Death is not something that happens at the end of life. As Blanchot mentions in the quote at the end of my recent post,
As long as I live, I am a mortal man, but when I die, by ceasing to be man I also cease to be mortal, I am no longer capable of dying, and my impending death horrifies me because I see it as it is: no longer death, but the impossibility of dying…. I have no relationship with it, it is that toward which I cannot go, for in it I do not die, I have fallen from the power to die. In it they die; they do not cease, and they do not finish dying ― Maurice Blanchot, Literature and the Right to Death.
The only way I experience death is through life. Death is strictly a phenomenon of life. The fear of death is a fear of life as life and death are inseparable. The death of my son in 2017 is not ‘his’ death. He is not experiencing death as he is not mortal any longer; not living. Chris is not human now. He was a beautiful, young, and amazing human but now his humanity is in my heart, my memory, my pain. This is where he dwells now in me and those who knew and loved him. The pain of death is the pain of living. It is not optional but essential. The question remains, how shall we live in the essence of death?
Death is a zenith. It is where life disappears into the infinity of horizon. It is not the horror of hell or bliss of heaven. It is the gate of the infinite. Mortality cannot pass through its gate. The absolute fluidity of this universe breaks upon the shores of death in which there is no return. Does death start where it began as if some universal law of physics requires it to do so?
What we know of physics is that there is a vast multitude of possible and actual physics. The laws of physics in our current universe are themselves a zenith of time and place. The ‘laws’ are an invention of circumstance. According to physicists, they were radically different at the beginning. If not for slightly more matter than antimatter after the ‘big bang’ or the ‘big bounce’ we would not be here at all. As to the question of what’s ‘outside’ the universe we are told two things: 1) Outside is a conventional notion we have derived from this time, this space, this circumstance and says nothing about this mythical notion of an outside to the universe, 2) If there are other universes, they have radically different physics. They would have absolutely no necessity placed on them to mimic our space/time physics in this singular moment of our circumstance.
So, this tells us that even this moment we call ‘life’ is itself a zenith caught on the brink of infinity. We stare infinity in the face every moment of our existence and found or are found by language as history to pacify our delusions of security as we draw in the breath of ‘I’. We forget the boundless ocean of eternity we stand on the shores of. We rationalize and sanctify and flee in the face of this awe and beauty and wonder which is the essence which can no longer be thought as ‘essence’. There is no ground beneath our feet only instantaneous, massless ‘particles’ better thought as infinitesimal force fields which pop in and out of existence and declare, “I am”. What we need in the face of eternity is perspective not absolute determinations.
We breath ‘we’ in this eternity of temporality. Sure, we have individual bodies which are really a communion of organism, cells, molecules, atoms, infinitesimals popping in and out of existence but somehow organizing themselves as an illusion of a whole, a body, my body. We communicate with language which we did not invent but in some undeciphered way acquired from a history we never knew or experienced. ‘Understanding’ is not a something but an acquisition of a ‘not me’, a gift given without merit or even existence as ‘mine’. We think ‘me’ from ‘we’. The ‘me’ that protests, that complains, that judges is a construction of the ‘we’ of language which speaks and has spoken and will speak with and without me, my existence. In all our languages we face plurality of other languages. Not just human but also animal languages, plant languages (actual science behind this). Existence is language. It is communication. It is the physics of interaction. It is the boundary conditions. It is the face. The face is not just a ‘presentation’, a presence. It is an absence of infinity which cannot present itself except as the boundary conditions of this moment, this interaction, this ‘idea’ of reality.
‘Idea’ informs us of notions which give reason, promise meaning, promotes sense and sensible. We even have the notion of ‘absolute’ which finds no home in infinity except as ‘idea’. What is more, ‘idea’ is what Hegel believes is all that faces us. There is no exterior ‘thing’ out there. The ‘thing’ is the idea. There is never a ‘thing’ without an idea. So, in Hegel’s estimation idea ‘is’ infinity and finite, it is ‘isness’. The face of which I spoke is the idea of face, nothing more, nothing less. For Hegel, the ‘notion’ exceeds other notions as being and nothingness and finds place as ‘Concept’. Concept is the embodiment of place, of divine, of me and us, of face. The other and the same cannot remain as they are but must be taken up by the necessity of self-consciousness. There is no self as a notion without an other as a counter notion. The same and the other are the necessity of a self, a me. Even the notion of space and time is a requirement of particularity. We must be a ‘we’ by necessity of Concept not by some exteriority which makes it so. For Hegel this does not do violence to the other as another person for example but requires us to look further into exactly what we are talking about and referring to; to fundamentally question the very fabric of isness and how Concept becomes the necessity of isness.
This leads us to choice. There is no way in my estimation to prove Hegel wrong. He may well be correct that Concept is essentially ‘is’. For Hegel this does not end in some kind of essential narcissism but in a foundation from any such thing as narcissism. Hegel is not bestowing sainthood on individualism and such notions as chest-beating ‘capitalism’. He is certainly providing a foundation for their existence, for existence itself, but not some modern right-wing notion of ultra-conservatism. In any case, there is a question Hegel poses which must be faced, a choice must be made.
I started this post with the notion of infinity. In due course, we have found that infinity and finitude may have and certainly, in some yet undetermined sense, has a basis in Concept but is that the end of the story (or perhaps another beginning)? Even if Hegel is correct, is there an ethical necessity placed on us to face the other, to face my son without Hegel’s face? Are we to abandon ourselves to the necessity of Concept and if so, how does that effect my orientation to the other, to the infinity of the face, to the requirement of my son’s life and living death which I must endure? Even more, what of the suffering of the other? How shall I face this lifetime of suffering which I must endure, my suffering and the suffering of the other? Should I find some kind of solace in the absolute fact of ‘Concept’? Should I think infinity as a necessary condition of finitude? Have I violated something other than my own biases and misunderstandings of Concept? Isn’t ethics just another requirement of Concept, of self-consciousness?
This is where choice determines eternity. I have no basis external to the requirements of self-consciousness for choosing an exteriority which cannot be thought only or more precisely determined by thought. I can choose to found self on Concept and call that ‘isness’. I probably have more reason to do so than not in Hegelian terms. I see many folks who use Hegel (and less intellectual achievements) as a kind of license to justify whatever they want to do to whomever they want to do it to. Perhaps, Hegel’s philosophy is not ready for mere mortals or vice versa. However, I do have to live in the face of the absolute, unsubstantiated abyss of existence. I have to wake up every day with my death, the death of my son, the death of innocence from bigotry, greed, injustice and I have to face it on an ongoing basis without any justification for why it must be so from Concept. In all this I must act and I must make choices not because I am that Concept but because I suffer and I am with those that suffer. My choice is to be self-determined or, without necessity, to heed the cry of the other.
To conclude, I would like to add a bit of speculation, highly speculative. We see in nature and physics (whether it is pure Concept or not) a return to regularity, order, instinct; to repetition in some degree. We did not proceed from Concept to birth but from nothingness (certainly with regard to consciousness) to birth. Somehow, I and we popped into existence. Is there a regularity in ‘popping into existence’? Perhaps, we don’t know. However, one thing we do know is that we did become but from what? We can call this Concept and satisfy the need for origin. However, I prefer to leave that to what Hesiod referred to as chaos (really the yawning gap). There is a gap of not knowing which we can choose to reserve. There is also the observation that phusis or physics, biology, ‘isness’ might like to repeat itself. We are gift standing from infinite abyss facing eternity with language and consciousness that is not our own. Who is to say that that gift cannot find repetition, increasing wisdom and another moment when what I did, how I acted in the face of the other; who is to say it is not the foundation for something I know not what…choose wisely.