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A little more than a week

I kind of ran out of words there for a little while. Yesterday I went to the vet's to pick up food for Santiago and also retrieve my carrier, which I left last week because I could not bear to carry it, empty, back to the house that night. It was hard to walk back in to the scene of the crime as it were even though I think that I have to forgive myself for what seems a crime to me because it may in fact have been a gift. Nan mentioned that if I felt guilty for choosing death for Jackson instead of suffering then I must be assuming that death was somehow a bad thing when perhaps it was not.

Which changes some things around in what I am about to paste and then revise but before I do that I will thank all of you for the thoughts on mine and Jackson's behalf. I have not been able to respond to everyone individually and I have only just begun to feel slightly better about the whole thing so I do not know when my online social skills will return, such as they are.



What I got to thinking about the other day was whether our culture's omnipotent, anthropomorphic god exists primarily in order to adjudicate between the other and the self and to relieve the self of its responsibility for the death of the other, and I also got to thinking why ultimately this does not work, but I am not sure how to refigure all this if death is "not a bad thing" but on the other hand I do still think that the responsibility for the death of an other is a source of guilt even if that guilt is misplaced.

That is, I cannot assume the responsibility of Jackson's or anyone else's life and yet I cannot protect them from death. To leave all matters in "god's hands" is to ask god to forgive on the behalf of the other, with or without the permission of that other. If instead the divine is the relationship I have with the other or that the other has with me then I must face what I cannot face and what tears me apart in the face of the other: responsibility for an other's vulnerability toward death. Perhaps this is where guilt originates: the inability to keep the other safe from death, which is not the same as being unable to protect oneself from death. And perhaps that guilt is unique to Western culture because we have somehow become separated from our own mortality, having hidden death in hospitals and hospices, where almost nobody sees any other body actually die.

But guilt or no, guilt, responsibility, I think, remains, and with some insistence. Fundamentalist religion perverts this responsibility and instead seeks to protect the self from death and to disavow responsibility toward the other by resigning all questions about death to a god who supposedly can stand in for the other and forgive on the other's behalf. But no mere god can do that. What is divine in our bonds to others cannot be abrogated by a mythical figure who somehow straightens everything out so that death does not in fact ever take its share. In seeking relief from our own death we also seek relief from responsibility for the death of the other, but there is no relief from either except to the extent that both destroy the self, leaving it unable to assume anything. The death of the other destroys me--shows me my profound inadequacy--and calls into question then my ability to take responsibility for that death.

At that point whatever remains of me--nothing--takes its place in death beside the other. My inability to save the other from death results in the disruption of my own being and lays me out beside that other in an adjoining grave. It is not that I die of guilt or responsibility but rather that I die of not being able to be relieved of that responsibility, which does not measure itself in guilt except when my ego insists on finding redemption for itself--which may be peculiarly Western or possibly Christian or Abrahamic.

But asking to be spared in the face of the death of the other constitutes the beginnings of totalitarianism: an ego that dares to think itself immune from destruction, or deserving of such immunity, is triumphant over the vulnerable other and all else on Earth that is mortal. Death is not punishment but simply a radical vulnerability, and disavowing that vulnerability is what starts a culture down the road to cynicism and and egotistical fascism.

To face it, to face the impossibility of protecting the other from death and the subsequent disruption of egotistical mastery, is to lose the self in a kind of remorseless compassion: one that does not relieve us of responsibility for the other's death but relieves us of ourselves and our demand for grace from some figure that could step onto the scene of mortality and usurp the other's place there in order to restore ourselves to ourselves. Instead we are left with our own disfigurement at the disappearance of the other, our own dissolution at the point at which we cannot assume a responsibility that insists upon itself. It is a paradoxical moment in that the responsibility that commands me also destroys me and renders me incapable of responding to it: thus irresponsible perhaps but also bereft of myself. One cannot have it both ways: the subject cannot persist after the other has perished.

That is as far as I have gotten with this line of thinking but I am not sure whether casting death as either "good" or "bad" is even germane to the point. It is an inexplicable fact and one that we cannot elude, and even if it can be a gift it still represents dissolution and a taking leave of individuality. There is another paradox here because in many different ways it can be argued that what is absolutely other is death, by definition, and an other represents for me my own death not only because I cannot mount adequate response to its vulnerability but because the ultimate limit of the self is where the other begins--and the self and other mingle at that border, as well.

Which may be another way of noting that our gravesites adjoin.


This entry was composed @Dreamwidth.
Feel free to comment either here or there.

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Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
ryversong
Jan. 28th, 2011 09:18 pm (UTC)
*hugs*

Such a big topic with so much to say on it. I suppose I'll leave my thoughts in simplicity.

Death is what you make of it, quite honestly, you who are left when others pass. It is a gift, a curse, a blessing, and those can only be seen or measured by the eyes left behind. It is what it is, and is only subjective to those who are now missing someone.

And beyond that, I'm sorry for your loss. It's devastating and so much harder when they are an integral part of your life as opposed to some strange ambulatory art piece.
daisydumont
Jan. 28th, 2011 09:50 pm (UTC)
>choosing death for Jackson instead of suffering then I must be assuming that death was somehow a bad thing when perhaps it was not.

right, that's kind of what i was getting at. i may not worry a whole lot about god (less than i used to, at least), but i think allowing others to suffer when the suffering could be ended is just wrong. i hated watching gerry's suffering in the last months. it was his to go through, though, not mine. still, it has left me fairly crippled, and i'm not sure i'll ever get over it fully. probably not.

saying death isn't necessarily bad isn't the same thing as saying it's good. as you say here, it just is. (theology seems to me in large measure humanity's desperate attempt to overcome that sense of just-isness and dissolution.)

please to excuse my thoughts, which are always multiple times shallower than yours.
eriktrips
Jan. 28th, 2011 10:05 pm (UTC)
I don't think your thoughts are any shallower than mine; you just are not burdened with a grad school method for thinking. There are usually infinite ways to say what is not necessarily quite the same thing but what is at least made up of all the angles from which it can be approached.

I welcome your thoughts. :)
zoe_1418
Jan. 28th, 2011 10:52 pm (UTC)
I'd like to ride on both your coattails on this...both of you being more eloquent than I. What you said!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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