Thursday, February 25, 2010

To Be Gnawed Out of Our Graves

An interesting and amusing article, For Sale: Beethoven's Skull by Keith Thompson in the Huffington Post, tells the story of Paul Kaufman finding Beethoven's skull amongst his mother's possessions: "He happened on an ancient, pear-shaped box labeled 'Beethoven.'" What he found was a skull. After some DNA analysis, it was concluded that the box was indeed labeled correctly.

I cannot help but wonder: what kind of person has Ludwig Van Beethoven's SKULL and fails to mention this to any of her family? I have to laugh at the sheer magnitude of this woman's historical... (only the French have the appropriate term)... nonchalance. Still, it is an exquisite and charming detail that she took the time to write on the box: "Beethoven." Just beautiful.

My aspirations are very modest and I can only hope that one day while searching through my mother's possessions I discover a ancient box labeled "Great Granddady Jones." Hell, I'd even take a complete stranger. Unfortunately, unlike Mr. Kaufman's mother, mine probably doesn't have a skull "forgotten" amongst her possessions.

In my view, it is a shame that we do not honor our ancestors by preserving their skulls on an altar in our homes. Dust them off and set them around the table at Thanksgiving. Deliver drunken Shakesperian monologues while holding them before us. Curse the cat for knocking Grandma down. Or ply the dog with treats to show us where he buried Dad's noggin.

Yes, I know: objections are understood. You just never know what someone might do to your skull and bones. As always, Thomas Browne is most eloquent:

Who knows the fate of his bones, or how often he is to be buried? To be gnawed out of our graves, to have our skulls made drinking-bowls, and our bones turned into pipes to delight and sport our enemies, are tragic abominations.

"This rare Dharma item is a Tantric ritual skull that serves as an offering vessel for the Tantric Buddhist religion. It is made from the actual human skull of a Buddhist monk. The eight auspicious symbols are carved into the top of the skull. The eyes are red coral and the rest is adorned with nickel, silver and turquoise. When used, the skullcap was removed and filled with a wine and blood mixture representing "immortality." Then, in an offering by worshipers to the fierce Tantric deities of Hindu India and Buddhist Tibet the liquid was consumed by the monks." 

"Quality specimen of a one century old human skullcap from an executed murder. The exterior is painstakingly carved into an eerie likeness of a Tibetan demon's face, and is surrounded by the typical stylized skeleton faces."

Portrait of an articulated skeleton on a bentwood chair.
From Wikimedia Commons 

[ source ]

Marina Abramovic
[ source

Marina Abramovic

Thanks to Jeff G. for the key.

1 comment:

Mystery Achievement said...

Having recently seen the X-rays of the hand of my son, and the tibia of my girlfriend, I am astonished by the sheer beauty of these artifacts.

My own post-carnal plans include having my left femur extracted and turned into a kangling for my son. In this way he'll always be able to reach me. Telebone call, as it were.

Still haven't had the tattoo applied. The one on my left thigh that says: Keep this one.