Technologies of the Human Corpse
272 pp., 5 x 8 in, 12 b&w illus.
- Published: March 31, 2020
- Published: August 3, 2021
- Published: April 3, 2020
The relationship of the dead body with technology through history, from nineteenth-century embalming machines to the death-prevention technologies of today.
Death and the dead body have never been more alive in the public imagination—not least because of current debates over modern medical technology that is deployed, it seems, expressly to keep human bodies from dying, blurring the boundary between alive and dead. In this book, John Troyer examines the relationship of the dead body with technology, both material and conceptual: the physical machines, political concepts, and sovereign institutions that humans use to classify, organize, repurpose, and transform the human corpse. Doing so, he asks readers to think about death, dying, and dead bodies in radically different ways.
Troyer explains, for example, how technologies of the nineteenth century including embalming and photography, created our image of a dead body as quasi-atemporal, existing outside biological limits formerly enforced by decomposition. He describes the “Happy Death Movement” of the 1970s; the politics of HIV/AIDS corpse and the productive potential of the dead body; the provocations of the Body Worlds exhibits and their use of preserved dead bodies; the black market in human body parts; and the transformation of historic technologies of the human corpse into “death prevention technologies.” The consequences of total control over death and the dead body, Troyer argues, are not liberation but the abandonment of Homo sapiens as a concept and a species. In this unique work, Troyer forces us to consider the increasing overlap between politics, dying, and the dead body in both general and specifically personal terms.
Troyer is one of our greatest thinkers on the ways technology and capitalism continue to transform the idea of the human corpse.
Caitlin Doughty, mortician and bestselling author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
Troyer shows us how death can breathe new life into technology studies! Insightful, intimate, and often touching, Technologies of the Human Corpse provides a roomy critique of the matter and meaning of human mortality.
Philip Olson, Associate Professor of STS, Virginia Tech
With masterly skill and compassion, Troyer moves effortlessly between the interconnected worlds of personal loss and professional death studies. He examines the post war history, life and value of the corpse and leaves us musing about our own life, death, and that critical threshold that lies between.
Professor Dame Sue Black, author of All That Remains: A Life in Death
This book is at once a theoretical study of the birth of the modern corpse and a very personal story of death and loss. By its very structure, it demonstrates how real death—no matter how professionally familiar—punctures our attempts to control or rationalize it. A brave, important, and very human work by a major thinker in death studies.
Joanna Ebenstein, Founder and Creative Director, Morbid Anatomy
Troyer's argument for more transparency and regulation of corpses sits alongside his deeply moving account of his sister's death, making his book both personal and poignant.
Candi K. Cann, Associate Professor, Baylor University