This lecture will discuss why the demand Jesus made of his followers that they leave "the dead to bury the dead" was as radical and impossible to meet when Marx made it as it had been in Biblical times. Or put differently, it is about why the living need the dead in all times and places but especially, for the purposes of this lecture, why and how the dead take on new responsibilities in nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Thomas Laqueur has worked on the cultural history of the body-- alive and dead-- the history of humanitarianism, the history of literacy and popular culture, and the history of popular religion. He writes regularly for the London Review of Books, mostly about war, the Holocaust, death and other unpleasant topics but occasionally about matters more cheerful. He wrote a libretto for an opera based on Jose Sarramago’s Death with Interruptions. Having finished in 2015 a very fat book called the Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains that engaged him for decades he is beginning work on two new books: a short history of humanitarianism with Seth Kovin and a book about dogs in Western Art. Laqueur was born in Istanbul, educated at Swarthmore, Princeton, and Oxford and has happily taught at Berkeley for his whole career.