Saturday, December 9, 2017


Now every man may be his own statue.

– Jeremy Bentham

We hear much about Millennials; little about Perrenials.

That's about to change.

The perrenial "auto-icon" of 18th-century British philosopher Jeremy Bentham will travel next spring from London to New York for an exhibition at The Met Breuer.

Ten years before his death, in Auto-Icon; Or, Farther Uses of the Dead to the Living, Bentham suggested that mummified corpses (which he called "auto-icons') could serve as "statuary" for anyone with a big ego, but a small pocketbook.

Auto-iconism, Betham said, was the thrifty way to be honored in death. You'd spare your heirs both the cost of a funeral and a statue. They could decorate the garden with you.

"For many a year this subject has been a favorite one at my table," the philosopher said.

"My body I give to my dear friend Doctor Southwood Smith, to be disposed of in a manner hereinafter mentioned, and I direct he will take my body under his charge and take the requisite and appropriate measures for the disposal and preservation of the several parts of my bodily frame in the manner expressed in the paper annexed to this my will and at the top of which I have written 'Auto-Icon.' The skeleton he will cause to be put together in such a manner as that the whole figure may be seated in a chair usually occupied by me when living, in the attitude in which I am sitting when engaged in thought in the course of time employed in writing."

Bentham's final instructions were followed to a tee; and since his death, in 1832, Bentham's auto-icon has filled a cupboard at the University College London.

And now it's traveling to New York.

Bentham's head, alas, won't make the trip. It will remain behind, on display at the collegeA wax substitute, made by Bentham's doctor in 1832, will ship with the body.

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