reflection on upper grassi lake, canmore, january 2012
I suppose it’s the very nature of death itself that confounds me, unknowable to anyone, perhaps even as it is happening to you (and then perhaps its very nature, its essence is rendered utterly irrelevant, at the only moment it would be possible to know). And it’s really silly, because again – how can you ever really know how it feels for anyone else? Ever, about anything at all? Perhaps it hurts because it is the incomprehensibility of death mirrors the true understanding of anyone other than yourself (and even then, it can be tenuous).
A few weeks ago I sat through a seminar about Emmanuelis Levinas and how the lecturer wanted to use him in creating their new vision of anthropology; it didn’t sit well with anyone (do not tell social anthropologists that objectivity exists, e.g.) but I was happy that it reminded me about Levinas who I hadn’t really thought about in years.
Levinas wrote of our solitude of Being, and about the Other. How we can only know through the Other (in that they are a sort of mirror), the Other can never be completely known. We do the best we can to comprehend other beings; like yet like Simone Weil (another philosopher-friend of my soul) noted, every separation is a link. We come into Being and until we die (de-create) we try to reach out through that space between to understand. We do this through language, through speech, as Levinas wrote it “brings the world to the other, thereby creating a common world”. Speech is “the offering of a world to another”. I wrote in my journal last fall, in scribblings for a poem, that ‘death reveals the failures of language’; and it was such a comfort to see this feeling reflected in his words.
Our deaths are not really ours, thinks Levinas, but our consciousness comes from how we are haunted by the other’s death. And death—death makes you feel so helpless, it seems to me, because it others the Other; that is, in destroying the Other it destroys all hope of understanding. You no longer have a mirror to help you understand yourself; you no longer have your conversational partner with which to gift the world and receive a certain comprehension.
But we have to live with this, these hauntings, and by expressing, acknowledging them, I think we can free ourselves, if only partially, from these places where language, where everything we rely on to make sense of the world breaks down.