Tag Archives: Little Big Man

Thomas Berger, 1924-2014

From Berger’s 1970 novel Vital Parts: “The trick of survival was to accomplish something of no utility, and so small as to be inconspicuous.” If we admit that books, like so many of the best things, have no utility, then perhaps it explains Berger’s longevity. He was a recluse and underappreciated, but Little Big Man alone (which is so much better than the film based on it) is accomplishment enough for any life, I think.

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Marginalia, no.203

The Scythians who swore by wind and sword, that is, by life and death, were so far from burning their bodies, that they declined all interment, and made their graves in the air: And the Ichthyophagi or fish-eating nations about Aegypt, affected the Sea for their grave: Thereby declining visible corruption, and restoring the debt of their bodies.

~ Thomas Browne, Hydriotaphia

Life is a debt we incur before we can be held legally responsible for it. But at least the forms of repayment are varied. Persons disenchanted with the traditional soil blanket method might reconsider the practice of the ichthyophagi, which is apparently coming into vogue again thanks to celebrity adopters. I admit that sea burial sounds poetic (“the dice of drowned men’s bones,” etc). It’s preferable to cremation and presiding as genie-in-the-bottle over one’s own memorial service. But the Scythians with their sky burials had the better idea, especially for those in no hurry to pay their debts. This is proved by the penultimate scene in the 1970 film version of Little Big Man, when Old Lodge Skins, after a bathetic tearful farewell, climbs atop his own burial platform and comically fails to expire.

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