Friday, June 13, 2008

Coming Up for Air

This except is taken from the George Orwell book 'Coming Up for Air.' The context is that a man grows disillusioned with what his life has become and travels, or escapes, back to his hometown to revisit his youth only to discover that things have changed. He is just arriving to his old town when he stumbles upon a new grave yard and has these thoughts:

It was enormous, twenty acres, I should think. There's always a kind of jumped-up unhomelike look about a new cemetery, with its raw gravel paths and its rough green sods, and the machine-made marble angels that look like something off a wedding-cake. But what chiefly struck me at the moment was that in the old days this place hadn't existed. There was no separate cemetery then, only the churchyard. I could vaguely remember the farmer these fields used to belong to - Blackett, his name was, and he was a dairy -farmer. And somehow the raw look of the place brought it home to me how things have changed. It wasn't only that the town had grown so vast that they needed twenty acres to dump their corpses in. It was their putting the cemetery out here, on the edge of town. Have you noticed that they always do that nowadays? Every new town puts its cemetery on the outskirts. Shove it away-keep it out of sight! Can't bear to be reminded of death. Even the tombstones tell you the same story. They never say that the chap underneath them "died", it's always "passed away" or "fell asleep." It wasn't so in the old days. We had our churchyard plumb in the middle of the town, you passed it everyday, you saw the spot where your grandfather was lying and where some day you were going to lie yourself. We didn't mind looking at the dead. In hot weather, I admit, we also had to smell them because some of the family vaults weren't too well sealed.

George Orwell
Coming up for Air

I think this passage address some of the questions that have been raised about how we remove ourselves from death in our modern culture. How we satanize death in our language and space so we don't have to address it directly. Raising the question. How does shielding ourselves from death affect our attitudes about death? and for that matter, how does shielding ourselves from death affect our appreciation of life? 

1 comment:

The Fool Machine Collective said...

Yes, that was always one thing I found myself explaining to people. Many saw my fascination with death as a negative, depressed minor obsession, but keeping death close and present to me manifests a fear I feel I have to face constantly in order to remember to make as much as I can of my life.