Friday, October 24, 2008

A Death of One's Own

"[T]he desire to have one's own death is becoming more and more rare. Shortly it will be as rare as a life of one's own."

- Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

I saw Paul Schrader's Mishima a few days back. I haven't read anything by Mishima yet but watching the film reminded me of this line from Rilke. I don't really like this morbid romanticization and fascination of death. A lot of suicide bombers are probably inspired by the same belief too - having a death of one's own. Ironically (and tragically) their religion makes it sure that they never live a life of their own.

I like the idea of Memento Mori. We should be mindful of our own end without which we won't have any perspective to life. But this idea that death is the realization of life and life gets meaning only in death - this I find hard to accept.

A good illustration of this idea is in Heidegger. Below excerpt is from George Steiner's book on Heidegger ("rationalist quacks" made me chuckle!):

"The inalienability of death - the plain but overwhelming fact that each must die for himself, that death is one existential potentiality which no enslavement, no promise, no power of "theyness" can take away from individual man - is the fundamental truth of the meaning of being. Dasein is always a not-yet, an unripeness. To be is to be incomplete, unfulfilled. But at the same time, all authentic being is a being-toward-its-own-end. "Death is a way to be, which Dasein takes upon itself as soon as it is." And Heidegger quotes a medieval homily which instructs us that "as soon as man enters on life, he is at once old enough to die." The essence, the motion, the meaning of life are totally at one with being-toward-death, with the individual's "assumption" (Sartre's derivative, key term) of his own singular death. Thus "death is, in the widest sense, a phenomenon of life"; indeed, it may well be the identifying phenomenon, though it cannot itself "be lived" (a point on which Heidegger concurs explicitly with Wittgensein). The point to be stressed is at once existential and logical: the possibility of Dasein depends on and makes sense only in respect of the "impossibility of Dasein" which is death. The one cannot be without the other.


Holding before itself the constant and total possibility of death, the possibility inseparable from its thrownness into the world and process of individualization, Dasein "is in anxiety." Angst is the taking upon oneself of the nearness of nothingness, of the potential non-being of one's own being. "Being-toward-death is, in essense, anxiety," and those who would rob us of this anxiety - be they priests, physicians, mystics, or rationalist quacks - by transforming it into either fear or genteel indifference alienate us from life itself. Or, more exactly, they insulate us from a fundamental source of freedom. The passage, to which the entire death-and=freedom dialectic of Camus and Sartre is no more than a rhetorical footnote, is a famous one: Angst reveals to Dasein the possiblity of fulfilling itself "in an impassioned FREEDOM TOWARD DEATH - a freedom which has been released from the illusions of the "they," and which is factual, certain of itself and anxious." We can see now that the very meaning of Dasein is "in time." Temporality is made concrete by the overwhelming truth that all being is being-toward-death. The taking upon oneself, through Angst, of this existential "terminality" is the absolute condition of human freedom."


Lloyd Mintern said...

My current post, #77 DEATH, you may find on target with this theme, though approached from a somewhat different (more personal) angle. Hope you can give it a read, thanks.

Anonymous said...

suspension of disbelief isnt enough when watching a film, you need suspension of judgement too, its very easy to say one has contemplated upon death and come to terms with it in theory, mishima is a great film, once you've outgrown all the academic junk, it shall come to pass.

Alok said...

lloyd: thanks, will take a look!

anonymous: I don't agree with what you say. Disbelief and ability to judge are important parts of the critical faculty...without which the experience of watching the film would be shallow. I am not advocating a totally analytic or academic approach... but it is in the nature of art itself that it leaves such dichotomies (about mind vs heart) behind.

I found the film interesting...I just had doubts about what it, or at least Mishima, say about art, individual identity and death. I feel like resisting this idea of a "personal" or "artistic" death as the supreme realization of one's individuality. Mishima is not alone, this theme is quite present in a lot of German literature and artistic tradition, something I have been reading about recently and that's why I mentioned it here.

Anonymous said...

i'm interested in your what your thoughts are when you get around to reading some of his works. you might find this interesting,

its a film mishima himself made. that torrent is _probably_ still active, and you can request a re-up if its not. the film clocks in at under 30 min i believe so its not a large time commitment.

also, the autobiographical essay, sun and steel, i would recommend