Thread: Life as it is
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Old 02-23-2013, 01:43 PM
hyperskeptic hyperskeptic is offline
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Join Date: Apr 2011
Posts: 451

It seems to me that obsessing about death in particular won't do anyone any good - the when and the how of it - but being always mindful of death in general - the "that" of it - is just part of being human; the existentialists might say it is a vital part of what makes us human, what makes humanity something distinctive.

The philosopher Heidegger talks about "being-toward-death" as the basis of an authentic awareness of the world, the abiding awareness that this window I have into the world will someday close and is, in the mean time, always vulnerable. [EDIT: Actually, it's not that I have a window opening on the world, but that I am a window opening on the world.]

The trick, as you have begun to expect, is to use that awareness of death to focus your attention on living a rich and meaningful life, which may involve commitments and ambitions, and music and dance, poetry and song, affectionate cuddling and mind-blowing orgasms, getting to know and love people and places in all their fine-grained particularity, even with the foreknowledge of losing all of it, perhaps sooner, perhaps later.

Your life doesn't have to be rich and meaningful in some universal sense, or even in the eyes of the hypothetical people attending your funeral. It needs to be meaningful in your own eyes. Nietzsche's myth of the eternal return - often misunderstood - is really about just that: Are you living the kind of life you would be willing to live, over and over again, without changing anything, for all eternity? How would you have to live so that you would long for such an affirmation, an eternal return of the same?

(Some people read the eternal return as a metaphysical doctrine, when really it's meant as a heuristic, a practical guide for discovering things: Here's how you can make a meaningful life, in the presence of death, in the absence of God. It's in his work, oddly translated The Gay Science, just after he tells the story of a madman who announces the death of God.)

Anyway, what I said about death-in-particular versus death-in-general is neatly encapsulated in the words of that great sage, Woody Allen: "I'm not afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens."

Last edited by hyperskeptic; 02-23-2013 at 03:42 PM.
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