Thursday, June 12, 2008

Death as ironic triumph...

For some death is crippling, enervating, a mortal blow to the bubble of security which we weave from our bubble-like dreams and dreamlike baubles. This is manifest in a transient sensitivity towards morbid humor and perhaps even loud noises "at a time like this."

For others death is medicinal, ennobling, a blast of mountaintop air which further lacquers our shell of security as a "survivor" (unlike the recently departed) or "lucky" (unlike the deceased). This spirit manifests in a cavalier mention of death that might have been. Those who walked away from the crash, or those who did not succumb to the salmonella-ridden produce "made it." They "would have been dead by now" but are "still here." On a broader scale, death is trivialized, even idealized, and given a patina of scientific valor, by seeing in death a mindlessly wise "thinning of the herd" or a sort of Darwinian karma at work.

Precisely by having outlived someone else, by having looked down at him or her as pure passive object, prone, inert, the viewer gains in strength as that of one from on high, as pure, active, erect observer. This is all very Nietzschean, of course. Only the weak would be vulnerable to pity in the first place, so even the laxity of apathy reinforces one's übermenschliche Schlagktraft (superhuman vigor). As the last man standing, in one small scenario at least, one's manhood is subsumed into the faceless, deathless immortality of Man. Ein Mensch wird der Mensch (A human becomes Human).

The problem with this gleeful Nietzschean disdain for death, as with so much of Nietzschean anti-logic, is that it completely inverts the idea of death qua loss, sublimating it into a form of schadenfreudige Verstärkung (sorrow-loving strengthening). Death becomes a positive good. The dead are hallowed as feathers in one's own cap, as time markers for the length to which death has gone, but failed, to seize one. Only by combining a dread for death with a love for the person death consumes, as we find in Christ's crucifixion, do we master the herdlike fear of death and yet also overcome the Nietzschean irony of death as a relative good.

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