ZOMBIE BOOK TWO: Memento Mori

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  1. Memento Mori: The Dead Among Us
  2. Memento Mori: A Crime Novel of the Roman Empire | Washington Independent Review of Books
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You think that was an accident? Sebastian is just one in a veritable army of iconographic figures, of which death is another. Believe it or not, there are all types of death; especially in art. You have death riding a pale horse as one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, you have the dance of death and you have the memento mori.


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Each has its own nuance. The dance of death employs a more literal manifestation in the image of an animate skeleton or corpse. This is not necessarily an individual who has risen from the grave so much as a personification of the concept. The tableau can be lighthearted: a cavorting group of skeletons that dance around the living; or it can be somber: a skeleton cast as a grave digger. The dance of death is what we could most easily associate with the modern zombie. Martinelli painted several similar scenes of interrupted banquets, showing revelers who had only just begun their meal and thereby implying people struck down in the prime of life.

Unlike the dance of death, the memento mori is a much more generalized representation of mortality. It can be subtle or overt, depending on the artist and the context of the piece. Overt images are skulls, bones, slaughtered animals or open graves. Subtle images are commonly found in still life paintings which render groups of vibrant flowers alongside a single, wilted blossom, rotted piece of fruit or creeping insect. Skulls rest inside homes upon the floor, outside on the ground, on desks, on caskets, held in outstretched hands or tucked neatly under a cloak.

These are your basic proto zombies. Whether dance of death or memento mori, all of these paintings meditated on mortality to one extent or other. I am dubious. Still, Frye has a point. Human beings expend a lot of energy contemplating their relationship to death and trying to bridge the gap that makes the concept abstract.

Here, death is depicted as a hunter; a skeleton firing an arrow while riding an emaciated horse toward a man who does not appear alarmed or frightened. Instead the dude stands there calmly, gesturing toward his waiting bier. After all, death is inevitable, right?

Anxiety and dread can go hand in hand with the preoccupation of death much more easily than passive acceptance. And not all of these morbid paintings were merely symbolic; some of the most desolate, almost post-apocalyptic images were based on real world events.

Pandemic dominated the works of 17th century painter Domenico Gargiulo. In the foreground, bodies of plague victims are being dumped alongside a fountain and in the background men are being hanged from makeshift gallows; executed on suspicion of spreading disease. On the horizon, lines of smoke suggest extensive devastation throughout the city. Sound familiar? It should. This is a record of real events.

Now think about the pilot episode of TWD with the piles of bodies, destruction of infrastructure, heck even the lines of smoke rising from Atlanta as Rick rode toward it on the deserted highway. Creepy right? The practical fears of modern Americans involve the foundering economy, political upheaval, war, terrorist attack and struggles with opposing ideologies.

What would happen in the absolute, worst case scenario; if those problems got so out of hand they resulted in the collapse of society? Zombie narratives are nothing more than modern iterations of the dance of death and the memento mori. They posit the same questions about these terrors, they are expressed in extremes and yet they remain comfortably removed as a fictitious and supernatural scenario. With the invention of photography, dating back to the s, the memento mori leapt from the canvas to the daguerreotype.

Yes, even before Facebook and Instagram, old timey folk were taking creepy and probably inappropriate pictures. People quickly developed a fascination with postmortem portraiture. The practice of commemorating the loss of a loved one by taking a picture of the body became hugely popular and pretty soon, this gothic sentimentality devolved into morbid voyeurism. During the Civil War, Matthew Brady and his assistant Alexander Gardner made a career out of taking pictures of battlefield carnage, then displaying them for public consumption.

If he was unsatisfied with how the bodies had hit the ground, Brady was not above moving corpses around to get a better shot. Papers in the North claimed that the children of Confederate soldiers were being given toys made out of the bones of Union soldiers while papers in the South made the same claims, only in reverse.

Seriously, do you have any idea how creepy that is? Imagine if you woke up tomorrow and decided to go down to the deli for a nice cup of coffee and a jelly donut. That would be ridiculous, right? But people bought it and frankly, they still do. This type of yellow journalism has been around forever.

Given our lasting penchant for gore it is no surprise that blood and guts have continued to dominate visual culture from old timey sculpture and painting, to somewhat less old timey photography, to film, television and the internet. Just like Gargiulo, modern artists are creating the illusion of literal representation and letting people conveniently forget they are reading context into what they see.

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Memento Mori: The Dead Among Us

When we watch horror we conveniently forget that we are merely digesting the fears that come from real life while keeping them at a safe distance. The dance of death, the memento mori and zombies are all reminders of the inevitable. Death chases people down, springs up from the shadows and dogs our footsteps. Zombies change the game because they indicate that personification has stopped being an abstract concept and started being us. Now death has a name and a face; it is someone we knew and loved.

Everyone has the potential to become this monster.

The once human zombie acts as an allegory writ large for racism, classism and consumerism. They are symbolic of distinctly human systems of belief and behaviors such as religious and political ideology. But all of these implied meanings pale in comparison to the first and last word on the human condition.

Speaking of shambling, stay tuned for Zombie Snob Part 2 , where our search for delicious brains will take us from the canvas to the silver screen! Austin Alchon, Suzanne.

By Sarah Domet

A Pest in the Land: new world epidemics in a global perspective. Mormando, eds.

Memento Mori: A Crime Novel of the Roman Empire | Washington Independent Review of Books

Bishop, Kyle William. American Zombie Gothic. North Carolina: McFarland Inc. Boeckl, Christine M. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. Craig, Kenneth M. Frye, Roland Mushat. Hibberd, J. March 19, Janson, Horst W. Kelly, Van. Lu, S. March 28, Lynch, E. Its possibly former owner and operator seems to be Madame Leota, judging by the constant references to her and psychic relics scattered through the shop, according to Steven Miller, the Merchandise and Communications manager of the park, Memento Mori was once Madame Leota's abode, with her many belongings still in the shop as well as a portrait of her.

Memento Mori also introduced a new line of Haunted Mansion merchandise.

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Prior to the existence of Memento Mori, Haunted Mansion merchandise had been sold in a merchandising kiosk outside the attraction themed to a gypsy cart owned by Madame Leota, with the cart's design also taking inspiration from a gypsy cart designed for the unbuilt Museum of the Weird. This theme would inspire the new shop's Madame Leota theme. On September , Disney confirmed Yankee Trader would close in place of a new Haunted Mansion-themed store for a new wave of merchandise.

Memento Mori opened on October 6 , and replaced the Yankee Trader. For starters, the cast members here dress slightly different than the butlers and maids positioned at the Haunted Mansion. The most notable feature is the slightly brighter color scheme, and the tie being worn has a button resembling Madame Leota's tombstone outside The Haunted Mansion. Multiple paranormal occurrences take place inside the shop:.

There is a "Spirit Photography" booth in which guests get their picture taken, and have it modified to look like one of the photographs hung in the Haunted Mansion's corridor of doors, giving them a winking eye, coloring their skin blue, and giving them skeletal teeth.