How do our ideas about dying influence the way we live? Life has often been envisioned as a journey, the river of time carrying us inexorably toward the unknown country—and in our day we increasingly turn to myth and magic, ritual and virtual reality, cloning and cryostasis in the hope of eluding the reality of the inevitable end. In this book a preeminent and eminently wise writer on death and dying proposes a new way of understanding our last transition. A fresh exploration of the final passage through life and perhaps through death, his work deftly interweaves historical and contemporary experiences and reflections to demonstrate that we are always on our way.
Drawing on a remarkable range of observations—from psychology, anthropology, religion, biology, and personal experience—Robert Kastenbaum re-envisions life's forward-looking progress, from early-childhood bedtime rituals to the many small rehearsals we stage for our final separation. Along the way he illuminates such moments and ideas as becoming a "corpsed person," going down to earth or up in flames, respecting or abusing (and eating) the dead, coping with "too many dead," conceiving and achieving a "good death," undertaking the journey of the dead, and learning to live through the scrimmage of daily life fully knowing that Eternity does not really come in a designer flask. Profound, insightful, often moving, this look at death as many cultures await it or approach it enriches our understanding of life as a never-ending passage.
List of Illustrations
1. Here (?) We Are
2. Practicing Death: Some Rituals of Everyday Life
3. Good Death, Bad Death (I): In Other Times and Places
4. Good Death, Bad Death (II): Here and Now
5. Corpsed Persons
6. Abusing and Eating the Dead
7. Too Many Dead: The Plague and Other Mass Deaths
8. Down to Earth and Up in Flames
9. Journey of the Dead
10. Living Through
Robert Kastenbaum is Professor Emeritus, Arizona State University. He is the author of many works, including The Psychology of Death (now in its third edition, 2001), Death, Society, and Human Experience (now in its eighth edition, 2004), and Dorian, Graying: Is Youth the Only Thing Worth Having? (1995).
“vividly interesting...”—Publishers Weekly
"Here is a compelling book well worth the unexpectedly easy task of reading it."—Ronald Conway The Australian
"Witty, exuberant, mind-opening. Only a team of psychologists, philosophers, cultural anthropologists, researchers, clinicians, and humanists--a Kastenbaum-- could have produced such a brilliant synthesis of theory, folklore, art, and astonishing new insights. If one book could keep us company on our way through that final passage, this is it. But why wait?"—Sandra Bertman, author of Facing Death: Images, Insights and Interventions
"If you're going to die, you might as well know what you're in for. Here Kastenbaum maps the territory of the other side, attending to death and its denizens through the ages and across the continents, always with empathy and often with wit."—Stephen Prothero, author of Purified by Fire
"Reading Robert Kastenbaum's new book, On Our Way,
is itself a wondrous, illuminating, surprising journey. Issues of death, and therefore life, are explored along the way in this wise and profound book. This is a well-written, wide-ranging survey of the place of death in life, and the possibilities for life after death in a variety of cultural settings."—Gary Laderman, author of Rest in Peace: A Cultural History of Death and the Funeral Home in Twentieth-Century America.