The Death that Makes Life Bearable
Is there a place for “the question of death” in the education of human beings and citizens?  What might that place be?  How might the question be raised, articulated, wrestled with?  Should it be ostracized to the margins of life, or should it be invited, even cherished as Northern Star among the fundamental questions of—dare… The post The Death that Makes Life Bearable appeared first on VoegelinView.

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Is there a place for “the question of death” in the education of human beings and citizens?  What might that place be?  How might the question be raised, articulated, wrestled with?  Should it be ostracized to the margins of life, or should it be invited, even cherished as Northern Star among the fundamental questions of—dare one say—philosophy?
Plato’s Socrates is known to have promoted the question as that which any life worth living prepares us for.  For Socrates, genuine or liberal education, education to goodness, is preparation for death—not death as a mask, but as a fundamental problem, a mystery in which Socrates can divine himself discussing with the best people of all times.  Yet, modern education seems to have little or no regard for the question of death.  At the very least, one could say that the question has been relegated to the margins of the humanities (sciences humaines).  As for our inhuman or technological sciences, these simply do not see the point about asking the question to begin with.  That is because they are entirely bent upon solving the question in such a way as never to have to ask it.  To put it bluntly, though not misleadingly, I believe, for our inhuman disciplines (not far removed from transhumanist “humanities”), death is a glitch in a machine.

Blessed Be Thy Name

In media res.  Sleep: who can awaken without it?  Death: what makes life bearable.  Thanks be to death!  To fear death is not to live, but to be suffocated by life, to die.  Only death can save us from dying, from resisting, from struggling.  Yet, the modern “progressive” habit is to live life as a curse, to reject life—the present—in the compulsory pursuit of “death”: death as future, camouflaging death’s denial, the denial that fills our present.  For, are we not supposed to be affirming life against death?  Yet, death is life itself, the soul of the present: letting go, to live supremely.  Not to resist, not to hold onto the dream of life.
The illusion of life (the illusory life that is not worth living): denial of death, including the cowardly “acceptance” of death as fatality.  Letting go of life is not death, but a cunning mode of denial of all that is not illusion.  Not life, but the illusion of life is what we hold onto.  Life itself is birth, a given, a providential gift.  It frees us from our illusions, our “towers”—our own versions of the Babylonian Tower of denial of death.  So that we may let go and live; and be sustained by life, by death itself, the truth about life.  God bless death!  Not so that we may go on living the dream of life, burying ourselves ever-anew in the Cave of the illusion of life, an imposter we impose upon ourselves so as not to accept and respond to the gift of life itself.  To deny life is to deny life as a gift, as death giving itself so that we may participate in it.  Death is God, the Good itelf.  Life is Death’s own Son, given to us today to wash us (even ourselves) from our sins, our betrayal of Life as Death’s own Son.
To let go: this is possible only insofar as God has given himself for us, in the beginning.  God as original letting go.  This is death: the great letting-go, the letting go of oneself for another, the dying in another, so that another may live; to live in another.  Death is nobility; resurrection, life everlasting, of which survival, lingering, “biological reproduction” is but a shadow; another mask, another denial of death—and so of life itself.
In art we seek, not mere beauty, but death itself as the motor of life.  The secret that makes our lives bearable: our lives so full of otherwise unbearable lies.  Lovers of death awaken out of the Tower of deceptions, the Tower of lies buried in Plato’s mythical Cave as a Russian Matryoshka doll.  Our fetish in a fetishistic world.  The world we pretend to live in is the fetish we pretend not to be there.  So that we may go on pretending to live, from one lie to another, from one achievement to another, from one fetish to another, from one denial to another, from the Lower to the Higher.  Because we are afraid of the Low: the “lower self,” the “beast,” the naked demon.  We teach ourselves—no, we need not wait for others to do their part—to despise the Low, even as we cast ourselves into the lowly, betraying the High in the name of the Heigh.  Philistines, whether pretending to stand High or whether pretending to stand Low, busily “fixing,” “achieving,” “struggling,” affirming ourselves in a radically inimical world—a world of demons.
In comes Don Quixote de la Mancha: the great pretender.  As Japan’s Genji,[1] the imitator, imposter of Buddha, of the light that awakens, that shows from within.  Genji is the shine of the ephemerous, the sign of life’s betrayal.  He pursues the illusion of life, as his Spanish comrade would.  In the name of life itself.  The affirmation of life against life itself.  Life as affirmation against death, against the Father.
Death the Father, the Good Socrates lived for, now betrayed in the name of a reified life, an imposter on a smokescreen, in a Cave of smokescreens—until it is too late; until we bury ourselves so deep in the Cave, the smoke, that no life, no death could save us.  For there is then no trace of us left to save: no being where being itself is rejected—abandoned in the pursuit of windmills, no matter how lofty, no matter how falsely “low”.  For life eternal accepts no compromise.  Life eternal is merciless in the face of lies.  It loves exposure, both of the High and of the Low.  The only Low it rewards is the very last of men, not those struggling in between, those despising both Masters and Slaves, both the glorious and the lepers.  The “middle class” is, metaphysically speaking, mediocrity (Nietzsche’s morally and intellectually lobotomized bourgeoisie).  As Dante’s ignavi, it dies volens nolens in a vortex of lies, never to taste death, never to rise out of the violence we pretentiously call our daily life.  As if we were fated to deny the otherworldly; as if it were enough to live our lives until we die, to mend our socks until the day when, perhaps, we will be called to walk.  So we dream of walking, even as we accept that we are crippled.  We give advice to others, so that we may bear the brunt of our imposture, our having failed to live, to respond to life, to die once and for all.  To let go, truly.
Yet letting go is our challenge, our only true challenge.  The only one life worth dying for; the one that speaks in unmasking pretensions and their world, their Cave, their Tower, no matter how low, no matter how high.  Heaven itself, no matter how beautiful, is redeemable only as a reminder of what it is not—of another world that is neither high, nor low; nor “in between,” as seen, for the Philistine’s mediocrity is but a vile imposture, one unworthy of name.  Slain is the vile, minister of brutish violence, puerile hostility against life’s own virtuous voice, education as life’s own response to God the Father, to death as blessed mystery for all those who still have ears to hear; for those few who have not sold their ears to merchants of fear, of false hopes, of resentment, of satanic impostures.
Folly it is to the imposter’s cyclopean eye to let go in the name of another.  The imposter seeks redemption in building, no matter how lowly, how pretentiously humble.  Building, fixing, retouching one’s own machine, or piece thereof.  The imposter attends to his toys in his own “humble” manner, by way of bearing witness to the greatest toy of all, the toy of all toys, the Machine that is expected to save us all, to save all those who live the mechanical, programmed life, the life of imposture, of denial of the Word of Death—the Word of the Father that enters into this world, this Cave, as the lowest of men, one who does not build, if not in the medium of words, the undoing of the Cave, the demolition of the Tower.  “Building” exposure, he is sent as a child to be a man in God’s own eyes.  The child-without as a man-within, carrying the cross to crucify the world of men, of those who are strong-without while hiding childishly from the vacuity of their strength.  For they are the lovers of power, of pretension, of conformity to mediocrity, eating the crumbs of a satanic banquet: our daily morsels of resentment, of fear, of regret suffocated in the name of a status, a floating, a lingering safely removed from the danger of death—and thus of life, death’s unique Son.
Such are the words of life eternal, of death that hides among the residents of the Cave of life, the place where we hide from life itself.  Words of “folly” for builders of pretexts; words of non-sense.  Why, sense is—for the cyclopean eye—only in building, in affirming the evitability of life eternal, in fashioning a space in which we may pretend to live for the sake of not living, of not responding to death.  We, deniers of death.  Those we call, “the living”.  Shadows of death and nothing more.
Where is the way out of this Cave we call—prematurely—home?  Where is the first betrayal, the first imposture whence our daily puerile ones, our habitual ones, stem, echoes of a lie buried beneath the chasm created by its inheritors.  We who are at work, to do the bidding of Satan, the great constructor, the first busybody, primordial distractor; and vile detractor.  Returning to Satan is Dante’s own first step.  Not merely facing, but crossing Satan, using Satan “against his grain”.  Diving back to it, with vast circumspection, to plunge untainted through it, as a golden arrow open to another land, horizon of words candidly bespeaking, not rabidly concealing the unsaid as if the unsaid were a horrific sin to camouflage, to decorate with food for all those who have no ear to hear, or who have betrayed their ears so as to find safety in noise.  Feeding ghosts eager for nothing but flatter, for the confirmation of their own ways, their own building towers of denial, quantifiable elements of success in the here and now of everyday contrivance.
But who can wait for Satan?  Who can bother disturbing the master that feeds us the primordial lie, so that we may go on aping it, the Ignoble Lie, lie of all vileness.  Who dares now escape from his post in the Great Machine, his specific assignment in the building of the Great Pyramid of Babylon?  Who can catch the Snake by its tale, only to find oneself biting one’s own?   Who can bear to hear the voice of one’s own betrayal at the beginning of this world, where we stand in the name of Satan, pretending that all will be well?  If only we could forget that first day, that first hour, that first sigh, sign primordial of betrayal—sign in which we all sin, whenever we do.  For the first moment of rejection, of denial, is now.  We carry it as a curse.  We carry it relentlessly, source of all frustration, to the feet of our master of imposture, whom we feed with our own lies, whom we adore and adorn with our own “lives”.
The only alternative is marked by the Cross: to carry Satan itself up the hill of Golgotha and cast it back down in the valley of tears we had called our home and fortress, our refuge from death eternal.  What rebellion to violence, to the violating of the Gift!  What “impious” act of piety to a truth abandoned upon the Fall into a wisdom that was no gift, but achievement of a grasping mind!
Violence, ill conceived, has become our daily bread.  Danger, is our only way out of it.  But danger has become our fiercest enemy, the one we violently rebel against.  We must then learn to re-envisage danger, to paint it, to love death in a renewed way, an unexpected way—not as escape from danger, not as violence, but as danger itself, as the antithesis of violence.  Violence is denial of death; in violence we deny death; violence is the alternative to living death, of living-out-of-death, of letting death live, letting the ground breathe.  The Earth.  Violence is rejection of Earth, appropriation of Earth for another end.  But Earth is our friend; truth does not call us to depart from herMagis amica veritas, yes, but truth hides within her, even as it is born-without to ascend to the Heavens, to bear witness to its own original “maternal” concealment.  Truth is originally concealed and it shows itself to let us know, to remind us; to show us decency, pudor, lest we profane Earth, lest we sell its secrets for their silver mask—on a silver dish, dismembered head: a dead abstraction, an article, almost a title, a crippled word, severed from its body to please the lust of power (libido dominandi) of those who dread the life of truth, the living body of the Word, of a Word that lives in us.  Where does death truly speak if not in us, in our awareness of mortality, of life’s belonging to death?  Yet, we habitually decry death, we disparage it, either by conceiving it as a machine, or by smothering it in the name of another, a machine from the Heavens.
We return to death by repainting it, by learning how to paint death—and that painting is originally the representation of death, the representation that bridges the gap between our empirical pretenses and death proper.  Death, the indeterminate.  To paint properly is to be “crucified to the world” (Galatians 6:14), to revert to another world, one of giving, rather than of grasping (in Buddhism’s Sanskrit, upādāna), one of letting go, rather than of retaining, of violent appropriation.  Painting is dangerous; indeed, it is grounded in danger itself.  The painter is the most daring man, for he dares see what others reject in favor of violence, any guise of violence: violating as losing strength (Latin’s vis), as in the vetus, the elderly, the old, who is vietus, or decaying.  Violence is loss of the strength that is given from within, or naturally.  The prodigal son loses the strength of the Father by violently forsaking his own path, his own cross.
The modern rejection of painting’s original mandate to educate Fallen Man to “the otherworldly” (as opposed to consoling him with the experience of the divine, or the sentiment of transcendence) is part and parcel of the modern anti-Platonic impulse to violate nature, as opposed to cultivating it.  What is violated, here, is the integrity of nature and thus nature’s mystery, which entails a transcendent dimension of being, an indeterminate dimension escaping any quantification.  With modernity, nature becomes the realm that modern man calls himself (in Kantian fashion) to administrate, nay to rule over, eschatologically, in the name of a cherished “universal” ideal.  Whence the rise of Environmentalism.
The ideology of Environmentalism represents the most glaring expression of hatred of nature, in our Age.  For Environmentalism trades nature proper for a Kantian-like “nature” devested of absolute transcendence.  The “nature” of Environmentalism is a domesticated nature—not the “civilized” one entailed by the classical notion of mundus (from mundāre, or “to clean”), but a castrated, raped and enslaved one.  The neo-Kantian “nature” of Environmentalism is castrated, in the respect that it is denied the capacity to take care of itself; it is raped, in the respect that it is conceived fetishistically as source of pleasure; and it is enslaved, in the respect that it is defined in the service of an “ideal” reflecting the vulgar or plebeian impulses of modern progressivism (impulses that are by no means alien to Nietzsche’s “will to power”).  The Environmentalist has absolutely no patience for nature outside of the scope of his drive to castrate, rape and enslave it.  Indeed, his modern “colonial” impulse—characteristically mirrored in the modern project of “conquering nature” if only by “exploring” and “inhabiting” other planets—defines his very perception of nature, encapsulating his experience of reality as a whole.
Of course, the Environmentalist is oblivious to the true nature of his cause.  Just as Kant remained oblivious to the inhumanity of his “enlightened” justification of colonial slave trade.[2] In both cases, an “ideal” masks “the thing itself”; “abstract universality” conceals nature as fundamental problem, camouflaging the dangerous dimension of nature, or nature-as-truth.  More precisely, nature is conceived as devested of reason, or intelligibility, of intelligible truth.  A characteristically, though not exclusively, modern predicament: “reason” is referred to a discourse/platform imposed upon nature (viz., “the body”), while nature is appealed to in terms of “sentiment” resisting reason.  What is peculiarly modern is the technological attempt to resolve the conflict between the two poles conceived respectively in terms of universality and particularity.  The technological “solution” amounts to a synthesis wherein feeling is “channeled and oriented” (after Machiavelli) to serve alien ends reflecting the compulsive impulse that Nietzsche baptized, parroting St. Augustine’s libido dominandi, as der Wille zur Macht (“will to power”).  Here we find the core of the modern or late-modern doctrine of the primacy of “potentiality” over “actuality”.  What is fundamental is unintelligible, or more precisely absurd; being absurd, it “justifies” anything.  As Dostoevsky had noted in his Brothers Karamazov, with the death of God, in principle everything is permissible.  For “the principle” is now anarchy.  Yet, as the political thinkers of classical antiquity remind us, anarchy is the worst form of tyranny.  The “freedom” disclosed by the death of God is tyrannical: “freedom” only in name, but in substance freedom’s abrogation.
Today’s dominant mantra instructs us to believe that all that escapes the sphere of influence of the ideological postulate of God’s death (of the ostracizing of the metaphysical from the ethical) is not only dangerous, but violent: an immediate and condemnable threat to our collective welfare.  Above all, the “otherworldly” character of traditional religion must be or carry within it, violence.[3] All that resists the modern secularist drive to “domesticate” nature will be tainted by what Kant would call, “radical evil”.  Hence a turning of the tables on classical warnings against tyranny.  Not traditional Nature and God, but technology (“life” as tool) is to secure our freedom; not knowledge/wisdom (γνῶσις/sapientia) in the light of a transcendent truth, but “information” in the absence of any uncompromising transcendence.  At which point, truth can be nothing other than inherently amorphous “raw power” and “education” nothing more than “empowerment,” where “knowledge” is the “know-how” allowing us to make expediential use of truth.
What contemporary “idealism” resents about otherworldly religions is their more or less implicit reminder that nature is necessarily and happily dangerous, so that any attempt to “purge” nature of its dangerous character would lead to mere alienation from nature and thus to suicidal violence.  For otherworldly religions, the danger lurking in the “Garden” of this world is a mysterious reminder of the dangerous character of the divine mind in which the World (Mundus) is created and sustained.  To wit: the “snake” of Eden reminds us that leaping outside of the Garden of all good things is a bad, albeit not altogether damning idea.  For God has reasons that his reptilian echo knows not and even a “Great Fall” cannot break his mirror-image irredeemably.
Not violence, but beatitude is the secret awaiting Adam in the dark.  Violence is but the direct consequence of the betrayal of the secret—the sacred.  Or rather, the betrayal of the Good is itself an act of violence.  Violence is what Adam and Evil condemn themselves to in the act of betraying the original marriage of wisdom and truth.  That marriage tells us that there is no wisdom cut off from danger.  For there is no danger aside from truth itself—and those who speak to us of salvation or safety (salus) from danger are merely rehearsing an old reptilian script.  Salvation is in the very belly of danger and biblical, otherworldly religion stands to educate us to face it.  For if freedom makes sense only in the light of divine transcendence, education cannot but be preparation for danger, responding to the temptation of mistaking danger for the variegated consequence of danger’s betrayal, namely violence as our daily bread.  “Cursed be that bread, that detestable imposter”—thus speaks otherworldly religion—“for we are destined for another bread, one of life itself, of a life that is both blessed and dangerous”.  Thus does old religion remind us to revere death, the Father of all life.  Death, not as violence to be shunned in the name of a life we are fatefully “thrown into,” but as that Cradle-of-Being, of all that is present and so of all contents of consciousness—what old Buddhism called tathāgatagarbha (如来藏), or ālayavijñāna (藏識), Mind as absolute context.[4]

NOTES:

[1] Prince Genji (源gen/minamoto, nominally a luminous “fountainhead”) is the anti-hero of 源氏物語Genji Monogatari, “The Story of Genji” (early 10th c. AD).
[2] Recent defenses of Kant fail to notice that Kant’s love diversity or “variety” merely buttresses his staple mechanistic conception of nature, making it more palatable to egalitarian eyes.  See Pauline Kleingeld, “Kant’s Second Thoughts on Race” (The Philosophical Quarterly, 57.229 (Oct. 2007): 573-92.
[3] See for instance Ilsup Ahn, “Deconstructing Eschatological Violence against Ecology: Planting Images of Ecological Justice,” in Cross Currents, 67.2 (June 2017): 458-475.
[4] On the coincidence of the form of “all that presents itself” (being) and consciousness/vijñāna itself, see the Lankāvatāra Sūtra (“Scripture of the Descent at Lanka”).  Multilingual translations available at https://www2.hf.uio.no//polyglotta/index.php?page=volume&vid=441.  Canonical Chinese text at http://tripitaka.cbeta.org/T16n0671.  Suzuki English translation at http://lirs.ru/do/lanka_eng/lanka-nondiacritical.htm.

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