seriously.

Anyway, just like every liberal arts-based university in the US, NYU students have to take an expository writing class in freshman year. Because I’m in Steinhardt, the red-headed stepchild of our fine university, I had to take two, but that’s beside the point. The point is that I wrote something my professor liked so much that she suggested I submit it to Mercer Street: the publication of our school’s expository writing program. Every year, around thirty essays (out of 500+ submissions…I need to make this sound as good as possible) are chosen for a new edition. And this year, one of my essays—Beyond Death: The Aesthetics of the Human Corpse—made the cut.

Warning: contains my face. But yeah, that's the letter they sent me in the mail. After they sent me an email like a month ago? I guess they're actually printed now, though.

Warning: contains my face. But yeah, that’s the letter they sent me in the mail. After they sent me an email like a month ago? I guess they’re actually printed now, though.

As you can extrapolate from the title, the essay is about art and death and dead bodies and poses the question: who do human corpses belong to, anyway? So you know, basically all the bright, positive things you expect me to write about from reading my daily ramblings.

Whatever. I get two complimentary copies and a $35 gift card for the NYU Bookstore. Obviously, I’ve made the big time.

Okay, I usually like to at least end these things on a positive note (see previous entry for a particularly poignant one) but we’re going to take the time to talk about how sad this is. On the submission form for Mercer Street it says chosen essayists will receive a $35 “honorarium.” Hey College of Arts and Sciences: just call a gift certificate a gift certificate. I’m a nerd. I guarantee you that if you’d given me actual money I would have spent it on stationery and books anyway.

Well…a book, some pens, and maybe a froyo. I’m a fat nerd.