Speaking About Death

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Do we live to die? Asking this question supposes that the limitations of an experience (life and the ending of it) define its purpose. In this case, the purpose of life is to be over, or so many nihilists would say. It can’t be right for the reason alone that life’s determination is not fixed. I could die anytime, and because I did not die now means that my life did not have the purpose to be over right now. My life’s purpose is always pushed further, defeating the meaning of the now – of the complete experience up to now. It seems the lack of a definite timeline set for the end of my life contributes endlessly to the contradiction of its purpose. I have lived until now and yet I am not dead: What can I make of this fact in terms of sense and meaning? Moreover, death is never yet. How could I give purpose to something fictional that is never real in the now? I should then put death in the category of all the unsubstantiated things in terms of time: things that can be conceptualized but whose concepts cannot relate directly to their substantiality as of now. What is the purpose of things that don’t exist in the now yet? It seems that their only purpose, in relation to their current ontological status, is to become be-ing (1) , to manifest themselves from a now moment to another one. The purpose of death is to be, but it vanishes every time it brings itself into being. Death tries infinitely to engage in the now but it can’t do so, and this is because the act of living fills the entirety of time. As Merleau-Ponty said, time is full of being. (2) Death is ungraspable because it has no possibility to give perspective. We represent death as an “other side” because it is so unrelated and impossible to locate within life. Living is perspectival. Our understanding of objectivity and subjectivity requires spatiality because we think of perspective through space. One needs to be aware of a separation between a here and an out there to compose the difference between their eyes and someone else’s. In this sense, objectivity requires subjectivity in order to be known, and vice-versa, for without one we could not know the other. Apperception, which is thinking in its most essential form, is what allows Kant to say that there is a perspective other than his own, and apperception in itself is a perspective; it’s a funnel directed towards one thing, or one thought, and moves from one to another. (3) Death can be neither objective nor subjective because it is devoid of spatiality, of time, and of tools for perception – including the possibility of perspective itself. We cannot perceive death because it does not provide anything to perceive, and death provides nothing to perceive because it has no access to being through time. To see a corpse being active and responding to stimuli, and suddenly it stops being as such and drops numb on the ground: this is probably the biggest problem that gave rise to thinking – or at least to thinking of time. We witness the unknown without itself. It’s as if we were in a box seeing the sides being pushed concavely from outside. Death pushes on-to Being to get inside of it, but this is to no avail. However, this analogy doesn’t quite grasp the reality of death because it rests on the notion of space – of which death doesn’t have any. In fact there is no reality for death. Our reality is that sometimes, unpredictably, animals and humans stop moving for as long as we have yet to live, and I say “yet” because we can’t say forever: who knows if my deceased grandfather will walk again when I’m dead? A dead body has absolutely nothing. What do you mean “he’s dead”? He’s gone. But where? He’s gone nowhere. He’s gone nowhere because the notion of perspective is only unique to being a-live. Without space, and thus without perspective, there is nowhere else to go. As Bergson explained so well in Matter and Memory, the soul cannot go anywhere else because if it did then we would be attributing it a spatial meaning, resulting in equating the soul to be a body – even though the entire mind-body problem considers the mind as non-corporeal object. (4) What is death then? It’s the shocking call of a boundary that has yet to be now. It’s a limit unannounced. It escapes us as much, if not more, as the thought of our own nonexistence. I cannot dissociate the “I think” of Kant from my representations: hence imagining a life of others with me being dead is actually still including me in it and this imaginative act would be inaccurate. Language itself can’t even grasp what death is because death is not “out” of life since it has no spatial feature. What about time? Yes, death is a boundary in time that does not exist as of now. The ending of my time is not even death itself. Death is the absence of my time, but the presence of my causation for others. Leaving an object unattended for someone else, posing a ticking bomb in a supermarket in the Middle-East, or the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 as an act of protest that’s left to others to understand: these are manifestations of causes that supersede our living, and somehow other people see us through these. (5) As Bergson demonstrated in Time and Free Will, moments in time last through a process of durée, and somehow they stretch from a now to another, always by-passing other nows. We might then consider the real death to be the one that never existed in the first place. Those who are not remembered and whose keepsakes and effects upon the world have been lost forever, so much that we can even say they were never born in the first place: those are the real dead. But again, this is the sort of death that is manifested from the inside of a reality. What I can see, and what I can speculate about, is only from within my own time. I cannot know what comes after I’ve opened my eyes for the last time.

However, we need to keep Hegel in mind: “Seeing the limit as limit means it has already been surpassed.” (6) Death, therefore, cannot be surpassed. The absence of time, for me, is unthinkable because it is the presence of time for others, one would argue. We then fall back into our problem of perspective: death is beyond subjectivity and objectivity. We only encounter a body being numb and heavy on the floor, and the deceased person remains forever in memory: his or her voice cannot be heard in a way that is given and forced upon us as it was in everyday life. This will never happen again. They no longer force themselves into my life, my consciousness, and now I have to willfully recall how they sounded like in order to “hear” them again: What should I make of this factual difference in time? In times of grief we may ask: Where are they? I would be lying if I said they were in time, because time has no spatiality, and I am also forced to say they are not somewhere else. Furthermore, there has never been a case of a patient for which all the health settings were fine and yet they died anyway. Likewise for the opposite case: when something fails in the body, it will always stop being alive. If I could walk without a heart and if my grandfather could speak without a brain, our attachment to time, which is translated through our understanding of what is given to us, whether we are conscious of it or not, would be very different. Witnessing that he or she has no future in the realm of what is given to me is another traumatic shock caused from the strength and hardness of time itself. This is, in my opinion, where thinking originates: a progression of an increasing number of differences in time appeared to us, we somehow began to notice and to become aware of these differing appearances in time, and thoughts started to emerge as a result of this slow progressive act of differentiating between the now and then.

How shall we speak of death, then, if it is not accessible through our perspectival apparatus of thinking? I would argue that we are simply left with a wonder that is unsolvable for the sake of other wonders. The one thing of which we cannot think about and speak about is what allows us to speak and think of everything else. (7) Death, as being a moment of unperceivable limiting absence, shock, and wonder, becomes the intellectual starting-point for thinking and for the Platonist use of λόγος (logos). Heidegger’s opening to ontology: “Why are there beings rather than nothing?” (8) Camus’ worry about suicide, whether we should jump ship now instead of later, and, of course, Socrates’ dramatic departure for the unspeakable of, leaving us the unsolvable mystery of why he did so. These instances all show nothing more than the human attitude in its original form. (9) Bodies falling on the ground and parents who never wake up anymore: They remind us that we are perspectival beings and that every practice of philosophical thinking is in one way or another related to this reminder. Why is it easier to say “I know I will die” rather than “I think I will die”? What is Kierkegaard getting at when he notices that we do not instinctively think about our own death? These questions inevitably lead us to noticing that death escapes λόγος by nature – if only death had a nature! Death is not perspectival; death cannot be tied to the ground as Plato intended the act of λόγος to do. (10) I must conclude, for now, that to speak of death it should be necessary to know how to not address this “it” to which it is impossible to refer. If anything, perhaps we must die, when the moment is appropriate, as it has been shown that as definite and limited beings as we can be, we too can be full of perspective and that, perhaps, there is a limit to what objectivity and subjectivity permit. We will see the loved ones and the extras lying down in a coffin and we will turn their bodies into ashes or make them “one” with the earth by burying them. However, we must keep in mind that the meanings we give them as soon as they can no longer respond to pain and to us are nothing but a misattribution. We cannot speak of death properly, and we cannot give it meaning as a result of this. We must simply give ourselves to time itself.


(1) “De l’étant” in French

(2) Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phénoménologie de la perception. p.471 : « Si le monde objectif est incapable de porter le temps, ce n’est pas qu’il soit en quelque sorte trop étroit, que nous ayons à y ajouter un pan de passé et un pan d’avenir. Le passé et l’avenir n’existent que trop dans le monde, ils existent au présent, et ce qui manque à l’être lui-même pour être temporel, c’est le non-être de l’ailleurs, de l’autrefois et du demains. Le monde objectif est trop plein pour qu’il y ait du temps. Le passé et l’avenir, d’eux-mêmes, se retirent de l’être et passent du côté de la subjectivité pour y chercher, non pas quelque support réel, mais, au contraire, une possibilité de non-être qui s’accorde avec leur nature. Si l’on détache le monde objectif des perspectives finies qui ouvrent sur lui et qu’on le pose en soi, on ne peut y trouver de toutes parts que des « maintenants ».

(3) We see here Husserl’s starting point for the notion of intentionality.

(4) Bergson, Henri. Matière et mémoire. Sections « Introduction » and « De la sélection des images pour la représentation. Le rôle du corps. »

(5) I am referring here to the matter of people feeling the presence of someone who died when they find objects that belonged to them. PTSD is another example of causation superseding an event.

(6) Luft, Sebastian. “Husserl’s Phenomenological Discovery of the Natural Attitude.” Published in Subjectivity and Lifeworld in Transcendental Phenomenology. p. 38

(7) For all we know there could be other things impossible to talk about, such as death, as absence of time, before birth. What language cannot define, it allows it to define other things.

(8) First question Heidegger addresses in a lecture given in 1935, published in Introduction to Metaphysics (Yale University Press)

(9) And perhaps this is the difference between humans and animals.

(10) See Plato’s Meno. Meno suggests logos (λόγος) as an act of “tying down” a thought or a truth to the ground so that it would not escape the soul of whoever talks about it. To give account of something is to attach this “something” to a ground so that we don’t search forever what it means or what it is.

I’d like someone to be somewhere waiting for me,
Someone with something somewhere to see,
All white flakes dropping so aimlessly,
It’s all for me – it’s all for me.

Someone somewhere someday to be,
A laughing-stock, a staking-jock,
A dearly mate in times of loss,
A greater hate for when we cross.

It’s all for me, it’s all to be,
Someone someday somewhere to see
Me being poor and on all four,
It’s all for me – someone lovely.

To Ms. Emily Dickinson

Stage-struck – The eyes are opened, and they fill this room with a glow that brings a weal on its own. The mouth leans forward to let the lips make a few vertical majestic moves coupled with some gracious gesticulations from the other limbs. I’m standing here, staying still as a stone, on a stage filled with cracking noises coming from the wooden planks getting older through invisible time. I inhale, and then I start to deliver a thread of words supposedly coming from my heart. My tongue is shaking through the sounds of order, the bursts of revolutions and the sumptuous compliments I give to the ladies in the first row. One motion after the other, I walk across the stage at different speeds like Don Juan. From stage left to right, I become what I’ve never been. I lose all knowledge of my identity above the curtains and under the acute surveillance of a hundred faces stricken by my presence. They know who I am. They can tell what I’m like even though I don’t have the means to do it anymore. A single step forward is enough to get rid of every notion of soul and meaning. Next, another shout mimicked with my hand goes on to lose itself in the middle of some theatrical fight, and forgets itself amidst the ruins of an existential collapse. My body stands here, as my mind becomes subjugated by that of another. I learn how to live through becoming this other. I take on the ownership of his words and his spontaneous diction, so much it becomes a metaphysical surgery. And now I’m sitting down on the edge of the stand as a man enjoying the last breath of his youth. I’m waiting. I’m waiting for the souls in the audience to capsize on their seats all the way to the back of the theater. I’m waiting for a rain of emotions to flood their faces one after the other in between the triggering silences of the play. Only when the end gets closer in time do I take hold of myself again. My physical exhaustion makes me happier about the real world. Time slows down and I suddenly perceive more easily this other stage on which I keep living all the time. It only took me a few hours of adopting a seemingly fictional life to find back some adoration for my own. To act is nothing but the action of enjoying one’s the body and the versatility of their soul.

This is a translation of the original French text Sur les planches.

I

Life is mere disappointment when the clocks keep ticking and the sun goes high. Always bring around the bad news on a sunny day, for its receiver will have a nice weather as a consolation. “At least it’s nice outside” the shopkeeper says, as if the vanishing of a cloud weighs better than a verbally announced tragedy. How ironic is it that the star which enlightens the deceived on the source of their suffering is the same one that lights up their world. True things hurt: they make a man shake with as much resonance as a baby’s throat playing disastrous chords from the moment it exits the womb. Do you hear the wind breathing through the maple trees? Its vernal freshness comes caressing your rosy cheeks as you ponder on what it is that makes you generous to others. No one needs to know their own limitations, yet this is what every being seems to strive for. Would you crave to know where the line stands between your strength and its negation? Think of how it would affect your sense of self to know fully well the place you hold on a map, rather than being amusingly tortured by the deprivation of this knowledge. Tell me, dear inquirer of your own borders, who is the son when his mother knows the horizon of his life? Where goes the heart when the blood remains stagnant? Why should the kingdom of your desires be stopped by some border when doubt and nothingness can be the meekly comfort in the depth of your failures? To hell with curiosity, to hell with certainty! Pray for the clocks to keep ticking a second once more after the other ’til heaven never comes down to Earth.

II

We shall hear the silences of the heart rather than its beats. The noise is constant and it promises to come back to one’s ears. Listen to how this quiet void tells the true nature of one’s thoughts. Listen inside your chest to what does not come about. Shut your sight and feel this emptiness yearning to be unheard. Although your whole being is known by the fences that guard it, the peaceful quietness of your heart shall reveal everything but your essence. By knowing this Nothingness that negates who you are, you discover the nature that shapes your very own soul.

III

Where comes about the world that implodes on itself? Hold on to sweet announcements they bring to your ears and have your lips be drenched from their anticipated reality! Wait in line to watch a truth unfold, and have your hands cut off from the unknown. Have them give up rocks and wooden sticks in exchange for tools specially made for you. Be the monkey of your Man, be his laughing-stock! For he holds a void more useful to life than any of your tools can do. Hammers and sickles are nothing but pointless fuss when a single one of us could exist for us all.

When the doves cease their whistling,
And their wings cut by the blooded pitchforks,
Only then, will you hear the sound of my voice,
Screaming for you to give me a hand,
Urging you to put a kiss on my forehead,
Only then, will the world know how I truly loved you.

I

You removed from your life this man who knew not what he had done. He tried to capture an ounce of wisdom with his bare hands and he had failed lamentably in front of your blue gazing eyes. He feels sorry for his own pain and yours. “It’s been a rough week” you said, and oh how I had wished he could have been by your side. He owes you books and bits of wisdom that you had picked from your own tree, then placed lovingly in his hair and between his fingers. After all he is a man not so simple who, day by day, becomes more remorseful over what he is offered by this life and yourself: a delightful past much too gone.

II

The tongue is so useless when you think it would be of no use if we ran into each other on the street. Words were tremendously meaningful when we first acknowledged each other. Once you forgot my name and turned your ears away from my sounds, I could not help but become a blank book whose last remaining bit of hope is enacted by blindly asking to be read one more time.

The Popular Illness – So many men knocked on my door moaning over the pains they used to have. “I was ill, one of them said, I remember it very well! O how sick I used to be! Sick of this and that, of everything and nothing! Have I been struck by life’s ordinariness? It doesn’t matter, for I was ill and I remember it.” Today still, I cannot help but watch humanity soak itself into the sufferings long gone and the pains that it has yet to discover. Here I am, living in the Occidental world, the land on which one needs to suffer in order to exist. My blood boils when the words “rights” and “progress” get echoed from the young blokes’ lips. These are no more of a cure, but a new way of celebrating each and every symptom of the next societal plague instead. Rather than being doctors, the philosophers have become mere paramedics of morality. All around me, my brethren and my peers have replaced the words with groans and screams. Agonizing does not emerge from human nature anymore. It is instantaneously created as soon as a glimpse of guilt appears on each and every street corner. And when this scourge, tortured itself by the screams of its victims, begins to vanish from the surface of the Earth, no one else is pained by its disappearance. One may believe that happiness and peace only come back on Mankind’s doorstep in silence, despite our voices so loud and powerful.

About The Supremacy of Love – What are the oppressors doing to the dearest ideas of ours? They hammer these marble blocs, strive themselves like vultures toward the modern values, all of which will go down sooner or later in the history books. We ended here, in the middle of these utopic constructions subdued by a foolproof fear, with no kiss to alleviate ourselves and no words to hear each other. I feel you feverish and shaking in front of these newly improvised martyrs who scream at the top of their lungs, all of this despite your beaming look and gleeful stance. The sky sprinkled with grey clouds oversees the dancing of my eyes all over your hands, your face, and your smile so young, yet bleeding from the surreal atrocities of the world. “Absurd” is the word you slipped into my ear as you echoed your disgust in front of this sadistic delirium. So I remove myself from the sternness of this place and I grab my cynical coat hoping it would save you from your humanitarian revulsion and welcome you inside my arms, and among my fictional comfort. Hand in hand, we dodge the seriousness of every face and the astonishment of these living corpses in order to run away on this road made of clay towards this marble column – the only one that keeps resisting against the gunshots, hammers, and sickles. Each body’s love betrays the ideals of the world and reminds us the uselessness of each and every kind of belief. We are both stricken by deadly philosophical bullets as well as by traumatic and distanced dreads. Even though you think differently than me, I love you, and I couldn’t say why.

“Tell me, O wisest Bear of them all,
Hast thou found back the honey that was lost at once?
Did the yellow-stripped creatures crown you
With a better offering from this forest?”

And the hairy beast answered:

“None of this is what reconciliates me with the seasons.
I may dream of Australian lands and hide from the coldest winds,
But truth is, I simply took hold of my eyes,
And came back on the paved road where I left it.

I once met a magician of the soul,
Who could make virtues appear in her eyes,
Like dancing sea waves.

She would smile at the rain,
And have a laugh when in vain,
Nature does once too much pain.

She then left my world as she entered it,
In a profound silence between the flicking of books
and the scratching of pens on pages.

Never had I recovered from this devastating loss,
Until she reappeared before me,
With the cure to my dystopian dreams.

I look at the trees today and thank them,
For the shadows they provided me,
When I was blinded by her tricks and charms.

I walk on this earth today,
Knowing fate’s absurd being,
Is no more than a mere child’s play.