Saturday, October 6, 2018
Chapter x Chapter Review of FROM HERE TO ETERNITY: TRAVELING THE WORLD TO FIND THE GOOD DEATH by Caitlin Doughty
Welcome to a new edition of the Chapter x Chapter series, a column where I take a deep dive into horror reading with a new review for each chapter of the book. As we embark on our next literary adventure, I'll be looking to change up the format a bit. Frankly, I think doing a full, separate post for each chapter was a bit much for me and I'm thinking it may have been a bit much for you all. So for everyone's sanity and to make sure I can do more than one book a year, rather than doing a separate post for each chapter, I'll be updating this post with a new chapter as I progress through the book.
This time around, the book in question isn't strictly an analysis on horror, but it does focus on a topic that permeates pretty much any horror film: death. Caitlin Doughty, mortician and founder of The Order of the Good Death, isn't a stranger to investigating our attitudes about our inevitable demise. In her first book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Doughty recounted her time working in a crematorium. In From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death, Doughty travels the world to see how various cultures care for their dead as a contrast to those here in the U.S., which she asserts is primarily used as a means to avoid confronting death.
Doughty opens her book with anecdote from the early days of her funeral home when she had to explain to a hospice nurse that there aren't any laws preventing a person from keeping a body in their custody as opposed to having it rushed off to a morgue. Concerned that the U.S. has come to avoid death, Doughty looks to traditions regarding death by exploring the death rituals of other cultures.
Here's a hot take: death is terrifying. As someone who is, at best, an agnostic, I often grapple with what will happen when I cash out. Is there an afterlife? Will I be reincarnated? Or will it literally be an extended dirt nap? So I find myself drawn to how people find comfort and closure in caring for their dead.
I'm also fascinated by the idea that cultures have clashed on their philosophies about death rituals since the days of ancient Greece. Some people are horrified at the idea of cremating a body but think it perfectly natural to eat their loved ones remains. Others don't understand while you would bury a body before the community has had the opportunity to strip its bones of flesh.
Of course, leave it to Western/Christian dogma to obnoxiously proclaim its rituals as exclusively correct while at the same time allowing big business to twist even that into an impersonal opportunity for an up sell. I look forward to seeing if I can find some piece of mind by seeing how other cultures approach death.
Inside joke that you'll only get when you read the book:
Hey kids! I'll bet you didn't know that corpse theft can be a heart-warming enterprise.