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.

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