Live Body, Dead Body, Ashes. Contemporary Cremation and the Ontology of the Dead Body

Cremation (from the Latin cremare – to burn), or the incineration of a corpse, known to humanity since neolithic times as an alternative to the burial of the dead, is one of the main practices used to destroy corpses today. It is particularly important not to overlook this obvious fact in the context of the contemporary ritual of incineration. In contemporary conditions, death has ceased to be mastered and is instead rationalized. It has taken on a new face and place in social space under the care of professionals and in connection with the newest technology. The active and rational human being of modern times has deemed death and transience to be a problem. The ideology of the hospital gave birth in the second half of the nineteenth century to the discourse of hygiene. The arguments made by some of the first proponents of cremation were deeply interwoven with that discourse. Those proponents were mostly nineteenth-century doctors and politicians who promoted the new idea in the pages of the professional medical journals they published or at international congresses organized in Paris (1867) and Florence (1869). These men of science expressed the need to create new techniques for preserving the dead, emphasizing in particular the hygienic and economic aspect of the problem.