cover of book

Mystic Bones
by Mark C. Taylor
University of Chicago Press, 2007
Cloth: 978-0-226-79037-4
Library of Congress Classification BF1891.B64T39 2007
Dewey Decimal Classification 203.7


The desert has long been a theme in Mark C. Taylor’s work, from his inquiries into the religious significance of Las Vegas to his writings on earthworks artist Michael Heizer. At once haunted by absence and loss, the desert, for Taylor, is a place of exile and wandering, of temptation and tribulation. Bones, in turn, speak to his abiding interest in remnants, ruins, ritual, and immanence. Taylor combines his fascination in the detritus of the desert and its philosophical significance with his work in photography in Mystic Bones.

A collection of remarkably elegant close-up images of weathered bones—remains of cattle, elk, and deer skeletons gathered from the desert of the American West—Mystic Bones pairs each photograph with a philosophical aphorism. These images are buttressed by a major essay, “Rubbings of Reality,” in which Taylor explores the use of bones in the religious rituals of native inhabitants of the Western desert and, more broadly, the appearance of bones in myth and religious reality.

Meditating on the way in which bones paradoxically embody both the personal and the impersonal—at one time they are our very substance, but eventually they become our last remnants, anonymous, memorializing oblivion—Taylor here suggests ways in which natural processes can be thought of as art, and bones as art objects. Bones, Taylor writes, “draw us elsewhere.” To follow their traces beyond the edge of the human is to wander into ageless times and open spaces where everything familiar becomes strange.

By revealing beauty hidden in the most unexpected places, these haunting images refigure death in a way that allows life to be seen anew. A bold new work from a respected philosopher of religion, Mystic Bones is Taylor’s his most personal statement of after-God theology.

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