How Do We Register Death?

the beautiful lady

How do we register death? With sentiment: “she was special, it was too soon;” with ethical imperatives: it “puts things in perspective,” makes you realize “what you’ve got;” with exploitation : “if only people realized X,” or “you were all doing Y while Z was dying;” or simply as a symptom (which feeds the figure of the victim), which often, but not always, plays into the hands of exploitation. But these aren’t apprehensions of death, but whatever happens after we realize we can’t really think about death proper, in the same way we can’t really think about a pure ‘nothing.’ It’s a shame the way we think about death, the way we’re unable to fit a proper reaction to its unthinkability into anything but these tired forms- forms that are then taken up and animated by tired ideology. The only other options seems cold, fatalist, tautological: (*sigh*) death just *is,* it’s “part of life.” We meet the profundity of death with a litany of platitudes (“it’s a gift” (pfft)) because we can’t think of it as anything other than profound, or some other superlative sense. We feed it to our life, we give it to ‘memory,’ which we think of as something like a parent standing on the sidelines while we play, knowing that they’ll hold it for us until we’re done. Are we more afraid of forgetting? Once we’ve dropped the ideologically sentimental bullshit- “I will always remember you”- what do we do? Just let it fade? Why not? Why do we scramble to apprehend something in the midst of its absence? Why can’t we let it not make sense*?


*Although in another sense, death makes perfect sense: if your body doesn’t have what it needs to function, it ceases to function. The whole world operates according to this logic, which still somehow feeds the senselessness: when people can’t eat, they die; when they don’t have access to healthcare, they die; when you don’t have a home to shelter yourself, you are closer to death, and you die; when you enslave people, occupy a nation, “disagree” with their lifestyle, death abounds; when you create the set of conditions at institutions of higher learning that drive people to kill, when wages do not provide the necessary requirements to sustain life, and that lack of sustenance reaches out into a future that looks the same or worse, people die. When that future is increasingly weighted down with the negative force of debt, death as absence makes more and more sense. Ghosts make sense. Death flourishes, and we can trace its logics all over this side of the divide.

Four years ago the police, at the behest of UC Berkeley administration, brutalized me and a bunch of other students and occupy demonstrators. I was a brand new graduate student, and I think I can now safely and dispassionately say that my experience at Cal has gone downhill ever since.

The difference between finding yourself at the end of a police baton and the endless processes of humiliation, isolation, exploitation of labor, and voluntary servitude is one only of degree.

Don’t be deceived: they will do this to you if you are perceived as a threat, and they won’t feel bad, and they will try to get out of taking responsibility – they are experts (because they have the power and the capital) at getting out of taking responsibility. And as far as the myth of the progressive birthplace of the free speech movement goes: I urge you to chuck that bullshit clean out the window. The vitality that has been witnessed at UC Berkeley (and anywhere else for that matter) has ALWAYS been that of the students: it never has been, and never will be, the legacy of the administration or the school itself.

The first thing UC Berkeley did to me was break me. I’ve been spending the vast majority of my time since trying to pick up the pieces, and I’ve seen far too many brilliant young undergraduates get pumped through and shat out on the other end, confused, hurt, and finding it difficult to deal with the world.

Bring Back The Devils

At some point we made the transition from the supernatural to the hypersomatic. The advent of the modern zombie marks this: no longer animated by black magic, Romero’s “Living Dead” were hypothesized as having been caused by an asteroid- that is: by science.

burning car

It wouldn’t be particularly revelatory to notice the adjoining shift in anxieties: we don’t worry about souls anymore, we worry about bodies: social pandemics that can only be global (which is why we can at least pretend that it’s okay to say “we.”) It’s this anxiety- this not knowing what to do with “what it means to be human” (see: post/ humanism)- and how it affects our politics (see “All Lives Matter”) that pushes all of our stories- and everything that is at stake therein- to hyperbole. The irony, then, would be the ways in which it renders us unable to apprehend and articulate the myriad minute ways in which we- our bodies- are pathologized, regulated, herded (see: Walking Dead, Season 6, Episode 1).

In waiting rooms, the bursars office, the doctor’s office, office hours, at front desks, before the tribunals of middle-management, in emergency rooms, at borders, in refugee camps, in fellowship application after fellowship application, at social services, and on and on, we are processed, micro-managed, and nickled-and-dimed, just waiting for the right set of conditions to wander out of the quarry.

I propose, then, that it is ethically, aesthetically and politically imperative that we bring back the ghosts and the vampires, the spirits and the devils. Bring back the devils and haunt that shit.