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Human RemainsMedicine, Death, and Desire in Nineteenth-Century Paris$
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Jonathan Strauss

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780823233793

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823233793.001.0001

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Death Comes Alive

Death Comes Alive

Chapter:
(p.103) Four Death Comes Alive
Source:
Human Remains
Author(s):

Jonathan Strauss

Publisher:
Fordham University Press
DOI:10.5422/fordham/9780823233793.003.0005

This chapter examines the most influential of the early nineteenth-century theories of death. Death, from the hygienic viewpoint, was a material presence: not a concept or abstract limit, but a state. Its essence, it seemed, could be located in putrescence, which was understood, in turn, as a form of fermentation. From a close reading of key pathological texts, an ambiguous image of death emerges, however. And this ambiguity opened a rich imaginative zone in which the living and the dead could share characteristics, a zone from which emerged the notion of an inanimate sentience hidden in the material world and vestigial present in human consciousness. This sentience was particularly closely related to the sense of smell, through which human beings retain an experiential access to it. The sense of smell revealed, moreover, a capacity to reorganize the significance of mortality in its structural relation to the city.

Keywords:   putrefaction, Paris, miasma, life, death, sentience, Louis Pasteur, Claude Bernard, smell, Walter Benjamin

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