Wednesday, January 30, 2008
At least twice in the last week I have been shaken awake by a dream of dying. In both cases it occurred as a falling. In one case I fell into darkness. In another, I fell into a fog. Then the world that I was in turned into nothing and I began to fall harder. I began to have a visceral feeling of falling that I sometimes have in sleep. The kind that causes an involuntary kick of the leg which usually jars me awake, confused. However, this time it didn’t jar me awake. It was as if kicked me in another direction, away from waking, and for a moment I became nothing. It was this momentary lapse of self that scared me awake.
After dreaming these dreams I would lay awake and wait for my heart to slow down. I remembered a conversation I had many years earlier at a slumber party. My best friend Ben told me that if you die, or get injured, in your dreams the same thing would happen in real life. Ben knew many things.
“My uncle” he told us “dreamt he got punched in the gut, and when he woke up he had to go to the hospital for an appendicitis”. I thought that was amazing. I never heard such a thing. Ben didn’t actually know anyone who dreamt of dying and then woke up dead, but his dad did.
Despite the flaws in his story I kind of believed him. I think I wanted to believe him. Perhaps, I liked the idea that the dream-world could have a consequential effect on the waking-world. Or perhaps, I simply liked Nightmare on Elm Street movies and I wanted to be scared. Regardless, up until now I heeded the warning to wake up if I thought I might die in a dream.
Forensic facial reconstruction was probably most famously (and controversially) used in the case of King Tutankhamun:
"In 2005, three teams of scientists (Egyptian, French, and American), in partnership with the National Geographic Society, developed a new facial likeness of Tutankhamun. The Egyptian team worked from 1,700 three-dimensional CT scans of the pharaoh's skull. The French and American teams worked plastic moulds created from these—but the Americans were never told who the subject of the reconstruction was. All three teams created silicone busts of their interpretation of what the young monarch looked like...Although modern technology can reconstruct Tutankhamun's facial structure with a high degree of accuracy based on CT data from his mummy, correctly determining his skin tone is impossible. The problem is not a lack of skill on the part of Ancient Egyptians. Egyptian artisans distinguished quite accurately among different ethnicities...[although] Sometimes they depicted their subjects in totally unreal colors, the purposes for which aren't completely understood. The colours may have had ritual significance. There is no consensus on King Tut's skin tone. Terry Garcia, National Geographic' s executive vice president for mission programs, said, in response to some protesters of the King Tut reconstruction—'The big variable is skin tone. North Africans, we know today, had a range of skin tones, from light to dark. In this case, we selected a medium skin tone, and we say, quite up front, 'This is midrange.' We will never know for sure what his exact skin tone was or the colour of his eyes with 100% certainty. ... Maybe in the future, people will come to a different conclusion.'"
Also, is has been determined by some scientists that King Tut was murdered: "X-rays of this mummy, which were taken previously, in 1968, had revealed a dense spot at the lower back of the skull. This had been interpreted as a subdural hematoma, which would have been caused by a blow. Such an injury could have been the result of an accident, but it also had been suggested that the young pharaoh was murdered. A trauma specialist from Long Island University insisted that this injury could not have been from a natural cause. The specialist stated that the blow was to a protected area at the back of the head which is not easily injured in an accident. This means someone would have had to sneak up from behind. If this were the case, there are a number of theories as to who is responsible. One popular candidate is his immediate successor Ay and other candidates includes his wife and chariot-driver. Interestingly, there seem to be signs of calcification within the supposed injury, which if true, meant Tutankhamun lived for a fairly extensive period of time (on the order of several months) after the injury was inflicted."
Marlaina "Niki" Reed died from a combination of strangulation and the severe beating she endured. Now she an King Tut have something in common. But whereas her skull was used to reveal her identity, King Tut's was reconstructed out of sheer curiosity.
Forensic science is at the forefront these days; anyone who watches CSI, CSI Miami, CSI New York, Bones, NCIS, etc. etc. knows that. I found this bit of interesting trivia in Wikipedia as well:
"Casdon Toys has produced a line of at-home facial reconstruction toys featuring Julius Caesar, King Tut, Queen Nefertiti, and Neanderthal Man. The popular CSI: Crime Scene Investigation television show has also produced an at-home facial reconstruction kit."
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
couldn’t find anything to corroborate this story, but the trope of death certainly had a big role in the movement's charter.
The terms of the Manifesto of Futurism itself is in the form of a first will and testament. This is an interesting inversion as compared to the usual last wills and testaments of the dying. I think that it might be interpreted that Marinetti and the Founders of Futurism have killed off their former selves and have been born anew. In the Manifesto, Marinetti goes on a drive that leads to his Futurist epiphany, but upon first reaching the car he describes himself as being “like a corpse on a bier.” Marinetti's former self dies and leaves behind a world of dead souls making dead art. He is reborn to see the world's first sunrise.
Futher, Marinetti invokes death to specifically critique the state of art and Italian society at large:
"Museums, cemeteries! Truly identical in their sinister juxtaposition of bodies that do not know each other. Public dormitories where you sleep side by side for ever with beings you hate or do not know. Reciprocal ferocity of the painters and sculptors who murder each other in the same museum with blows of line and color. To make a visit once a year, as one goes to see the graves of our dead once a year, that we could allow! We can even imagine placing flowers once a year at the feet of the Gioconda! But to take our sadness, our fragile courage and our anxiety to the museum every day, that we cannot admit! Do you want to poison yourselves? Do you want to rot?"
OK, given that Marinetti condemned museum-going as, at best, "solace for the ills of the moribund, the sickly, the prisoner," he may not have been to keen on our focus on texts, archives, and artifacts. Still, if fear is going to be a fundamental component in several of our planned performances, I think we can make kinship claim (if that really mattered). We death fools inhabiting the Fucked Up Island might just be a bastard children of those Futurists after all.
The topic for this one is The Sound of Death.
Imagine that you're a composer. Imagine getting this commission: “Please write us a song that will allow family members to face the death of a loved one…” Well, composer David Lang had to do just that when a hospital in Garches, France, asked him to write music for their morgue, or "Salle Des Departs."
Wanted to post a picture with the RadioLab link and searched for Death Ear and found this article:
Spiders Found In Oregon Boy's Ear
9-Year-Old Complained Of Earache, Doctors Find Pair Of Spiders Nested In Ear Canal
ALBANY, Ore., May. 7, 2007
What began as a faint popping in a 9-year-old boy's ear — "like Rice Krispies" — ended up as an earache, and the doctor's diagnosis was that a pair of spiders made a home in the ear.
"They were walking on my eardrums," Jesse Courtney said.
One of the spiders was still alive after the doctor flushed the fourth-grader's left ear canal. His mother, Diane Courtney, said her son insisted he kept hearing a faint popping in his ear — "like Rice Krispies."
Dr. David Irvine said it looked like the boy had something in his ear when he examined him.
When he irrigated the ear, the first spider came out, dead. The other spider took a second dousing before it emerged, still alive. Both were about the size of a pencil eraser.
Jesse was given the spiders — now both dead — as a souvenir. He has taken them to school and his mother has taken them to work.
When her daughter discovered this plot, it was via the drugged lips of her mother.
"I'm going to to Germany!"
"What Mom? When are you going to Germany?"
"She doesn't know what she's talking about, " the notorious one said. After much prying though, he gave in and divulged the plot, but demanded that no on else know, especially his wife's parents, a couple of devout Catholics in their 80's whose own bodies have toiled in witness to their daughter's impending death. Why? I don't know. I asked the same question. Why, when they love her so much, were they kept in the dark? These people who treat me like their own granddaughter, adopted through friendship, long and loving so that now we are family.
The next day I got a text message from my best friend: "My mom is going to Germany today for one last try. She'll be gone for ten days. I think this was the last time I'll see her alive."
Two days later I got another text: "I'm going to Germany today. I leave shortly."
I immediately called her and asked what had happened. Apparently when her mother arrived in Germany the doctors, upon examining her and taking some tests, discovered that all her organs were failing. They hooked her up to machines while a phone call was made to my best friend. She has forty-eight hours to live. Hurry.
I talked to her while she was on her way to the airport. Her anger resonated through the airwaves but was controlled, calm. She was determined to make it on time.
My best friend's plane arrived in Frankfurt at 11:30 a.m. German time. Her mother passed at approximately 9 a.m. Her name was Nancy.
Her body is resting currently in a chilled locker in Frankfurt until the necessary paperwork to bring her home is submitted and approved. Apparently they don't do embalming in Germany.
I had to write about this because I'm dealing with it; it's incredibly upsetting. Nancy and I planned my best friend's baby shower together, before she got sick, before she died. I remember getting exasperated with her a couple of times. Mothers are good at that. Now I feel bad for ever feeling that way. I titled this post "Real Death" because there is a big difference between just writing about death and experiencing it in real life. That goes without saying, but I felt I should explain myself. Now I have to go to a funeral. Now I have to hold my best friend up, hold her hand. Now we mourn. And the notoriously insensitive and foolish one? My best friend swears she will never speak to him again.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Sunday, January 27, 2008
I don't remember this as a child but I was introduced to it by a friend. I think it is one of the best ways any show or movie has ever dealt with the subject of death
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Friday, January 25, 2008
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
I don't need to talk about all the celebrities who have died. That's the thing: you already know who they are and how they went.
Monday, January 21, 2008
Over the Christmas holiday I ran across a book that now I wish I had held onto...it told of how famous figures in world history died, including St. Joan of Arc. The description of her death, which is conveniently glazed over in the Catholic Encyclopedia, included her request that a crucifix be held in her direct line of vision as she was burned at the stake and that after her clothes were burned away from her body, the fire of was stopped so all could view her naked, charred body before being started again. According to Wikipedia, she was already dead by the time this happened, and the fire was stopped so all could see that she did not escape the flames, not so they could just see her naked body. Who knows which is true. Below is text I pulled directly from St. Joan's Trial of Condemnation, in which she is declared a heretic, excommunicated from the Catholic Church, and is sentenced to death. It is lengthy, and it's just a glimpse really. But the language is harsh and petulant. They really wanted this poor girl to suffer.
"...At all times when the poisoned virus of heresy attaches itself with persistence to a member of the Church and transforms him into a member of Satan, extreme care should be taken to watch that the horrible contagion of this pernicious leprosy do not gain other parts of the mystic Body of Christ. The decisions of the holy Fathers have willed that hardened heretics should be separated from the midst of the Just, so that to the great peril of others this homicidal viper should not be warmed in the bosom of pious Mother Church. It is for this that We, Pierre, by the Divine Mercy, Bishop of Beauvais, and We, Brother Jean Lemaitre, Deputy of the renowned Doctor, Jean Graverend, Inquisitor of the Evil of Heresy, specially delegated by him for this Process, both Judges competent in this Trial, already, by a just judgment, have declared this woman fallen into divers errors and divers crimes of schism, idolatry, invocation of demons and many others. But because the Church closes not her bosom to the child who returns to her, we did think that, with a pure spirit and a faith unfeigned, you has put far from thee thy errors and thy crimes, considering that on a certain day you did renounce them and did publicly swear, vow, and promise never to return to thy errors and heresies, to resist all temptations, and to remain faithfully attached to the unity of the Catholic Church and the communion of the Roman Pontiff, as is proved at greater length in a writing signed by your own hand. But after this abjuration of your errors, the Author of Schism and Heresy had arisen in your heart, which he had once more seduced, and it had become manifest by thy spontaneous confessions and assertions - O, shame! -that, as the dog returns again to his vomit, so have you returned to your errors and crimes; and it had been proved to us in a most certain manner that you have renounced thy guilty inventions and thy errors only in a lying manner, not in a sincere and faithful spirit. For these causes, declaring thee fallen again into your old errors, and under the sentence of excommunication which you have formerly incurred, WE DECREE THAT YOU ART A RELAPSED HERETIC, by our present sentence which, seated in tribunal, we utter and pronounce in this writing; we denounce thee as a rotten member, and that you may not vitiate others, as cast out from the unity of the Church, separate from her Body, abandoned to the secular power as, indeed, by these presents, we do cast thee off, separate and abandon thee; - praying this same secular power, so far as concerns death and the mutilation of the limbs, to moderate its judgment towards thee, and, if true signs of penitence should appear in thee, [to permit] that the Sacrament of Penance be administered to thee.
Here follows the Sentence of Excommunication...that you have been on the subject of thy pretended divine revelations and apparitions lying, seducing, pernicious, presumptuous, lightly believing, rash, superstitious, a divineress and blasphemer towards God and the Saints, a despiser of God Himself in His Sacraments; a prevaricator of the Divine Law, of sacred doctrine and of ecclesiastical sanctions; seditious, cruel, apostate, schismatic, erring on many points of our Faith, and by all these means rashly guilty towards God and Holy Church. And also, because that often, very often, not only by Us on Our part but by Doctors and Masters learned and expert, full of zeal for the salvation of thy soul, you have been duly and sufficiently warned to amend, to correct thyself and to submit to the disposal, decision, and correction of Holy Mother Church, which you have not willed, and have always obstinately refused to do, having even expressly and many times refused to submit thyself to our Lord the Pope and to the General Council; for these causes, as hardened and obstinate in thy crimes, excesses and errors, WE DECLARE THEE OF RIGHT EXCOMMUNICATE AND HERETIC; and after your errors have been destroyed in a public preaching, We declare that you must be abandoned and that We do abandon thee to the secular authority, as a member of Satan, separate from the Church, infected with the leprosy of heresy, in order that you may not corrupt also the other members of Christ; praying this same power, that, as concerns death and the mutilation of the limbs, it may be pleased to moderate its judgment; and if true signs of penitence should appear in thee, that the Sacrament of Penance may be administered to thee."
In the end, she was foiled by clothing; wearing men's clothing was considered heresy, and she was burned at the stake for breaking a biblical law.
"And because Jeanne was dressed in the dress of a man - that is to say, a short mantle, a hood, a doublet and other effects used by men-although, by our orders, she had, several days before, consented to give up these garments, we asked her when and for what reason she had resumed this dress.(1)....(Several versions of the reasons which caused Jeanne to resume the forbidden dress were given in the evidence taken at the Rehabilitation, all purporting to have come from her. According to Massieu, her woman's dress was taken away while she was asleep, and the English soldiers refused to give it back to her, offering in its stead the man's dress she had previously worn, 'which they emptied from a sack.' She refused to wear it, reminding them that it was forbidden her; but at last, at midday, finding them deaf to her remonstrance, she was obliged to rise and attire herself in the prohibited garments. The Dominican Brothers declared that she had been assaulted by an English milord, as she told them, and that she therefore considered it necessary to return to the protection of her old dress; but considering the type of soldier in whose care she was placed, there seems no need to seek for any further explanation than her own, as given in the text, and as later corroborated by Manchon and De Courcelles. In the Rehabilitation Inquire, both Jean de Metz and de Poulengey claim to have suggested the male attire. At Poitiers, Jeanne herself stated that she had adopted it as most suitable to her work and the company she must share.)
She answered us:
"I have but now resumed the dress of a man and put off the woman's dress."
"Why did you take it, and who made you take it?"
"I took it of my own free will, and with no constraint: I prefer a man's dress to a woman's dress."
"You promised and swore not to resume a man's dress."
"I never meant to swear that I would not resume it."
"Why have you resumed it?"
"Because it is more lawful and suitable for me to resume it and to wear man's dress, being with men, than to have a woman's dress. I have resumed it because the promise made to me has not been kept; that is to say, that I should go to Mass and should receive my Savior and that I should be taken out of irons."
"Did you not abjure and promise not to resume this dress?"
"I would rather die than be in irons! but if I am allowed to go to Mass, and am taken out of irons and put into a gracious prison, and [may have a woman for companion(2)]....(This request is found only in the Minute.) I will be good, and do as the Church wills."
Sunday, January 20, 2008
The picture was taken for a 1997 Washington Post story on Ghanian funerals. I think that motivation for such ornate coffins is probably best summed up by one the coffin artisans: The deceased may have been poor in life, Joseph Tetteh said, but "when they die, no more poor."
They're coffins in Ghana. When I was in college, a fellow art history major was writing his senior thesis on this tradition of elaborate coffins in Ghana and I was completely fascinated. But eight years later, I remembered nothing about them, except they looked amazing. And the interweb has little more, except for lots of pictures. It does turn out, however, that the largest collection of these coffins outside Ghana is at the National Museum of Funeral History (http://www.nmfh.org/.) A pretty good find.
As you might imagine, the coffins refer to aspects of the deceased's personality or status. They are elaborate (costing as much as a year's salary) because death, in Ghana, is not an end, but a passage to a new phase. And wouldn't YOU want to transition in one of these?
So this is something I wanted to share with you death-obsessed foolish
machine collectibles. I don't believe I can post it to your blog, or if I
can, I'm unsure how, so I'm just emailing it to you.
In 2003, Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata created *Death Note, *a serial manga centered around a "Death Note"--a mystical notebook of the Japanese shinigami (death gods). The notebook functions, basically, as follows: whoever's name is written in the Death Note dies in a few minutes after the name is written. If no cause of death is specified, the victim dies of a sudden heart attack. (There are a host of other rules that the characters discover throughout the series, but those are the basics.)
The notebook is dropped into our world by the death god who owns it for no other reason than curiosity. It is picked up by an extremely gifted high school student, Light Yagami, who is equally bored and curious. He begins using the Note, at first, to dispatch notorious criminals, and views himself as a sort of omnipotent superhero, making the world a better place. The shinigami, who tags along as a sort of familiar spirit, is greatly amused.
Naturally, however, the number of sudden unexplained deaths begins to raise questions in the law enforcement organizations of the world, and soon they fear they are dealing with an extremely dangerous serial killer.
This leads Light to begin dispatching people who seek to stop him, as well as random people who might throw the police off of his trail. And from that point on, we watch Light slide down the slippery slope that comes with the power of life and death.
Things complicate even further when the police call in a mysterious detective known only as "L," who is Light's equal in intellect and cunning, and whose deliberate anonymity keeps him safe from the Note itself. And the story becomes a very deadly cat-and-mouse game, wherein the detectives try to catch a killer who they've never seen and who can kill them without touching them, and wherein Light attempts to ascertain the identity of his nemesis specifically for the purposes of killing him.
The series explores, in incredible depth, the morality of murder and the ability of omnipotence to corrupt. Yagami slips so casually into wanton evil that even he fails to notice it, and if he ever seems aware of how far he's fallen from his originally stated purposes, he no longer cares. As it is, he's having too much fun playing his deadly chess to consider the ramifications of his activities.
The trailer for the first film they made is here:
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Japanese log on for group suicides By Hiroshi Osedo in Tokyo October 13, 2004 AUTHORITIES in Japan have been stunned by a dramatic increase in "Internet suicides" with nine young people dying yesterday. These bizarre suicide pacts were first noticed in 2002 with groups committing suicide, often in cars, after meeting via the Internet. Seven young people were found dead yesterday morning in a car parked at Minano town in Saitama Prefecture north of Tokyo. Four men and three women in their teens and 20s were in a station wagon wrapped in blue plastic sheets. Police believe they met through the Internet and committed a group suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning using four portable charcoal stoves found in the car. It was the nation's worst "netto shinju" (Net suicide) since the first such case was reported in October 2002. Hours earlier, two women, aged 27 and 21, were found dead in a car in Yokosuka city, 40km south of Tokyo. Police found two charcoal stoves and suicide notes in the vehicle. The latest deaths took the national toll to at least 59 people in 18 separate suicide pacts. With the exception of five people who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in apartment rooms, all others were found dead in cars equipped with portable charcoal stoves. Most of them were in their 20s. They included college students, salarymen and unemployed people. More than half of them were men. The victims were usually strangers before they met through the Internet. Yamanashi University professor Kiyohiko Ikeda said those people "have found solace in finding someone similar to themselves through the Net, ready to join in their attempt to kill themselves". "They said they were too lonely to die alone." A 24-year-old man who died in western Tsu city on March 5 last year said in his note: "We don't know the reason why we want to die. We've got together to die peacefully." A collection of DVDs for a Net group suicide are available on the Internet for ¥3112 (AU$38, US$28). One website includes a poem by a person named R. Ueki which encourages group suicide:
Now, let's commit a pure group suicide.
You, meagre young people. There is no point for you to stick to your life.
Suicide is the only thing you can choose.
It's the last glorious seal you will be able to leave behind.
Japan's suicide rates are among the highest in the world. According to the National Police Agency, 34,427 people committed suicide in Japan in 2003. Officials have blamed a decade-long economic slump for an increasing number of people killing themselves.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
We Americans like to talk about people who work themselves to death, but it's the Japanese who have created a classification, albeit a non-clinical one, for death by overwork. In fact, in December a Japanese court ordered Toyota to pay the widow of a 30 year-old deceased worker who had allegedly died of overwork. He logged 114 hours overtime the month he died.
From Karōshi-Death from overwork: "Occupational health consequences of the Japanese production management"
"The first case of karōshi was reported in 1969 with the death from a stroke of a 29- year old, married male worker in the shipping department of Japan's largest newspaper company . Karōshi can be translated quite literally as "death from overwork." The major medical causes of karōshi-deaths are heart attack and stroke, including subarachnoidal hemorrhage (18.4%), cerebral hemorrhage (17.2%), cerebral thrombosis or infarction (6.8%), myocardial infarction (9.8%), heart failure (18.7%), and other causes (29.1%) . The Ministry of Labor began to publish the statistics on karōshi in 1987, as public concern increased:
"There are no epidemiologically sound estimates of the prevalence and incidence of karōshi. Until recently, there were 20 to 60 deaths each year from overwork for which the Ministry of Labor awarded compensation. However, critics state that the number of people the Ministry compensates for such deaths is much less than their actual occurrence. The overall number of deaths related to cerebrovascular or cardiovascular disease in the 20 to 59 age group is around 35,000 per year according to vital statistics data. Kawato estimates that one-third of these are work-related, or more than 10,000 each year. In 1994, the Japanese government's Economic Planning Agency in the Institute of Economics estimated the number of Karōshi deaths at around 1,000 or 5 percent of all deaths from cerebrovascular and cardiovascular disease in the 25 to 59 age group."
Monday, January 14, 2008
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Friday, January 11, 2008
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Okay. First, you absolutely must listen to today's episode of "Fresh Air" on NPR. Terry Gross interviewed Drew Gilpin Faust, whose book, "This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War," was just released. I'm totally broke, but I bought it. Listen to the interview. It is fascinating. The Civil War left over 600,000 dead soldiers in its wake. It had a profound effect on this country, and changed the way death is perceived. Death on the battlefield, burial on the battlefield, the changing burial practices due to haste and anonymity, the families of dead soldiers and how they dealt with the death, not to mention, as stated above, the sheer number of the dead and its impact on our country.
Just as I am fascinated by cemeteries and have a deep respect for places of burial, I am equally as fascinated by the Civil War and its repercussions in the form of death. It was a devastating war that wiped out entire regiments, not to mention the entire male line of families, both north and south. Last year I reacquainted myself with the Ken Burns documentary, and was equally as moved then as I was in high school by the images of the dead strewn about like tiny weathered dolls in a field, as if roughly played then subsequently forgotten. As Faust discusses in the interview, people would come to visit a battlefield ten days after a battle ended and the bodies would still be there, waiting, decaying, silently begging for a proper funeral.
On my list of things to do before I die (where once a visit to New Orleans was listed, and now I admittedly took it off my list because the thought of going there frightens me--it is another form of death and rebirth altogether) is a tour of America that consists of visiting places like Monticello, Mount Vernon, and famous Civil War battlefields, because they are, essentially, as sacred as Arlington Cemetery. A lot of people died on those fields, and many of them died horrible, excruciating deaths. They are places of honor and respect.
Which leads me to my second point: some of these battlefields, such as Chancellorsville in Virginia, are endangered. They are in danger of being overrun by development: some condos here, a Starbucks there. It is possible that one day, maybe in ten years, if you go to Chancellorsville you might be ordering a Latte where a soldier once died. Perhaps he was a soldier whose name was lost, and thus was buried in an anonymous grave. If that happens, it will be very sad. But that's all it'll be: I doubt the spirits of the dead will rise up and terrorize the baristas like the ghosts from Poltergeist. No, it'll just be sad.
Monday, January 7, 2008
Irvin Yalom is the most preeminent practitioner of existential psychotherapy and his book Love’s Executioner is the collection of ten case studies which inspired this post. (As an aside, the book is a brilliant account of how therapy, as an interpersonal exercise between therapist and patient, is actually achieved. It is far more poignant and transparent than, say, Freud’s Three Case Histories, which has Freud ‘objectively’ looking at the symptoms and diagnoses of three patients who he barely treated himself, if at all.) For Yalom there are four human givens that are relevant to this mode of psychotherapy:
1. Death is inevitable for us and those we love.The most interesting of these to me is the last one, the idea of free will or choice, which itself ends up being a metaphor for death. Yalom makes the observation that the words ‘decide,’ ‘suicide,’ and ‘homicide’ all have the same linguistic root. He believes this to be no accident and to have far-reaching consequences in the lives on individuals. "Decision invariably involves renunciation: for every yes there must be a no, each decision eliminating or killing other options. Thus...[choice can be a] renunciation of that possibility signifying diminishment and death." (p. 11)
2. We are ultimately alone in an existential sense, especially in facing death.
3. Life is absent of an obvious meaning or sense.
4. We are free to make our lives as we will.
Irvin Yalom: Likes Flowers, Thinks About Death
Now, if we are to believe Yalom and the existential psychotherapists then with each choice we cause an untold number of little deaths (homicides or suicides, take your pick). And since we have more choices (or at least the illusion of more choices) at our fingertips today than at any other time in human history, then each time we make a choice today we put to death more unselected options than any people who ever lived. We are our species' greatest symbolic murderers. If, as humans, there are psychological consequences to all this metaphorical carnage, then it should be no surprise that America in 2008 is overrun with the clinically anxious and depressed. Too neat and clean for you? Let me offer one not-so-small piece of evidence for my conjecture.
One of the most common symptoms of these conditions is the panic attack. From a physiological standpoint a true panic attack is the result of a misdirected unleashing of the Fight or Flight instinct. The symptoms (e.g., palpitations, sweating, nausea, diarrhea, trembling, etc., etc.) are in line with the natural adrenaline release and consolidation of the body's resources necessary to flee or do battle. Thus panic attacks are the body (and mind) trying to protect itself from a perceived threat. But this threat seems absent. Its nature can only be revealed by peeling back layers of the psyche’s elaborate symbolic processes. So, might the increased incidence of panic attacks be attributable to the difficulties of coping with the renunciation of today's ever-widening possibilities, with confrontations with ever-increasing signs of symbolic death?
Sunday, January 6, 2008
***SPOILER ALERT*** - The following gives away a crucial plot point of the film Sunset Boulevard
Joe Gillis is the burnt-out screenwriter, narrator and, eventually, murder victim from Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard. In a clever bit of noirish subversion, we come to realize that Gillis (William Holden) is narrating posthumously. The first two pictures are accompanied by text from the movie's opening voiceover. The last picture is accompanied by his final bit of narration.
No big ideas here, just one of my favorite plot devices. The pulp writer Jim Thompson has also written a handful of novels with posthumous narration, which his biographer, Robert Polito, called 'acts of self-eulogy'.
Yes, this is Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, California. It's about five o'clock in the morning. That's the Homicide Squad - complete with detectives and newspapermen. A murder has been reported from one of those great big houses in the ten thousand block. You'll read about it in the late editions, I'm sure. You'll get it over your radio and see it on television because an old-time star is involved - one of the biggest. But before you hear it all distorted and blown out of proportion, before those Hollywood columnists get their hands on it, maybe you'd like to hear the facts, the whole truth. If so, you've come to the right party.
You see, the body of a young man was found floating in the pool of her mansion - with two shots in his back and one in his stomach. Nobody important, really. Just a movie writer with a couple of 'B' pictures to his credit. The poor dope! He always wanted a pool. Well, in the end, he got himself a pool - only the price turned out to be a little high.
Well, this is where you came in. Back at that pool again, the one I always wanted. It's dawn now, and they must have photographed me a thousand times. Then they got a couple of pruning hooks from the garden and fished me out, ever so gently. Funny how gentle people get with you once you're dead. They beached me like a harpooned baby whale and started to check the damage, just for the record.
one becomes acquainted with
Friday, January 4, 2008
So this post is dedicated to Bilal, to show him that I am thoroughly capable of balancing more than two books on my head than once, and that there's nothing to worry about.
Behold! Worlds come together in this excerpt from John Kelly's The Great Mortality, a history of the Black Death. Kelly describes the technological advances in agriculture that helped surge the populaton of 750-800 AD, which in turn set the stage for the upcoming plague. Plague's thrive when there are a lot people around:
"Someone figured out that one easy (and cheap) way to get a horse to pull more was to redistribute weight away from its windpipe, so when it moved forward it wouldn't choke. Thus was born the horse collar, which increased horsepower by four. Another simple innovation, the horseshoe, increased it even more, by improving the horse's endurance....The true technological marvels of the age were the watermill and the windmill; for the first time in history, a society had harnessed a natural source of power. 'Behold,' wrote an admiring monk, 'the river throws itself first impeuously into the mill to grind the wheat separating the flour from the bran. Then it fills the cauldron to prepare drinks for the monks. Yet, the river does not consider itself discharged. Merciful God! What consolations you grant to your poor servants.' "
Thursday, January 3, 2008
Sam Kinison died on a highway on the way to a show in Las Vegas. He was traveling with his brother and his newly married wife when they were hit by a drunk driver. Sam went through the windshield. However, he was not killed instantly. Apparently, he was heard saying "I don't want to die! Why now?" then his protests changed it's tune, his voice went softer - as if he was talking to a close friend - and his last words were "Okay, Okay, Okay"
After running into the Neofuturarium at approximately a half an hour after the new year, which arrived in her carelessly debauched manor, to say “hello” like a drunken four year old or a rambunctious puppy dog, I decided to throw a whole bunch of cheese onto John Pierson’s plate then discuss the current trend of murderous psycho/sociopathic stars that have been popping up in many a plot of the modern novel and cinema. Well that trend kind of disturbs me. Most of the movies that came out for the holiday season weren’t warm and fuzzy, but satirical, murderous and full of dark humor. There seem to be a lot of serial killer “heros” or I should say “anti-heros” out there, where, the emotions that would normally shudder throughout one’s psyche after, I don’t know, killing somebody, simply aren’t there. For me this highlights the unattached, faithless, pointlessness of life and life’s lack of inherent justice; it underlines coldness to caring and seems to point directly to the pointless question: “why?” In this case “why bother to feel - we all know it doesn’t mean anything anyway?” It makes me feel strongly that humans, as a group, aren’t wired to comprehend then act upon all the information for which we now have relentless access. The pointless, unexpected, fruitless murders that are spilling into our pop-culture seem to create a brooding anthem to powerlessness… alluding, in an unattached way, to the fragility of human life. Which I think is a stance of giving up and being complacent thus a huge fucking cop-out – what do you think?
John Goddard on `Canada's Madonna and child' - TorStar Feb. 27, 2005. Death and love have rarely been portrayed together so dramatically. Mother and child are on the brink of starvation. The previous fall,the main caribou herds bypassed their camp and now, toward the end of February 1950, nothing remains in the igloo to ingest except scraps of caribou skin. Earlier pictures from the same roll show the mother displaying the scraps to her three-year-old son and encouraging him to chew on one. Then, with nothing else to give, she floods the boy's senses with love. She grips him firmly and close, presses nose-to-nose as though to literally breathe life into him, and showers him with comfort and affection - through her eyes, her smell and the familiar rustle of her clothes.
Surprisingly, the effect is not nearly as ghoulish as I thought it would be. There's a beauty to how the bones from the 5000 or so skeletons are arranged. More mosaic than gorefest. I make this statement noting two exceptions: the dessicated, but still raggedly clothed corpse hanging on the wall (see below) and the foreboding inscription carved over the archway into the chapel. It roughly translates to "Our bones that are here await yours."
The practice exhuming skeletons and lining chapels with them hardly unique to Evora or Portugal. Ossuaries exist in a number of places throughout southern and eastern Europe. Notable among these is Sedlec in the Czech Republic. Sedlec's ossuary was built when a gothic church was built on the site of a mass grave (perhaps put there in the wake of the Black Plague). The estimated 50,000 skeletons here not only lined the walls, but were incorporated into every element of the church, including the chandelier pictured below.
What is not clear to me is which takes precedence - the need to store skeletons somewhere or the ostensible message of the bone chapels - that people need to realize that life on earth is fleeting and always exists side-by-side with death.
Frances Pierce (The large photo on the left)
Matt Hucke's website: graveyards.com. He's awesome.
Hey Dina, I thought this picture of Bachelor's Grove was so disturbing that I had to add it to your post. good work!
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
Here they are: Rosehill.
Wanna know when you are going to die? The Death Clock allegedly* can tell you. "The Internet's friendly reminder that life is slipping away," you put in your birth date, Body Mass Index and whether or not you are a smoker and apparently it will calculate the date and time of your death. I did not try it. It creeps me out. I did, however, click on "Obituaries" and I was able to access when Britney Spears will die. Hers was the first to pop up. There is a countdown clock and everything, the seconds ticking away towards her death. I find it disturbing.
*I say "allegedly" because I don't think the Death Clock takes into account sudden or unexpected death, such as by car crash, plane crash, random mugging gone awry. It appears that it calculates when, if all goes well, you will die of natural causes, although it does take into consideration such factors as obesity and cancer from smoking.
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
One day, we had a discussion in class. They asked me, where did they go? The trees, the salamander, the tropical fish, Edgar, the poppas and mommas, Matthew and Tony, where did they go? And I said, I don't know, I don't know. And they said, who knows? and I said, nobody knows. And they said, is death that which gives meaning to life? And I said, no, life is that which gives meaning to life. Then they said, but isn't death, considered as a fundamental datum, the means by which the taken-for-granted mundanity of the everyday may be transcended in the direction of--
I said, yes, maybe.
The entire story can be read here. In addition, that website has a lot of death-related information and resources. It is the website for an old All Things Considered episode on NPR. The main page for that is this link. I particularly like the transcript from the Mary Tyler Moore show, a sketch called "Chuckles Bites the Dust."
Also, a pretty cool picture of school children eating apples. In New Zealand. Because there always needs to be a picture. I think it's a good picture.