Do Graveyards Have Memes?

January 13, 2011 |  by

Gravestones. Angels. Iron doors on tombs.

Huge Victorian mausoleums.

They’re all markers of the past. Every group has a meme. But what happens when the group is gone – or dead?

I went with a friend to Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland. The place is a wonder, designed in 1865 by Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who designed New York’s Central Park. There was nobody there – but it felt like there was.

Phantoms and ghosts? What were we feeling?

What we felt was a remnant.

Remnants are the leftovers (literally “the remains”) of memes. Every group leaves markers of who they were. Tombstones, carvings and architecture are the markers – the remnant is what you feel. In this case, it’s the meme of the people who lived and died in Oakland 100 years ago. Put simply, remnants are the memes of the past. But unlike people – values, influences and agendas don’t die – you can still feel them.

That’s the thing about remnants – they’re time warps.

Remnants are how we feel the past. What was present in a meme lives on through a remnant. Remnants are what you feel when you visit historic sites or ruins – Luxor in Egypt, the Colosseum in Rome. Just recall any archeological documentary, when the head archeologist wistfully notes: “You can still get a feel for what it was like then.”

Some remnants are stronger than others (i.e. you feel more). The tighter-knit the historical meme, the stronger the remnant will be.

When you feel a remnant, you can sense the past and present intermingling. That’s why I feel such timelessness in cemeteries. And why they’re such a good place for walks. Tranquility and rest.

In peace.


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