James Joyce’s death mask, by Paul Speck (1941)
Okay. Yes. Obviously this is the Shroud of Turin, which, hey, take it or leave it at your metaphysical will.
On August 29 of 2010 Biblioklept ran an image of Walt Whitman’s death mask; the day happened to be a Sunday, and we’ve run a death mask every Sunday since then, with the exception of Sunday, September 11, 2011, when to do so seemed to be in poor taste.
Over the past year and a half, folks wrote in to tell us repeatedly that the death mask was in fact a life mask, or that the death mask was perhaps of spurious origin, or even just that they liked the death mask. Thanks.
Anyway, Sunday death masks were fun for the past 17 months or so, but next Sunday marks a new year, and today’s Sunday is the last of this year, and it’s Christmas, which makes the Shroud of Turin a nice, easy way of saying: no more death masks, at least not on a regular basis. Maybe we’ll do some other regular Sunday posts (mugshots? bookshelves?) but no more regular death mask Sundays.
(Yes, yes; we know it’s a life mask. We use the term “death mask” for editorial reasons).
Regular readers of Biblioklept may know that for the past year or so I’ve posted a death mask every Sunday. Sometimes these “death masks” are actually life masks or even busts made years after burial. Obviously, these bizarre statues—which belonged to Jackson himself—are not death masks in any literal sense, but I think that they capture some of the strange horror of MJ. As I argued in an essay written shortly after his death, Jackson’s physical body was a concentrated site and signal of the American Dream as process, as change, as commodity capital written on the physical self. The death masks above (as I choose to call them) embody the bizarre fascination that will always mark any serious consideration of Jackson’s career as a public figure. As he showed us repeatedly in his music videos and short films — not to mention in his multiple radical plastic surgeries — Jackson posited his physical body as a site of mutation, transformation, and disruptive change; these changes ran the gamut of physical possibility, from the organic werebeast/zombie dancing king at the center of “Thriller” to the mechanized cyborg we see above. In any case, forgive this post’s (probably) lurid title—it is simply offered in the spirit of consistency, affording me an opportunity to share some strange pics of a tragic, horrific figure this Halloween.