Death is not a gift. Still, death offers some gifts. Death compels us to live, taking hold of the moments that are about to vanish. The pale shadow that death casts on our face elicit upon us an urgency. Death nourishes love because without death we would not have placed ourselves under the ruining power of love. Perhaps love is a trick we play on to cheat death. Todd May enforces this view,
“The gift of our deaths saves us from the ineluctability of the dimming of our love; perhaps the gift of our lives might, here or there, save us from the dimming itself.”
Even then this gift of death doesn’t over turn anything. We are not given the power to elude the order of death, then mourning, then forgetting. It is what Robert Musil’s Agathe felt,
“Agathe felt, too, that this life is like a ship gliding along in infinite seclusion. The sounds on the shore become ever weaker, and objects lose their voice: they no longer say, now you should do this or that with me; movement dies away; the nimble words die away.”
When Wittgenstein wrote that “Death is not part of life but its limit” he meant that death is not something we can assimilate and look back to see what it is. Death is where everything stops and there is no go after that. But how can death be a limit to everything that we live dearly? Heart cannot accept this brute annihilation so it takes up its harsh contrivance against death, Why should I die? Schopenhauer broods on this and writes :
“A man finds himself, to his great astonishment, suddenly existing, after thousands of years of non-existence: he lives for a while; and then, again, comes an equally long period when he must exist no more. The heart rebels against this, and feels that it cannot be true.”
For Schopenhauer the problem is not death but time. It is time that calls to us to life and time that ends our life. Schopenhauer’s pessimistic eyes saw the void that exists at the end of time and space where we shall be swept away to.
Plato defined philosophy as an art that teaches us to die well. But can we ever learn the art of dying? Derrida’s answer was no. Derrida believed that “with regard to death, human beings remain gloriously uneducable, splendidly inauthentic. To philosophise, on the contrary, is to learn how to live. According to Derrida the presence cannot be conceived except on the basis of the absence it excludes. So, life calls for death and death calls for life. Thos who are dead are already alive because future always comes to present.
Is there anything that lessens the sorrow man owes to death? Perhaps it is to know the gifts of death. In this essay I’m making trying to unpack the gifts of death with the help of some philosophers. We will begin with Heidegger then goes to Alain Badiou. Both these philosophers are atheist. So, I wish to end the essay with a christian view that comes from Philosopher Roger Scruton.
Possibility of Impossibility
Heidegger defined man(Dasein) as a being towards death Which means man is a being for whom there is a death and he moves towards it constantly. This end of man is not a kind of fulfilment nor a disappearing. Man’s death doesn’t coincide with usual endings we see such as the stopping of a rain, end of a road or finishing up of a bread. When we say that rain has stopped, it means that rain is objectively absent. The end of a road means finishedness of something that is objectively present. The eating up of the bread means it has completed the role it was made for. But man “already is its end.” According to Heidegger the death of man is not only an end of man but death is man’s origin, absolute of human life and its fate. It is from death we proceed to death because as soon as we are born we are in death, “Death is a way to be that Da-sein takes over as soon as it is.”
In Heidegger, being-towards-death has four characteristics: it is certain; it is indeterminate; it is, he says, not to be outstripped; and it is non-relational. Among these the non-relational is the most important. It means that my death is my own, even when someone die for me, he cannot take away my death. I have to die my death. The man who has thrown experience and born on this earth is faced with lot of possibilities. But ultimately he will be left with only one impossibility .That is his death. So Heidegger think of death as the possibility of impossibility. In life man has possibilities but in death impossibility becomes his possibility.
Down With death!
Alain Badiou is a living french philosopher. Alain provides a new concept of death: death is a radical exteriority. Alain recognise finitude as the essential character of death which is being covered up by a carpet of commodities. Consumer mobility with it’s another go or serials of another commodity covers up categories of death. What happens now is that man disappears behind the commodities he has brought. Man lies dead behind the triumphant immortality of the market. Alain thinks that another great element of modernity is to have generalised slow death. Death out in the open does not fit into the law of modern death. We prefer dying slowly, all the more without noticing.
While discussing about death, Alain says that death is something that happen to you. This is the idea that he wants to defend. Death is something that happens to you means that death is always comes from the outside. Alain is inspired by what Spinoza wrote, ‘Nothing can be destroyed except by an external cause’. Alain doesn’t consider death as a human condition instead he calls death a radical exteriority. Because man doesn’t contain the virtuality of death in an immanent fashion as the word mortality suggests. Alain make this point clear, “In truth, all that is generically immortal, and then death intervenes.”
Alain has a unique way of addressing death. He defines death “as a mutation of existential status in a given world.” It means that with death our existential status is mutated or changed. Then do we have some other status than existential status? Alain says we have two status of being, One is the register of being and the other is register of existence. Register of being means that the being belongs to pure multiplicity and register of existence means that the being is situated in a place. A being always takes up one of these existences. Alain’s this division is same as Heidegger’s being and being-there.
Who ever exist have a singular existence that he can be differentiated from all others who are in the same world. So, “we would say that ‘existing in a world’ is to be taken in a practically infinite web of more or less strong differences with everything, in the world in question.” That is what constitutes the singularity of belonging to the world. When we are ‘existing in the world’ there is a measure of difference between myself and the other, between myself and myself. Because “existing is always something qualitative, it is an intensity.” We all feel that we are not like others. All the more there are moments when we feel that we are alienated from ourselves, we are not we. The measure of difference between myself and myself and other oscillates between maximum and minimum. A multiple existence becomes a singular existence when it appears identical to itself, “ the existence of multiple something, relative to the world, is the degree to which in this world the multiple appears identical to itself.”
With death -which is imposed from outside the intensity of one’s existence is almost eliminated. What happens after this death? Is there a soul of immortality? For Alain the soul which we usually speak of as a difference between body and soul is a fable. But for him soul is rooted within the distinction between being and existence. So, “the idea of immortality is that in this world – the world that prescribed the intensity of an existence proper to this world – x is dead, but that does not mean that he is dead in every world.” With death my particular and singular existence in the world is over. But my existence of being will never be over. It will stay in a multiplicity and at its disposal is every world.
So, “ down with death”
The Soul of the World
Roger Scruton begins his philosophical musings on death with the most perplexing awareness man has “ The individuality of the “I” presents me with a strange thought: this, which I know only as subject and cannot know as object, will one day be destroyed without remainder.” This sense of annihilation that awaits us plays a role in everything we do. Why death is so perturbing? Because the “The self is composed of nothing and therefore leaves nothing behind.”
Roger Scruton thinks that human existence has a peculiarity: we are not part of the physical world nor removed from it; hence it can be destroyed leaving noting behind. This nothingness confronts like a white whale and in front of its hugeness we know whatever we have been cannot stand,
“It is as though, in the extreme situations into which we stumble, the veil of our comforts is torn suddenly asunder, and we confront another order, where being and nothingness, creation and destruction, wrestle forever and with no fixed result.”
What is this nothingness of the subject(man) tell us? Does it tell us that the only object remains? Or the death is a boundary that has no other side? Scruton is not ready to believe it. He says, “The acts that stir our wonder and admiration, and the great tragic gestures put before us by art and literature, remind us that there is another world behind our daily negotiations.”
Scruton brings the concept of ‘Gift” to speak about his believe in a realm beyond the boundary of death and nothingness. It is in faith that one recognises that everything is a gift. Father of faith, Abraham is a sublime figure who recognised this giftedness that constitute his existence,
“Abraham proceeded without hesitation from the secure order of the covenant into the troubled order of creation, where rules and deals are set aside. And in doing so, he encountered a fundamental religious truth, which is that being is not an accident but a gift.”
If my existence is a gift, I have to gift myself to somebody else which entails a sacrifice of the self. It will help us to recognise that nobody is indebted to me but I am to everybody. This exchange of gifts will help us to ease our resentments and will make us quick to forgive,
“The moment of forgiveness brings to the fore another religious truth, which is that sacrifice achieves reconciliation only through the sacrifice of self. This is the truth made vivid on the Cross, and subsequently embedded in all the sacred rituals of the Christian religion.”
Every gift has an element of surprise, we know what it is only when we unbox it. The moment of unboxing is full of awe and gratitude. Perhaps, the greatest gift of man is God’s grace, it not only surprises but changes to a remoteness where light dazzles and life is palpable. Scruton is quite sure about it: “sacred comes to us when, in the midst of all our calculations, we set aside the order of the covenant and see the world, ourselves, and all that we have as given—as signs, so the Christian would put it, of God’s grace.”
We can purify our attachments if we can see everything as a gift of god. It happens when we stop to have claim on anything. Then we will left only with gratitude, “New life is a gift from the place where things are created and destroyed for no merely human reason. Birth so marked by rituals of acceptance and gratitude, and by vows of protection toward the body and soul of the newborn child. Sexual love is the moment in which two people make a gift of themselves, and also prepare themselves for the sacrifices required by family and the love of children. Death is the moment when the gift of life is surrendered, and the funeral is the recognition in retrospect of this gift, and an acknowledgment that “the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”
In death we are called from to time to timelessness. But how can we, the people in time, address our ancestors? In which tense?, In what form? Scruton thinks that it is in liturgy we address our ancestors, “whom we are addressing not in the past tense, but in the eternal present, which is theirs.”
This eternal presence of their can both horrify and console us. It horrifies because “Hence tombs are endowed with a permanence that is seldom matched by the homes of the living.” It consoles because, The indestructible tomb emphasises that death has been thwarted, and that the dead remain.”
Death is not acceptable to God because he has not created us to die. But we’ve to accept death since we have inherited it. This non acceptance from the part of God and acceptance from our part paves way for the emergence of a new life,
“But it does require an acceptance of death, and a sense that in death we are meeting our creator, the one bound to us by covenant, to whom we must account for our faults. We are returning to the place whence we emerged and hoping to be welcomed there.”
Our entry is no way guaranteed but we just hope that we will be welcomed there. That is why Jesus asks us to be vigilant and prayerful. Scruton Philosophy sounds more spiritual in a way only a sincere philosophy can be: “The life of prayer rescues us from the Fall, and prepares us for a death that we can meaningfully see as a redemption, since it unites us with the soul of the world.”