Jeremy Bentham’s “Auto-Icon”


From Simon Critchley’s The Book of Dead Philosophers:

In a text called Auto-Icon: or, Farther uses of the dead to the living, Bentham gave careful instructions for the treatment of his corpse and its presentation after his demise. If an icon is an object of devotion employed in religious ritual, then Bentham’s “Auto-Icon” was conceived in the spirit of irreligious jocularity. The “Auto-Icon” is a godless human being preserved in their own image for the small benefit of posterity. [. . .] As such, Bentham’s body is a posthumous protest against the religious taboos surrounding the dead [. . .] Bentham’s body was dissected and his skeleton picked clean and stuffed with straw. [. . .] Sadly, the mummification process went badly wrong and a wax head was used as a replacement. The original, rotting and blackened head used to be kept on the floor of the wooden box between Bentham’s feet . However, the head became a frequent target for student pranks, being used on one occasion for football practice in the front quadrangle.

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