Review of Death Mort Tod: A European Book of the Dead
By Steve Finbow and Karolina Urbaniak
Infinity Land Press (2018)
To order visit: https://www.infinitylandpress.com/shop
Review by Tony Oats
I have always been fond of European folk tales, and collections thereof, beginning with my childhood fascination with the tales of the Brothers Grimm. How strange they can be, and how counterintuitive the narrative styles. Each collection of folklore is a kind of a patchwork quilt, not really giving a complete story of anything, but offering glimpses into the narrative styles and warped imaginations of European peoples.
Death Mort Tod, by Steve Finbow and Karolina Urbaniak offers us a different kind of patchwork quilt – one that explores the ways that European cultures can confront, experience, and conceptualize death. Each country is allocated one page and one story by Finbow, and one accompanying photograph by Urbaniak. It is a kind of European Biennale of Death. The telling of the stories is in no way uniform, nor even always story telling. Some of the entries are traditional tales, sometimes isolated stories of criminal horror taken from police blotters. Other times the tales are of atrocities, and sometimes mythologies, revised and even mashed up with tales from those police blotters.
The accompanying photographs initially don’t appear to tell individual stories of their own, so much as set the stage for the written stories – instruments of death, and broken bodies, earth, and darkness and bones and despair. And soon it becomes clear, that this stew of tools and bodies and bones and the grotesque is telling a story after all. It is the kaleidoscopic story of the book, and its vision of the forms of death and the various ways death intersects our lives and perhaps even subsumes them. The images, like the prose, are unrelenting. There is no escape from them; in this too they are like death itself.
What does this patchwork quilt of death tell us? What do the juxtaposition of the pictures and the texts tell us? They tell us that maybe there is no single thing that is death. There are many kinds of death or perhaps many things we carelessly label “death.” Or in any case, country by country, story by story, people are assuredly not confronting the same thing. They are not even talking about the same KIND of thing. What kinds of things are they talking about? Well, here are some examples and the (stories) in which they appear.
Sometimes death is a tool. (Russia)
Sometimes death is a state. (Bulgaria).
Sometimes death is a state of fear. (Romania)
Sometimes death is a sacrifice. (Moldova, Spain, Vatican City)
Sometimes death is a web of events. (Poland)
Sometimes death is a story. (Monaco)
Sometimes death is a covey. (Iceland)
Sometimes death is a violent dance between borders (Luxembourg)
Sometimes death is an act of creation. (Romania)
Sometimes death is a process, already taking place (Montenegro, Slovenia)
Sometimes death is a species of knowledge. (Serbia)
Sometimes death is an act of anticipation. (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Italy, Austria)
Sometimes death is a job – an occupation. (Andorra, Hungary)
Sometimes death is an opportunity for defilement. (France)
Sometimes death is game of trickery. (Estonia)
Sometimes death is a mode of vision. (Luxembourg)
Sometimes death is an undesirable object. (Lithuania)
Sometimes death is an image. (Spain)
Sometimes death is a sequence of images. (Latvia)
Sometimes death is an ecosystem. (Bulgaria)
Sometimes death is a poem. (Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Vatican City, Poland, Liechtenstein)
Sometimes death is the extermination of identity (Kosovo)
Sometimes death is an equalizer. (Montenegro)
Sometimes death is a service. (Switzerland)
Sometimes death is an event of decomposition. (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Hungary)
Sometimes death is an act of forensics. (Kosovo)
Sometimes death is a historical recurrence. (Macedonia)
Sometimes death is an act of violence. (Russia, France, Belarus, Turkey, Cyprus)
Sometimes death is an act of God. (Portugal)
Sometimes death is a passing presence. (Lithuania)
Sometimes death is a broken body. (Turkey, San Marino, Austria, Czech Republic)
Sometimes death is a place. (Malta, Italy)
Sometimes death is a hermetic ritual. (Latvia)
Sometimes death is a monster. (Belarus, Hungary, Slovakia)
Sometimes death is hyperkinetic. (San Marino)
Sometimes death is a form of disgust. (Romania)
Sometimes death is a form of the grotesque. (Sweden)
Sometimes death is the target of a scream. (Ireland)
Sometimes death is genocide. (Ukraine, Croatia, Kosovo)
Sometimes death is a moment of political change. (Serbia)
Sometimes death is a punishment. (Malta)
Sometimes death is a transition. (Denmark)
Sometimes death is the end of a sickness. (Denmark)
Sometimes death is a golem. (Czech Republic)
Sometimes death is a sniper. (Finland)
Sometimes death is a fear. (Romania, Netherlands)
Sometimes death is an act of exploitation. (Moldova)
Sometimes death is an act of violation. (Belgium, United Kingdom)
Sometimes death is erasure. (Croatia, Vatican City)
Sometimes death is a system of rules. (Albania)
Sometimes death is a breach in the unity of life, a biological paradox, an abomination, an absurdity, an exaggeration. (Norway)
Sometimes death is for death. (Slovenia)
Sometimes death is nothing at all. (Romania)
Life is a phase of death. (Germany)
Life is death, or something worse. (Sweden)
Death is us. (Romania)
There is a difference between the ‘is’ of identity and the ‘is’ of prediction, of course, but the point here is this: There is no single thing that is death, AND there is no single property which the many forms of deaths share. For that matter, no single form of death has an essence. We thus live not so much in a patchwork quilt of death, but a kaleidoscope of deaths. And death. And more death.
Tony Oats lives in Bushwick, New York, with zir cryptokitties Salvador Beachnut Sizzzz and Tangerine Cream. Ze writes poetry about can openers, blenders, and the philosophy of time. Ze does not write prose, except in anger. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
About the authors:
Steve Finbow’s fiction includes Balzac of the Badlands (Future Fiction London, 2009), Tougher Than Anything in the Animal Kingdom (Grievous Jones Press, 2011), Nothing Matters (Snubnose Press, 2012) and Down Among the Dead (Fahrenheit 13, 2014). His biography of Allen Ginsberg in Reaktion’s Critical Lives series was published in 2011. His other works include Grave Desire: A Cultural History of Necrophilia (Zero Books, 2014) and Notes from the Sick Room (Repeater Books, 2017). The Mindshaft will be published by Amphetamine Sulphate in 2019. He lives in Langres, France.
Karolina Urbaniak is a multimedia artist and co-founder of Infinity Land Press. Urbaniak’s published work includes To Putrefaction (M.Bladh, K.Urbaniak, 2014), Altered Balance – A Tribute to Coil (J.Reed, K.Urbaniak 2014/15), The Void Ratio (S.Levene, K.Urbaniak, 2015), Artaud 1937 Apocalypse (S.Barber, K.Urbaniak, 2018). Her recent multimedia projects include the soundtrack for Darkleaks – The Ripper Genome (J. Reed, M.Bladh, 2017) and the audio/visual installation On The New Revelations of Being (M.Bladh, K.Urbaniak 2018) inspired by the work of Antonin Artaud. She lives and works in London.
Eugene Thacker is the author of several books, including In The Dust of This Planet (Zero Books, 2011) and Infinite Resignation (Repeater Books, 2018).
Brad Feuerhelm is an artist and the managing editor for American Suburb X. He lives in Slovakia.
To order visit: https://www.infinitylandpress.com/shop