The Political Lives of Dead Bodies

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9780231112307: The Political Lives of Dead Bodies

Since 1989, scores of bodies across Eastern Europe have been exhumed and brought to rest in new gravesites. Katherine Verdery investigates why certain corpses -- the bodies of revolutionary leaders, heroes, artists, and other luminaries, as well as more humble folk -- have taken on a political life in the turbulent times following the end of Communist Party rule, and what roles they play in revising the past and reorienting the present. Enlivening and invigorating the dialogue on postsocialist politics, this imaginative study helps us understand the dynamic and deeply symbolic nature of politics -- and how it can breathe new life into old bones.

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Review:

In The Political Lives of Dead Bodies, Katherine Verdery tries to jazz up political science by adding a dash of anthropology, examining the ways in which political upheavals are often accompanied by incidents involving the corpses of former leaders or other cultural heroes. "Dead bodies," she says, "have properties that make them particularly effective political symbols. They are thus excellent means for accumulating something essential to political transformation: symbolic capital."

Unfortunately, much of the inherent interest in matters such as the return of Transylvanian Catholic bishop Inochentie Micu's bones to his homeland more than two centuries after his death is crushed under the weight of Verdery's prose. By all rights, the role of historical personages in shaping nationalist myths ought to be a fascinating subject, deserving of analysis more dynamic than this: "Because corpses suggest the lived lives of complex human beings, they can be evaluated from many angles and assigned perhaps contradictory virtues, vices, and intentions." (Simon Schama's Landscape and Memory, for example, discusses several cases of the intersection of nationalism, historical memory, and natural landscape in a lively, engaging style perfectly accessible to a broad audience.) And although Verdery presents her work as a counterpoint to "the rationalistic and dry sense of politics that so many political analysts employ," readers--even those with patience for vehemently academic writing--may ask themselves who hasn't figured out by the end of the 1990s that culture shapes politics in chaotic and unpredictable ways. --Ron Hogan

Book Description:

Since 1989, scores of bodies across Eastern Europe have been exhumed and brought to rest in new gravesites. Verdery investigates why certain corpses have taken on political life in the turbulent times following the end of Communist Party rule.

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Verdery, Katherine
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