Filed under: brave new world, departure lounge, the sweet life | Tags: death, materialism, religion, simon critchley, The Book of Dead Philosophers
Material life or … spirituality or … death in your mouth.
Simon Critchley describes how materialism and spirituality are the diametric options for living that we tend to follow en masse in this life, and how they enslave us. Both are escapist strategies: materialism is the handmaid of forgetfulness; spirituality of assurance of endless life.
But to learn to know death realigns our lives to our own mortality and frees us.
There are two very aggressive contentions in this idea: that to ‘know’ death will have a freeing effect; and that to deny death is hate yourself. Does it follow that to be materialist or spiritual, are forms of self hatred?
Here is Critchley’s description from the introduction to The Book of Dead Philosophers:
We are led on the one hand, to deny the fact of death and to run headlong into the watery pleasures of forgetfulness, intoxication and the mindless accumulation of money and possessions. On the other hand, the terror of annihilation leads us blindly into a belief in the magical forms of salvation and promises of immortality offered by certain varieties of traditional religion and many New Age (and some rather older age) sophistries. What we seem to seek is either the transitory consolation of momentary oblivion or miraculous redemption in the afterlife.
It is in stark contrast to our drunken desire for evasion and escape that the ideal of the philosophical death has such sobering power.
To philosophize, then, is to learn to have death in your mouth, in the words you speak, the food you eat and the drink that you imbibe. It is in this way that we might begin to confront the terror of annihilation, for it is, finally, the fear of death that enslaves us and leads us towards either temporary oblivion or the longing for immortality. As Montaigne writes, “He who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.” This is an astonishing conclusion: the premeditation of death is nothing less than the forethinking of freedom. Seeking to escape death, then, is to remain unfree and run away from ourselves. The denial of death is self-hatred. …
The Book of Dead Philosophers, Simon Critchley