A quest to make sense of it all. Or a sense to make a quest of it all.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Living Dead Girl.*

. *cracks knuckles*

I just know I'm going to get some guff over this one. But it's stuck in my head, and I will Have. It. Out.

"Two necrophiliacs are standing outside a bar. One says to the other, "Hey! Let's go in and get a cold one." -old joke, retold by Tom Parson this morning over coffee

I'd like to preface this by saying, no, I am not a necrophile. The idea grosses me out, and it makes my moral compass start spinning in flummoxed outrage. I don't care much for dead things. Romantically, the living still very much do it for me. Even if I had the inclination, I wholly lack the motivation. I can be a physically lazy person and grave digging sounds like tiring, smelly work, and I'm just uninterested. Plus it's *%&#ing gross.

Actually, this idea was planted a few months ago, when I watched a ridiculous horror film entitled "Necromentia", with my good buddy Sean. It was one of the more disturbing movies I've seen in some time, mainly because I was completely unprepared for it. I had a few interesting conversations on the subject of necrophilia over the next couple weeks. The responses I got mostly ranged from "Ew" to "EW!!", and each response included, "Um, what got you thinking about this?". I got distracted by other subjects (as usual) and forgot all about it, until this past weekend, when the idea for a horrific short story popped into my head. I found my interest...reanimated, if you will.

So this week, I have been "researching", which actually translates to "devouring handfuls of Cheez-Its while clicking from one shameful webpage to the next and strongly hoping that no one is tracking my internet activity". I've found out all sorts of interesting things I didn't previously know. For example, that Herod was a rumored necrophile. He kept his first wife preserved in honey. I knew that unprocessed raw honey will keep pretty much forever, and that still-edible 5,000 year old honey has been found in Egyptian tombs. But I never thought about it having such a nefarious purpose. Preserving her corpse in it...ok. But I guess he would have to pull her out now and then to dip the comb, so to speak, and that sounds incredibly messy and cumbersome. It also calls for "Sweet Caroline" to be playing in the background, and that isn't always a great thing.

I've also found out that, at this time, there is no federal legislation against getting your skank on with a carcass. Several states have their own laws against this (Connecticut: Class A misdemeanor; Alabama: Class C felony. Bite us, North. The South's got it right on this one thing, ok?). I read an interesting case in which three young men disinterred the corpse of a recently deceased woman with the intention of a particularly disturbing group activity. At the time, Wisconsin had no laws against violating a corpse in that manner, so the young men were charged with Attempt Misdemeanor Theft and Attempt Third Degree Sexual Assault, and the latter was dismissed. This has since been rectified, but still.

I've been reading about the fascinating Dr. Carl Tanzler, a German-born radiologist who in the late 1920's, fell in love with Elena Milagro de Hoyos, one of his tuberculosis patients the United States Marine Hospital in Florida. Although his beloved never showed any sign of reciprocation, the man was completely obsessed. He tried everything he could to keep her alive, but she died...and he saw no reason for that to get in the way of wooing her. No, a couple years after her death, he decided that people were starting to talk too much about his frequent visits to her mausoleum (for which he paid), and figured it would be better just bring her on home. So he did, and kept her for most of a decade. During this time, of course, Elena sort of lost her youthful good looks and Carl had to constantly renovate, refinish, and revarnish her with assorted waxes and silks. He made a wig for her, a plaster of paris face, and gave her glass eyes. He also reworked some lower plumbing with a tube in order to continue having relations with her. (In addition, he went through tremendous amounts of disinfectants and perfumes.) It's not all formaldehyde and dry-heaving, though. For all these years, he wrote her daily love letters, which he read aloud to her. He had a telephone installed in her room, should she want to call him when he wasn't there. It's kind of a sweet story, really, except for the parts where he preserves a corpse and has sex with it for nine years. It's rare to find love like that. (I hope I never do. This gives new meaning to "Tainted Love".)

...which leads me to this question: is necrophilia really all that bad? Hold on, hold on. Don't get your underpants in a bunch. It's repugnant, sure. It's physically icky and probably pretty damn unsanitary, and there's something about it that makes us instinctively wrinkle our noses and declare "wrong". Ok. On what grounds? The corpse has no opinion. Is it still violation if you're not violating an actual person? I think we can all agree that it's not like there's a soul or spirit or even an energy still in there. It's basically the equivalent of violating a side of beef: gross, but morally reprehensible? The living attach all sorts of meaning and feelings to earthly remains, and I can't figure out why. We flush out their blood and pump them full of preservatives. We sew their mouths shut. We groom them and do all sorts of medically freaky things to them to make them more...palatable (not in the edible sense; that's a post for another day), but angrily shout "let them rest in peace!" when the subject of necrophilia arises.

Interesting. Is it the sex part? Would we be so offended if people had, say, an uncontrollable urge to cover the corpse in toy unicorns and sing to it? Ok, still pretty weird, but not as offensive. To us. The corpse, as stated, has no opinion.

I don't know. I can tell myself these facts, I can rationally sort through the heap, I can understand that when it occurs, the other half of the tryst is not actually being harmed in any way. But it still makes me queasy and I still want to declare "wrong."

Ok, I think it's out now. I need to watch Pollyanna or Bambi.

*I realize that I chose the most obvious possible song title for a post of this nature. But it's just such a darn fun song. And honestly, there are sooo very many songs/movies/books/poems that deal with the subject...you know what? This post is going to need a sequel just to cover necrophilia in pop culture. I'm starting with you, Tom Petty, and your creative homage to Poe's Annabel Lee.


histrionicsdotzip said...

Necrophilia may be a cultural taboo, but it is as engrossing as it is gross. I savored this post, and went curiously searching for more information on the curiously deranged people you mention. (I loved Mary Roach's Stiff, so this was a delightful appendix to a book whose topic gets little to no attention.

My curiosity comes purely from my curiosity about death. I want to see very plainly what happens to the human body after death, in time lapse detail, in increments - one week, one month, two months, one year, ten years, twenty years...in hopes that observing the way our bodies pass out of existence on this planet can shed some light on how our body enters this world through the amniotic sea of the womb. Perhaps it won't enlighten, but in all probability it would be enlightening.

I'll have more to say about this later, when I don't have an exam at 7:40AM in the morning.

histrionicsdotzip said...


sarah saint said...

I loved "Stiff". Have you read "Spook" yet? It's excellent.

Foz the Hook said...

Great post. Historians have been looking at the role of emotion over time. Negative emotions like cowardice or disgust are receiving good attention. Necro is gross. That part of the question is easy. Why is it gross? What role has it played in various societies? Does gross change?

It used to be common to dress up dead babies for formal portraits.

sarah saint said...

"Why is it gross?"

That's rhetorical, right? I mean, unless one is really into funky smells and fluids.

"Does gross change?"

Oh, absolutely. I think that as we move forward, we've gotten increasingly prissier about what's gross. You mentioned death portraits. I'm reminded of hair mourning jewelry. The idea of wearing a dead person's hair next to my skin gives me the willies, but it would have been totally normal in the late nineteenth century.

sarah saint said...

Also, you're right. I totally should have used Dem Bones.

But I'm sure it will appear in the sequel post.

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