Happy Mortal

This life, well-lived.

Forgetting how to Die

IMG_1459 So, I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Seattle watching the rain, and thinking about death. More precisely, I’m thinking about how death makes the world go round for all of us, but it still scares me shitless. And it strikes me–our misappropriated fear of death impels us toward a posture of preservation. Ironically, this posture of preservation only increases death. What do I mean? We’re obsessed with memory, with being remembered. And so, we want to make things that last: plastic, steel, nuclear waste. We’re obsessed with things that last: diamonds, gold, monoliths…

But, when was the last time you fertilized your garden with left over plastic? For that matter, when was the last time you fertilized your garden? (I can’t really get on my soap box here, I don’t have a garden either) We’ve forgotten because we don’t want to confront the fact that one day our consciousness blinks out. We’ve forgotten because we’ve been taught to forget. Whether it’s a faith tradition, a hope in science, neurotic belief that the accumulation of goods is some way equivalent to immortality, our superstructure keeps us in denial.

Usually, when I blog, I like to suggest some sort of solution, but I’m running on empty with this whole death thing. DOur natural body which we gain from nature is total environmental friendly but we add cloths, shoes, electronic gadgets, polymeric materials and many more into our life. All of additional things in our life which we continuously added with our life (in civilization progress) have many environmental impacts.”

I can’t help but wonder if this kind of movement is a latent memory of how to die. My experience with death and funerals has typically been one of memory. Harrison’s Dominion of the Dead addresses some of this, and may be helpful in thinking through how we got oursevles to this point.

University of Chicago Press has this to say of Harrison’s work: “Harrison contends that we bury our dead to humanize the lands where we build our present and imagine our future. As long as the dead are interred in graves and tombs, they never truly depart from this world, but remain, if only symbolically, among the living.”

This suggests to me that history presents a terrible dilemma: composition vs. decomposition. If, indeed, we do build our civilization on a humanized foundation of earth, we erode that same foundation by not allowing the dead to decay. Again, this is where I find myself stuck. Our preservation of memory (composition) increases our forgetting, and thus threatens our de-composition, literally and figuratively. It’s been said that we write to forget, perhaps, also, we write to forget to die. There is a tension here: remember/forget that I don’t quite know how to resolve.

So, for now, I’ll fall back on metaphor and pop culture. (Believe it or not, as I’m writing this, Foo Fighters’ “let it die” just popped up on my ipod.)

If you haven’t seen The Fountain, please see it. It approaches this unresolved dilemma. “Death is a disease,” Hugh Jackman yells at his dying lover. The irony of course is that cancer is a disease comprised of cells that have ‘forgotten’ how to die. I’m not sure how to resolve this conflict of interest between living and dying, composition and de-composition. So, I’ll leave it there.


  1. Two questions and a quote (two turntables and a microphone):

    1. How is our fear of death misappropriated? Is it our fear of death that has lead us to hyperpreservation or our desire for death?
    2. When was this magical time before we forgot how to die?

    Since we were massaging the Baudrillard on your post about Obama’s press conference, I thought I would share this gem:

    “Similarly, we reduce life and death to the opposition between them, reduce them to opposing terms or, in other word, to their ‘objective’ reality. Now neither life nor death can be exchanged for anything. They alternate and that is all there is to it. Like the seasons, like the elements that change into one another–fire, water, earth and air. Like colours: neither red nor blue can be exchanged; they are exchanged only in terms of wavelength. Otherwise, they are incomparable qualities. Or, rather, there is a duel between them: Death toys with life, life toys with death. Which of the two succumbs? Santislaw Lec reverses the terms here: it is not we who defend ourselves against death, it is death that defends itself against us: ‘Death resists us, but it gives in in the end'” (Lucidity Pact 187, 188).

  2. I think what scares us about dying isn’t the dying. It’s being reminded of the now. And are we happy with it.