Dead Matter

Dead Matter

The Meaning of Iconic Corpses

Margaret Schwartz

A corpse is much more than a dead body

168 Pages, 6 x 9 in

  • Paperback
  • 9780816694341
  • Published: December 15, 2015
  • eBook
  • 9781452945392
  • Published: December 15, 2015


Dead Matter

The Meaning of Iconic Corpses

Margaret Schwartz

ISBN: 9780816694341

Publication date: December 15th, 2015

168 Pages


8 x 5

"In a deep, sophisticated, and riveting book, Margaret Schwartz shows us how corpses become focal points for collective meaning—in nation construction, in violence and martyrdom, and in the passion of fandom. In explaining how the dead circulate among the living, Dead Matter gives us the tools to better understand death as a social and communicative phenomenon, and, one hopes, build more thoughtful relations with the dead."—Jonathan Sterne, author of MP3: The Meaning of a Format and The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction

"Dead Matter bridges important theorizations of death, the human corpse, and mediation. This book is a critical connecting point between seemingly disparate fields of study."—John Troyer, Deputy Director of the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath

Taking as its starting point the significant role of the photograph in modern mourning practices—particularly those surrounding public figures—Dead Matter theorizes the connections between the body and the image by looking at the corpse as a special instance of a body that is simultaneously thing and representation. Arguing that the evolving cultural understanding of photographic realism structures our relationship to the corpse, the book outlines a new politics of representation in which some bodies are more visible (and vulnerable) in death than others.

To begin interpreting the corpse as a representational object referring to the deceased, Margaret Schwartz examines the association between photography and embalming—both as aesthetics and as mourning practices. She introduces the concept of photographic indexicality, using it as a metric for comprehending the relationship between the body of a dead leader (including Abraham Lincoln, Vladimir Lenin, and Eva Perón) and the “body politic” for which it stands. She considers bodies known as victims of atrocity like Emmett Till and the Syrian boy Hamsa al-Khateeb to better grasp the ways in which the corpse as object may be called on to signify a marginalized body politic, at the expense of the social identity of the deceased. And she contemplates “tabloid bodies” such as Princess Diana’s and Michael Jackson’s, asserting that these corpses must remain invisible in order to maintain the deceased as a source of textual and value production.

Ultimately concluding that the evolving cultural understanding of photographic realism structures our relationship to the corpse, Dead Matter outlines the new politics of representation, in which death is exiled in favor of the late capitalist reality of bare life.

Margaret Schwartz is assistant professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University.


Introduction: An Iconography of the Flesh
1. The Body of the Nation
2. Martyred Bodies
3. Tabloid Bodies