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4 September 2012 | Draft

Enstoning through Petrification and Entombment

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Annex 5 of Fivefold Clustering of Ways of Being Stoned: Imagination, Promise, Rocks, Memorials, Petrification (2012)


"Stone" is used metaphorically and otherwise in a quite disparate range of contexts. These nevertheless offer an elusive implication of connectivity which merits exploration, as attempted here -- especially given the associated sense of concreteness.

This offers an alternative understanding of the frameworks of belief systems, their articulation, and the problematic relationships between them -- exemplified by the communication processes in any gathering in which multiple themes are evoked and challenged from a variety of perspectives -- and to relatively little avail. Use of "stoned" as a provocative mnemonic device is then arguably appropriate through the distraction it offers, whether through use of drugs by individuals, or collective dependence on oil as a drug.

The argument is developed in the main paper in the light of five ways of clustering "being stoned", each summarized in a separate annex:

This cluster can be used to associate the sense of being "turned to stone" through fear, of being buried (alive) through confinement in stone, of entombment after death, and of subsequent putrefecation.

"Petrification" through fear: The term is widely used as a metaphorically description of a response to terror -- whereby an individual (or possibly a group) is effectively stunned, dazed or paralyzed. Some cultures recognize a process of petrification in mythological tales -- involving the literal transformation into stone. Characters who fail in a quest may be turned to stone until they are rescued by the successful hero. The metaphor is of special interest in a period in which humanity is exposed to natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other fearful possibilities. It is appropriate to ask who is "petrified" thereby.

Institutionalized confinement: Individuals may be confined by society for lengthy periods, typically against their will, in ways which are appropriately described as being "buried alive" -- out of sight, out of mind. Those so treated might well be considered to be in a state of "permanent" petrification. Examples include:

Living enshrouded in pain: Legislation in most countries prohibits any right of individuals to choose to die, even when in extreme suffering and indignity with a terminal illness. This has been highlighted at the time of writing by the case of Tony Nicklinson, suffering from locked-in syndrome following a stroke. Related issues include that of denial of release from a minimally conscious state or a persistent vegetative state. This is in marked contrast with the level of legal and financial support provided by states -- with the complicity of most religions -- to cause suffering and death to those declared to be enemies (and with relative indifference to any collateral damage affecting the lives of innocents). Curiously, despite the ever increasing sophistication in death-dealing devices and decision-making, the capacity to make ethical decisions regarding those faced with a life of pain would appear to be stuck in the Stone Age.

Living enshrouded in loneliness: There are numerous references, notably in song lyrics, associating loneliness with "stone" (cf. Michael Swanwick, For I Have Lain Me Down on the Stone of Loneliness and I'll Not Be Back Again, 2011). Any well of loneliness" may indeed be understood as metaphorically "encased in stone".


Encasement of nuclear waste: Radioactive waste disposal poses a special problem because of elements whose dangerous radioactivity only decays over thousands of years. The waste can be encased in resin or concrete and sealed in steel drums. These may be dumped in the ocean or stored in deep mine shafts (cf. Long-term safety of concrete for holding nuclear waste, MIT News, August 2012)

Decomposition of the dead: Seven stages are distinguished in the decomposition of the dead (pallor mortis, algor mortis, rigor mortis, livor mortis, putrefaction, decomposition, skeletonization). Any of these may evoke a sense of horror and a form of metaphorical "petrification" (as noted above).

Petrification and fossilization: Through the petrification process living organic material is converted into stone by the replacement of the original material and the filling of the original pore spaces with minerals. Petrification may be associated with various forms of fossilization.

Myths of a number of cultures refer to people being "turned into stone". Joseph Campbell notes that: A Persian city once was "enstoned to stone" -- king and queen, soldiers, inhabitants, and all -- because its people refused the call of Allah (The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 2008, p. 53)

Preservation of bodies through freezing: Through the developing technology of cryonics, human bodies can be preserved at low-temperatures when life can no longer be sustained by contemporary medicine -- in the hope that healing and resuscitation may be possible in the future. Cryopreservation of people is not reversible with current technology.

Especially interesting to the argument of the main paper are clues offered by myth regarding exposure to the "petrifying" horror associated with death and decomposition (as notably explored in detail by the media for purposes of entertainment). The well-known myth of western culture is the encounter of Perseus with the Medusa -- rendered successful by looking at the Medusa via a mirrored shield, thereby avoiding petrification. The encounter has been the subject of extensive interpretation, itself highly controversial.

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