The Art of the Eulogy: On ‘Dead People’


Nick Ripatrazone in The Millions:

In their new book Dead People, Morgan Meis and Stefany Anne Golberg complicate our understanding of the public action of eulogy. They offer eulogies for a unique cast, includingChinua Achebe, Osama bin Laden, Susan Sontag, and Kurt Cobain. Although the origin of the word “eulogy” is “to speak well,” Golberg and Meis interrogate that idea, and instead see how the “death of a fellow human being can be the opportunity to enter into that person’s life.” The traditional Aristotelian method of eulogy is to step back and consider someone’s life from a distance. Instead, the authors of Dead People dig in: “We’ve chosen to wear our bias on our sleeve. We’ve chosen to take these lives personally.”

Golberg and Meis pen alternating eulogies, some of which were published previously as standalone essays. The result is a book that is very much an anthology. Dead People is not a single narrative, thesis-driven work of non-fiction. In fact, the writers’ introduction to the work is their only action of framing, which results in the book having many different entry points. You don’t need to read Dead People front to back; its value lies within its stylish and substantive reconsideration of an ancient form.

A few entries can example how Meis and Golberg use eulogies as part prose-poems, part historical reconsiderations, and part philosophical treatises. The result is an intellectually entertaining and flexible book. Meis first considers the life of Christopher Hitchens, and consistent with his plan for the book, interrogates the man for his unflinching support of the Iraq war: “Hitch could never say it. There was something greater at stake for him. There was something that he valued more deeply, in this case, than he valued the truth.” It’s a clever way to craft a portraiture of Hitchens, as a man whose morality could exist on some other plane.

More here.