Saturday, May 15, 2010

Death Obsession

I love to watch the Other proposition and slink before Life in all of its fearful hesitation, unsure of meaning, unsure of its own desires, unsure of its fate, blind to the patterns of language and symbolism it leaves behind itself as it seeks to dance (caparisoning always on the edge of commitment, eager to lose one of its glass slippers) with Existence, with what it wakes up inside every day, with what it tries to consume, absorb inside itself, reduce to ashes. And my Gift is to assume that others have the same subjectivity I assume I have: that is, the Will, pausing to dwell inside a subjectivity it considers natural and irremediable, beneficently (so stylishly, falling to one knee, perhaps, in its mock curtsey) assumes the subjectivity of others or even of the Other itself, and doesn't pause in lending meaning from the internal world to everything on the outside: all souls, all thinking beings, all language, all history. "I have subjectivity, I have a Will, and others must also." This is such an emotional decision, and I wonder most of the time if it just springs from loneliness. I create other people in order not to feel the chill of interstellar space. Where are the hearts I can burrow inside and listen to pulsing? Where is the blood I can feed from? Where I end, at my outermost boundaries, there the Others begin, and it is the same with Life and Death. We take Death to be the opposite of Life, and so assume that Life has qualities which can be aligned against their tonal opposites in Death, although we allow the absence of qualities (the presence of an absence, sheer negation, a withdrawing) to be qualities in themselves, in the same way that black, the absence of all light, is considered to be a color in itself - even though it is in fact the absence of all color. A definition is bound in its own meaning by what it defines, it can not escape its own predicates. Are not Life and Death just abstractions, however? Can they be qualified or quantified, are they concepts or events, penetrations of Being, lapses in time, collections of memories? Do either exist?

Is Death an end to Life? This we do not know. Of course we can measure such things. We calibrate our increasingly sensitive instruments to measure the vital signs of the human body, that which exists in the present, that which carries from one moment to the next (that which does not divide time or stop it, but enables it) - we measure our heartbeats by the ticking of seconds and the two rhythms intertwine, we lose our concentration in the space between seconds...what is more important, the remorseless tread of the small hand or the erratic flow of blood? One blends into another, they become the same. We measure life through seconds and clockwork, we measure clockwork by the meaning it gives to lives. One day can be as good as the next, or worse, one day can blend seamlessly into the next or be transformed and assume a life of its own, a special significance, a meaning. Opposites resist the attraction to penetrate each other's being. They are rigid in their self-determination, their consciousness of solidarity and continual existence: which is to say an existence that carries through time, if not space - it exists in the present and then the past, it flows into the future through humanity's goodwill. Death or Life could end tomorrow - there are no assurances of either, although Life continuing seems to deny Death, even though Death is carried inside Life like a seedling and can burst forth in any moment, between the slowed ticking of seconds. Life presupposes Death, it prepares the materials for its own succession. Opposites bound each other, where one begins the other ends. Do they join? What separates them - a third term? Life exists until the last second of its ceaseless procreation, its innate tendency to exist in time until denied by Death, even though Death is a condition or state and not an acting agent...which automatically leads one to assume Life is the same, an involuntary state. Life and Death can not exist in the same second. Each forms, in the definitions of its own identity, the liminal markers of the other's existence. As one is defined, the other comes into existence - in the same way that once one word is created, all others are created by default: one symbol limits the rest of existence from itself, and that Other automatically assumes a number of forms in relation to the first sign. We must assume that Death came first...and is thus the origin, starting point, and "true" nature of existence - but this is, once again, an emotional decision. There is no evidence of origins. At the vanishing point in the past Death and Life comes closet to each other as one loses the thread of consciousness's resonance, and the boundaries between the two concepts become hazy as we can no longer define Life outside of complex organisms. The two concepts seem to want to merge, and we resist this. Can concepts become so blurry in outline that they interpenetrate? Or is this just an illusion, a trick of ignorance or perception? We tell ourselves: there can not be Life without Death, and vice versa. Where one ends the other immediately begins...there is no transition, no space, no real border in time if one assumes that borders are locations and meeting places of diverging objects or concepts. We also posit Death-In-Life and call it "dying", a process (which means it has borders of its own, and ending and a beginning, its own identity, its own meaning), but "dying" does not exist. Until the last second of the dying process there is still Life, and Death is as far removed from existence as if it could not take place at all. Dying, then, is Eternal Life in life, until the last second of its process. Life is deathlessness, although all life which exists must die eventually. In this it differs from Death. Life presupposes Death, but this equation can not be reversed. The two abstractions are not equal - they in fact do have different qualities which are not mirrored in each other. I can not imagine Life without Death, or Eternal Life, as a life not bound by death would become a completely new concept all together and thus escape my abilities to define it in relation to anything conscious. I can, however, imagine a Death that lasts forever, or rather: a Death that takes place as an event, and then carries on through time as a denial of further life. There is also the terrible conundrum that I am a creature of Life, and thus barred from the consciousness of Death, if it exists...but that is all relative.

Two objections here: that in talking about Death, for example, we are using a method of communication, language, that is limited to concepts which are not complete or sound in themselves - we can talk about the concepts but our language does not meet, adequately describe, or completely map out the existence of the objects, events, or subjects which it describes - which is to say that one can switch around concepts and their qualities in language as a sort of game (applying meaning to one facet or another, subtracting it from another), but one never touches the signified. If meaning is created for the immediate consciousness (just in the case of this text, for example) by examining momentary, fragmentary, elusive concepts, are the natures of Death and Life ever adequately set down for even a moment in time? Or do they ceaselessly escape all definitions, the entire holding or withdrawing power of concepts and symbols? Can we even speak of them? Can concepts interpenetrate while their "objective" realities in life do not? We have symbols for what we can define, of course, as a definition is often nothing more than an equation of relating one symbol to another, but do we also have symbols and concepts for "things" we can not define? Of course: abstractions, even abstractions that never touch experience in any way. Do we have symbols for the space outside the liminal area of signification? Or is this just another meaningless concept? One of the beauties of language is the fact that it is not limited either to existence or history, and in the creation of symbols and metaphors the self-reflexive symbol, or a metaphor that relates to another metaphor, is just the beginning of an unending chain of abstractions. I often think about Death as being the ultimate symbol in this respect...as it is not only an endless source of symbolism (being, in effect, a mirror that one can not penetrate, which reflects whatever is put in front of it and thus assumes the shape of the viewer), but the end of all symbolism in its eternal silence, its eternal absence. Its profundity is the same as its measureless shallowness - which is to say it does not have any dimensions at all, and can be seen in this way to "exist" outside of time. Death can take Time as a partner or not.

If one were addicted to profundity (or fearful to escape its often mundane, leash-led circle) - and by this I mean the bourgeois profundity (which is nothing but the extension of the first lessons of pain and pleasure projected outwards to an entire philosophy/morality) - one would pause at the edge of Death and declare the wisdom of keeping silent about the domains which one can not enter consciously...and by consciously I mean "with the possession of language" or "with the ability to transcribe and translate thoughts and experiences into language." Death is an endless seducer of profundity, even if the profound only turns out to be meaningless. What use to us is a voyager who enters Death and who, miraculously, returns to Life without the ability to describe his experiences, to be assimilated back into Life? What if he returned altered in such a drastic way that he could no longer communicate with the living - what if he returned (even after only a second of death) speaking another language entirely? He is no longer an extension of our meaning, but he would be an object of our Outer experience...as we would not be able to penetrate to his consciousness or inner subjectivity, which is where we would want to go, mimicking his travels beyond Life by entering his subjectivity, leaving our own behind. Would we withdraw the Gift of subjectivity from him - would we, no matter how much he moved and breathed, spoke and sang and loved, declare him dead? I wonder. How would this dead soul view us? How can one truly "understand" Death, however? How does one "understand" anything? One defines a concept, again, by equating its signified object with something else...in the basic meaning of the equation it does not matter, outside the consciousness, whether the two equated concepts are linked empirically or not. Thus, as said above, Death can be made a metaphor for anything, it being an eternally undefined (yet still bound within limits, thus always ambiguous and "half-defined", a "half-concept") and eternally darkened plain, a plaything for the consciousness to reflect itself inside. Could the game of defining Death only equal the process (beginning and end) of placing one concept in relation to another, one abstraction in relation to a subject, sensation, experience, etc.? Perhaps there is also the possibility of defining it in the process of dying (this is a joke, "dying" does not exist), experiencing it itself - but how can one experience something which supposedly extinguishes all consciousness? One must separate the entire process of extinction from the last moment of sensation. In the very climax (which is the same thing as saying its beginning or end) of death, then, the ability to experience, distinguish, define, determine, etc. is removed. There is the halting, world-weary, exhilarating expectation, the slow, stately approach or rapid descent, and then...on the very edge, at the most extreme boundary, nothingness opens. There can be no further experience. I assume it would be like attending a concert where the orchestra was always tuning up and moving as if to begin a work, but never actually begins to play. One would see shallow intimations of consummation in the preparation for an event, but the event in itself never has a legitimate existence...and so all the whispering hints of an experience just over the horizon were only illusions. Is this the same as saying they are temptations?

Death is a realm of possible experience that can not be pierced or infiltrated by those who communicate ("create" meaning) or those who add to history. No stock of knowledge about Death can ever be summoned into being by successive legacies of subjective, personal experiences. Histories of "dying" can be created, of course...we can stretch out the process of dying now for seventy or eighty years (what is a biography?); vital, exhaustive records of personal experience up until the very end/ending can be processed, evaluated, summed up or called forth to deliver their moral lessons. There is no history of the subjective death experience, only objective "witnessings", measurements, the recording of silent gazes on the transition from one state to another. The death experience is the closest that subjectivity and objectivity come together, just as (looking backwards) the vanishing point of prehistory is a meeting between Life and Death, or an impenetrable confusion between the meaning of the two concepts and what they can be applied to outside of their existence as basic abstractions. One could say that it is only when Life and Death enter life that they lose all meaning - it is only when they descend from Abstraction to the particular, from thought to experience, from timelessness (eternity of the nonexistent) to the moment, that their limits are blurred by the inability of the concept or abstraction to give meaning to subjective immediacy. It is another example of the universe's sense of humor (I believe) that this death experience is also the vanishing point where a subject finally (as far as we know) becomes an object, where our Gift of subjectivity is removed and withdrawn back into ourselves (we wouldn't consider it polite to grant consciousness and language to a dead man), where a living, breathing, moving human being is turned to stone. The corpse is a final reminder of the impassable distance between souls, between one consciousness and another...this is the same as saying as the dead are symbols of life.

U. Amtey
02 December 2004
23:06 CST
NP: Beethoven - String Quartet in E minor, Op. 59 No. 2, Kodaly