The Sphinx at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massaschusetts
The Sphinx at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massaschusetts
The Sphinx at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts

“There is something noble in the love of the dead.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have been thinking for the past few days now about Molly Osberg’s recent piece in Jezebel, “There Is No After.” In it, Osberg describes the incalculable toll of the past year, both in terms of human lives lost and in emotional and psychic trauma for those of us who remain: “Now, staring down the oft-invoked ‘return to normalcy,’ I don’t know how to metabolize such a towering sense of collective grief, and one that’s infused practically everything I’ve ever known.”

Osberg describes the surfeit of…


Public Displays of Grief and the Politics of Mourning

Graffiti, Brooklyn, NY.

Charlie Stross has a great thread on Prince Philip’s death and what it means to perform compulsory mourning for a stranger, which I recommend everyone checking out. In particular, I really appreciate the way he notes the divide between public discussions of sex versus public discussions of grief; in the Victorian era, death was omnipresent, while sex was hidden, and now, it seems, the poles have reversed, with talk of sex everywhere even as death has become increasingly hidden from view in the modern world.

But I want to separate out two halves of the question of mourning that are…


Covid-19 Memorial, Brooklyn, NY.

So this is how the world is beginning again: not with a bang, but with a series of whimpers.

Like everyone, I’ve been trying to imagine what will constitute whatever the “new normal” will be, and trying to figure out when it’s going to get here. What I realized I’ve been wanting, and what will never come, is some Morgan Freeman-esque President of the United States to come on to a national televised address, one that we will all watch at once: not just those of us at home, but blue collar workers interrupting their daily grind, bar patrons who’ve…


When the drama of human life is secondary to the plot

A still from Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color (2013)

Early in the pandemic I watched two films, one that I’d seen dozens of times before, and one new to me. David Cronenberg’s 1986 classic The Fly offers a fairly standard narrative arc: A scientist named Seth Brundle plays God and is punished. His secret invention, a teleportation machine which analyzes your molecules in one telepod and reconstructs them in another, is world-changing. But Brundle gets ahead of himself, deciding drunkenly one night to teleport himself long before he’s worked out the kinks and the safety protocols for his machine. A fly buzzes into the telepod with him, and the…


The writer’s much-mocked style reveals a hatred for the exhausted language of euphemism

These days, everyone hates Ernest Hemingway, which is fine. There are many reasons to hate Hemingway. Most of them are good reasons and only a few of them are bad: The toxic masculinity, the cartoonishly macho hobbies, his inability to fathom the interior life of women. Above all, there is the union of this stunted emotional life with a pared down, minimalist prose style, one that had become ubiquitous for a time in creative writing workshops and literary journals.

Matthew Adams, writing in The Washington Post, summed this up what has become, I think, the general attitude toward Hemingway’s style…


Every graphic tells a story, and we desperately need stories in order to divine meaning out of chaos

Bill of Mortality
Bill of Mortality

This week marks a year that the Covid Tracker Project, based out of The Atlantic, has been gathering data on the pandemic. With that anniversary, the editors recently announced they’re ending the data collection part of their work. For the past year, I’ve become accustomed to starting and ending most days with graphs like these: Line graphs laying out the number of Covid cases, the number of hospitalizations, the number of deaths; heat maps showing the severity of outbreaks, organized by county and by zip code. And now, the ever-expanding number of vaccines delivered.

Each of these charts tells…


For decades, the website’s harsh light of truth rooted out urban legends and conspiracy theories. Does it still work?

Over the past 25 years, the internet has gone from a place of possibility and promise to a dreary slog. Nowhere is this more evident than in the evolution of Snopes.com, a website that once brought a great deal of joy to the internet explorer. Since its founding in 1995 by husband and wife David and Barbara Mikkelson, Snopes’ mission of “debunking” has changed in ways both subtle and inexorable, from targeting urban legends like Bigfoot to unpacking QAnon conspiracy theories. The distinction may seem slight — both are false stories whose appeal lies in their capacity to spread and…


The holidays are a turning point for Americans who are making the calculation that Covid-19 simply doesn’t matter

People wearing masks sit in socially distant lawn chairs at Hudson Yards in New York City. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

“We don’t want to admit that we are fundamentally dishonest about reality,” psychologist Ernest Becker wrote in 1973, “that we do not really control our own lives.” Becker’s book, The Denial of Death, made a simple point: Rather than face the fact that we have so little control over our own mortality, we repress the very fact of death to the detriment of the world and ourselves.

It is now November 2020, and for the third time this year, the coronavirus pandemic is out of control. Except instead of a state-by-state outbreak, the virus is now everywhere. Exponential growth points…


In the face of so much death, mass-market decorations cut close to the heart of the pandemic

Photo: The Washington Post/Getty Images

Not since April have the streets of New York City been piled high with so many corpses. This October, though, it is not the refrigeration trucks outside of hospitals, stacked with an overflow of corpses that the morgues and funeral parlors cannot handle. This time it’s the Grave & Bones Collection from Home Depot: A line of posable skeletons and ersatz tombstones, capped off by the towering, 12-foot Big Skeleton with flashing LED eyes ($299, sold out). A stroll through my Brooklyn neighborhood (or really, any neighborhood this time of year) turns up house after house bedecked with skeletons sitting…


The first step is recognizing that conspiracies do, in fact, exist

Supporters of President Donald Trump wearing ‘QAnon’ t-shirts wait in line before a campaign rally at Freedom Hall on 10/1/18
Supporters of President Donald Trump wearing ‘QAnon’ t-shirts wait in line before a campaign rally at Freedom Hall on 10/1/18
Photo: Sean Rayford/Stringer/Getty Images

Back in April 2019, when QAnon had established itself among the fringe far-right of the internet but had yet to fully spill out into public consciousness, my friend Eric sent me an email with the subject line “Lifting the Veil: The Pedophocracy.” It was a link to Lifting the Veil: An Investigative History of the United States Pathocracy, a 2015 book by Tim Silver of obscure origins that exists primarily as PDFs passed around on the internet. It begins with the history of the CIA’s MK-Ultra project and moves on to increasingly elaborate theories about a sinister cabal of pedophiles…

Colin Dickey

Failed histories, histories of failure. Author of four books: The Unidentified, Ghostland, Afterlives of the Saints, and Cranioklepty.

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