As If We Were Dead

all_dressed_up_and_nowhere_to_goI was thinking recently that, in a lot of ways, we all simply want to die; that we are dead, and actually want to make it occur all the faster.

We’re done. We’re chronically bored. We’ve peeked and we’re finished.

Think about the insanity of our planet being the only planet in the observable universe known to have life on it — further, known to be habitable! — and we are charging toward its destruction! Faster, in fact, we keep charging towards its destruction faster. We seem unable to escape the ideological net of a technocratic, neoliberal, military-industrial complex.

We’re bored, we’re insane, and we’re dead — and we want to be. Dead would be new, because nothing is ever new anymore. It’s reproduced, repackaged, rearranged, reappropriated — and that’s in Spring, just wait for Autumn!

Now, this ridiculous reflection obviously has its placement in a hegemonic, Western, privileged, White, existential angst. Many people don’t want to die! But they’re going to! This is what this suicidal angst is bringing about, what it is making happen — because we want to be dead, and the comfort is we will be! As James Baldwin has said, “One’s watching the effect of White power all over the world. And no one even questions it.”

Sam Kriss, in his blog post on the Man of Steel, I think gets at this in his comments regarding the manic destruction of Metropolis towards the end of the movie:

Man of Steel is the famous fort-da game writ large, a compulsive repetition and re-repetition of a traumatic event, a neurotic fixation, a recurring image through which the collective psyche tries to expunge the horror of that which actually occurred. You destroyed our buildings, the film says, well guess what – we wanted them destroyed, and we can do it better in representation than you ever could in reality. Of course, the compulsion to repeat exists beyond the pleasure principle, and the apocalyptic blockbuster is entertainment. There’s a visceral pleasure in the images of falling skyscrapers and ruined cities. We could posit a kind of… societal will towards its own violent destruction, manifesting in the sheer pleasure of carnage and atrocity.

What is the sheer proliferation of (post-)apocalyptic films but a kind of imagining of our own death, of the death of something that might have once been “human”? Is not the representation and imaging of this mass death, this imagining of “as if we were dead” not a form of wishing? “Can we not be finished!? Can we not have this over!? I want to see what it might be like, to see what it means for us to have done with something that was once a human!”

Yet, even to see this image, in a world of images, in a world of figures, of commodified everything, is to say that even this image stands as just another thing. It is made to be an event, an excitement. It is made to be ‘“Larger than life”… By which I suppose we mean [it is] dead’, following and applying Rick Roderick’s remarks regarding the person of Ronald Reagan.

In all of this, death itself has been emptied out — made just another thing. Even the image has been banalised — made to be just another picture that flows around and about us.

Thus the reaction appears to be the work of a collective exhaustion — a brave, hollowed out, totally horizontal refusal born of emptiness — “Let us die, and fast!”

Which, somewhat surprisingly, is a sentiment I feel is born out gloriously in Gore Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. Is not the motivation of Barbossa’s anti-hero band of pirates that of a desire to die? They had, in the burgeoning proto-capitalist world, all the desired characteristics needed: capability, durability, and total flexibility. Barbossa laments,

For too long I’ve been parched of thirst and unable to quench it. Too long I’ve been starving to death and haven’t died. I feel nothing. Not the wind on my face nor the spray of the sea. Nor the warmth of a woman’s flesh.

Faced with the prospect of the experience of the ability to eternally accumulate, the response is to give it back — to refuse it. Barbossa continues, “You best start believing in ghost stories… you’re in one”. This is our experience. And the solution Verbinski offers? Suicidal renunciation. Confront and refuse the opposition, and let it be the death of you — know that it will be so.

Which, I guess, to extend this nonsense a little further and longer — following a wonderfully Gnostic remark from Melisandre in episode two of Game of Thrones season four, “There is only one hell, Princess: the one we live in now” — between ghosts and hell we find ourselves in a wonderfully warped theological, or, rather, Christological space. Embroiled as we are in sheer self-destruction, dialectically speaking, life — the life of this world — is fostered only under the terms of our total self-annihilation. Here I’m reminded of a line from one part of Brad Johnson’s serialised short story at An und für sich,

By Donne’s reckoning, if the example of Christ behooves his followers to live as he, the end is fatal. For the one who needn’t ever die at all, God in the flesh, chose to do so, and in so choosing was not murdered. His was, to put it as plainly as Donne, a suicide.

A suicide, suicide is what we have come to — it’s all that we have. It won’t be beautiful, seen in 16:9. There will be no messiah. It will be boring and painful. And then it will be finished.

How about this? The world we have managed to forge will see life only in total death, sanity in a full descent into madness, something by a full embrace of nothing? The legacy of something once human.