“These buried people are dead and gone.”

Before or after they were buried?

Actually this is not necessarily another case of a student inept at writing about death, of which I have had words before. So often they are trying for a gravitas, a profundity, that they can’t get at with ideas or words. After laughing, I do spend a moment appreciating their aspirations.

The student who wrote about “buried people” here was discussing the case of a man who stole damaged or disintegrating cemetery art, refurbished it, and in some instances, including one spectacular case dealing with a Tiffany window, sold it. I ask students to decide what the man had actually done, and how criminal it is. I get some interesting essays from this topic.

This student is trying to say that the dead don’t care what happens to the stones (etc.) above them—or, in the case of the Tiffany window, the mausoleums around them. This is part of her argument that it is impossible actually to steal from the dead. So by “these buried people” she means “the people whose remains lie in this cemetery,” and by “dead and gone” she means “no longer capable of owning anything or having an opinion about material goods”; “no longer in this world.” She’s taking the clichéed “dead and gone” quite literally.

And I knew what she meant.

Alas, though, as in many of the other Horrors I copy into my little book, she may have meant it, but she didn’t write it.

The written word is a funny thing. We set great store by it, and whole disciplines—industries—have been built up to serve and interpret it (Literary Criticism, History, Constitutional Law, Theology…). Yet it is slippery, elusive, protean, relative, source-dependent, reader-dependent, inadequate.

Nevertheless, any effort at interpretation must begin with the thing itself, das Ding an sich—in this case, the word. And by that measure, my student has not made a point: she has merely written what seems to be a self-defining sentence that evokes laughter. Or at least silly questions.

Well, all I can say is, I hope I am well dead and gone before anyone tries to bury me.

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

6 responses to ““These buried people are dead and gone.”

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