Sunday, February 7, 2010

F. Gonzalez-Crussi

Two books I acquired turned out to be among the best I've read on the subject of death. First, they do not sensationalize. Second, they are nearly poetic in their examination of the processes of life to death. Written by Dr. F. Gonzalez-Crussi, who in the 1990's was head of laboratories and professor of pathology at the Children's Memorial Hospital of Northwestern University in Chicago. He ponders death from his unusual perspective of, as he puts it, "a corpse handler" in his earlier book, Notes of an Anatomist, and continues where he left off in the essays within these books. His thoughts and writings emanate from his experience surrounding death and his "communion with the dead".  Suspended Animation, six essays on the preservation of bodily parts, is also illustrated with the amazing photographs of Rosamond W. Purcell. (Harcourt—Brace & Co.  1995)
His essays and her photographs within this book are poetical in nature, personal, and full of the awe and reverence of a writer and a photographer who truly respect both the physical processes and the nature of our brief time here on earth. The essays examine the various ways in which we try to preserve remnants of our physical existence. Chapter titles are: 
  • Microcosm in a Bottle
  • Of Flaying, Dismemberment, and other Inconveniences
  • Bologna, The Learned
  • Waxing Philosophical ... and a bit Hypersensitive
  • How We Come to Be
  • Nature's Lapses
... plus a Photographer's Note from Purcell. The photographs are rich still life details made in medical and anatomy collections in Spain, Italy and the USA.

An earlier book from Dr. Gonzalez-Crussi centers around a return to his homeland to revisit Mexico's Day of the Dead, the long tradition of the cemetery vigils of November 2. In this little book, also from Harcourt—Brace & Co. 1993, The Day of the Dead and Other Mortal Reflections, we find these chapters:
  • A Visit to the Embalmer, 
  • The Grin of the Calavera
  • Of Skulls in a Heap and Soft Parts in Glass Jars, 
  • Two Unrecorded Scenes, 
  • Moonlight Autopsy, 
  • Lights, Camera, Stillness! Death and the Visual Arts.
It explores many facets and perceptions, times and locations, all written in a wonderfully immediate and personal tone.

Continuing with the theme of today's entry, I include here an image of a stereo card in my collection. It is from "The Edinburgh Atlas of Anatomy" and is of the dissected human thorax. The over-sized yellow card has the explanatory text on the back and was doubtlessly used by medical students and anatomists in the late 19th or early 20th Century. One can see this image in full 3-D with a traditional stereo viewer.

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