Having thought much about this in recent months, I realized just last night that while my work may not save lives in any literal sense, neither does any other work except temporarily, because ultimately we all die. Thus, those of us who work on the past speak for the dead, either as individuals or as cultures. We are all mortal, and we share this mortality with all life on earth; but what makes humans distinct is that we can memorialize, represent, study, and remember the long dead – their culture, their art, their literature, their governments, their disasters and triumphs, their religions, their social practices, their lives – and we, like them, can leave our traces to be so remembered when we are dead. We all die. And so to speak for the dead is to speak for humanity, for the human condition itself, and it is also to be human.
That's Dr Virago at Quod She, whose words have been haunting me since I read them. They were in fact a spur behind this post on
Here's the thing about the dead--rather than have you or anyone else for that matter "speak" for them, they would rather simply be . . . alive. To keep them alive, even through historical writing, is to risk the zombification of the dead [well, not really, literally, but I think Toni Morrison's book "Beloved" is *the* best cautionary tale on the subject--sometimes the dead need to stay really dead so that those in the present with psychic wounds rooted in the past can heal and go forward into the future].
I agree that sometimes the dead need to loosen their stranglehold on the living, especially when that demand is really an attempt at stasis, but I'm wondering if the desire of the dead to be alive that Eileen mentioned, to be kept alive, isn't what this conversation hasn't always been about. Keeping the dead alive --speaking for the dead, for our future selves even -- doesn't create zombies, provided the dead are allowed the very thing that we have in life: continuity, sure, but only within constant change.