Book|Grave Matters

Grave Matters
by Mark C. Taylor, Dietrich Christian Lammerts

Reaktion Books
June 2002

‘Cemeteries’, writes Mark C. Taylor, ‘are where I go to commune with “my” ghosts. The journey to the cemetery is always solitary even when I am with people who are closest to me. In the graveyard, the we is dispersed and the I stripped bare.’ In Grave Matters, Taylor’s ghosts become our own. His thoughtful, poignant essay interweaves personal narrative, historical analysis, cultural commentary and philosophical reflection.

Dietrich Christian Lammerts’s photographs show us the graves of the artists, architects, writers, philosophers and musicians who shaped Western culture; at once beautiful and disturbing, they suggest an alternative history of modernism and its precursors. Grave Matters raises difficult questions: What place do the modern greats have in the postmodern age? Who decided where and how they would be buried? Who wrote their epitaphs? What do their deaths, and their graves, tell us about their lives and suggest about our own? The words and images of Grave Matters inscribe the future that we all face, and to ponder this memento mori is to meet life anew.


Taylor, a humanities professor at Williams College, has growing in his living room a sprig of ivy he stole from Hegel’s grave, and on the wall he has rubbings from the gravestones of Melville, Poe, Sartre, Marx and other writers and thinkers who are important to him. Quirky fellow, quirky book–but we suspect that there are lots more of you who are fascinated by graves, cemeteries and the mysteries of what lies beyond. Taylor’s essay describes his own view of death and its hold on the living. Lammerts offers photos of the graves of Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Jane Austen, Edgar Allan Poe, Ludwig van Beethoven, Nathaniel Hawthorne, George Eliot, Charles Darwin, Emily Dickinson, Vincent van Gogh, Walt Whitman, Claude Monet, T.S. Eliot and other illustrious ghosts. The book is an interesting addition to the ever-expanding photo-literature of death, including the likes of David Robinson’s Saving Graces and Douglas Keister’s Going Out in Style: The Architecture of Eternity.
Anne Stephenson, Arizona Republic