A tombstone bears the single last name
It provides no given names,
no dates of birth and death, no epitaph. If the design motifs are appropriate, the
tombstone could belong to Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). It could equally belong
to any of his forebears, wives, descendants, or someone completely unrelated. A
genealogist would make every attempt to solve the mystery, but genealogy is prone to
history’s “lapses” and
“fainting spells.”  Without
further evidence, the tombstone serves only as a statistic of migration; all that the
genealogist could say is, “At least one person named Bach, probably of Germanic
descent, is or was buried here.”
To the casual observer, however, the tombstone bears a name detached from its corpse.
Without any supporting text, the tombstone is free to signify the famous historical
figure in lieu of its intended purpose. This phenomenon extends beyond famous
surnames to those derived from common language. Just as the anonymous “BACH” kills the composer, a
“LONDON” kills the city, a
“GREEN” kills the color. Beyond common or proper nouns, the phenomenon
includes surnames derived from all parts of speech. Individually, they constitute a
lexicon of death. Together, they form a language that speaks of everything and kills
everything of which it speaks.
As a phenomenon, such tombstones defy artistic representation. To draw or paint or
sculpt them would immediately cast doubt upon the authenticity of the subject. Their
existence depends upon a fine balance between presented and omitted information that can
only be documented in photographs. One could easily use a computer or other means to
contrive an image of a single last name on a tombstone, but this is a case where truth is
stranger than fiction. The model for such a contrivance already exists in the form
of a ready-made vanitas. According to Michelangelo, “The greatest
artist has no single concept that a marble block does not contain already.”
If the graveyard represents Heaven on Earth, with its gated grounds and saintly statues,
then such tombstones represent an anomaly of Heaven.  They have failed in their
mission to be the identifiers of individual souls. As if to apologize, they return
their surnames to history or common language, and thus return their souls to a nameless
state. For Michelangelo, a divine force placed the concept within each marble
block. For these tombstones, an imperfection of genealogy has replaced the role of
the divine. This imperfection reveals that the anomaly of Heaven is entirely
 Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge. Translated by
A.M. Sheridan Smith, New York, 1972.
 Baudrillard, Jean. Simulations. Semiotexte, New York, 1983.
Baudrillard describes the baroque use of stucco as "a transubstantiation of all
of nature into a unique substance." In the same way, granite serves to
transubstantiate all of Heaven within the context of the graveyard.