Friday, March 07, 2008

Numbered thoughts on death

This is my first stab at something I've been thinking about for a few weeks, although it was a post elsewhere that gave me the idea for the structure. Forgive the extremely pompous (and overly academic) tone to the piece, whilst it's my normal practice to add a little levity and perhaps the odd picture of a cat it seems a little out of place here. Feel free to add your own catty remarks.

Hopefully, if these ideas take a little more shape I'll be able to put some of it in more straight forward and accessible language. I hope it's not too impenetrable.

We do not speak about death except at strictly demarcated times. To transgress is to invoke a social stigma which is used to police when and where we allow ourselves to discuss our own mortality.

We commemorate then forget those who die, and then are commemorated and forgotten in turn. Commemoration is the tool we use to socially appropriate what we find useful and discard that we find unpalatable or inconvenient.

These social functions are expressions of the living, specifically those parts of the living that are made up of the departed. They facilitate our ability to retain a habitable society by stripping out that which we cannot digest and assist us to pass over those who were once valued parts of our daily lives.

To give these functions their required substance they require a specified form. Rituals, music, gathered people, family members, silences, consumables. Socially accepted observances help us mark off an area beyond which death should not transgress.

This form itself has a beginning, content and an end, possibly with a post-cathartic assembly. Life, death and the process of moving on is given expression in each part. Death rituals do not heal wounds but exorcise them from the way we live our lives.

Death is an absence. As such it is defined by the concretised, or filled, spaces around it that give the empty space the appearance of form. That appearance of being is a thing in itself.

It is the shape around the space we leave that gives our death meaning.

If we choose to give our lives meaning, and our deaths, if we think this has some sort of significance or value, then we do this by "doing", "making", "shaping", in short having an influence upon the world outside of ourselves.

These attempts to shape the world are not conducted in free space, but are acts upon the world. As such we are defined by a social relationships, which can appear intangible, as well as our physical existence - which alone cannot begin to explain who we are.

In death, as in life, we are social creatures. To love without an object of affection, to speak without hearing or to dance without music is to gut the meaning of the acts, rendering them hollow. To live and to die without having touched or effected the world outside yourself is to negate the self.

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