Posted by: HAT | May 3, 2009

The Sting of Death

A device for measuring the passage of time

A device for measuring the passage of time

Finished Ziarek Ch. 5 on the labor of the negative in Irigaray, and on the possible uses of Irigaray’s ethics of sexual difference in Ziarek’s formulation of an ethics of dissensus that would recognize both the poles of becoming and of obligation in the observance of communal/interpersonal ethical practices. Note, we cannot quite use the term “norms” here, as this implies a static formulation that would fail to attend to the needs of the “differend,” those interests which the dominant discourse excludes even from articulation. The ethics of dissensus, as I understand it, would scan — my word, thinking of internet spiders — the communal field for such differends and make an effort to engage them, albeit in somewhat antagonistic discourse. Note, too, that Irigaray would make a prime example of more-or-less articulated “differend” discourse, on her own terms, as she insists that feminine desire cannot come to expression within the discourse of psychoanalysis.

However, I want to get written down something I thought about a couple of days or a few days ago, /squirrel! The baby squirrels are running around, now, and between their size, and our new keeping-Pepper-in-the-yard fence modification which forces the squirrels to run along the top of the fence, I really had to look hard through the office window to make sure I wasn’t seeing a rat running along the top of the fence. Utopian-not./ which has to do with temporality.

It took off from the discussion of temporality and the futurity of democracy in Ziarek’s Afterword, but went on from there. In three movements. The first, to notice that

/oh, bright red cardinal. almost immediately displaced by a little woodpecker with red splash on its head, not sure what kind this is. btw a rose-breasted grosbeak – I think – showed up a couple of days ago out of the blue, having never ever been here before, and has returned several times /

things — moments of time itself, or more precisely, contents of moments, or possibly even, of “the moment” if we wanted to use a little more Buddhist notion of the moment — things constantly die away, new things arise or arrive and displace the older things, “everything arises, dwells and passes away,” we could say this lots of ways. Think of Mrs. Ramsay in To the Lighthouse wanting to stand with a sword and hold life at bay, recognizing just this. Think of Plato. The whole (necrophiliac) western tradition, wanting to hold things still /which amounts to a kind of worship of death, but this doesn’t help advance the observation under consideration here/.

Second, notice that the impulse to hold things still, to hang on to things, corresponds to a failure to see the things as intrinsically transient, impermanent — contra Plato, who looks at the transience of things as a defect, a symptom of their failure vis-à-vis their forms, let’s imagine the transience of things as purposive, intentional, built-in, whatever notion here captures the idea that things have transience as part of their nature. Their temporality, their temporary quality, constitutes part of their value, and also part of their claim on our attention now, as ignoring these things now will constitute missing them, wronging them, failing to heed their claim at all . . . we will not have an opportunity later to remedy our act or omission in ignoring these things now.

Everything dies is not the problem. Everything dies too soon (relative to our attention, care, understanding, appreciation, recognition) is the problem for us.

/In articulating this in precisely this way, suddenly recognize the significance, part of the significance, of Hélène Cixous’ address to the Postmodernism, Feminism and the Return of Religion conference 2 or 3 years ago, in which she quoted Jacques Derrida saying precisely this, “We always die too soon.” And for that matter, as I recall, one of the corrollaries of this became “I have to convert.” None of this made any sense to me at the time, and whether it makes a bit more sense to me just now I might later dispute./

Third, I thought, ha! I finally have a glimmer of understanding of I Corinthians /confession, at first thought it was Romans, but realized upon checking I had the citation wrong, pretty much as usual/, 15:56, “the sting of death is sin” /it goes on, “and the power of sin is the law”, which I could probably do more with if I’d finished reading that book on Lacan yet/

I have never really felt I understood this. But in the context of the problem of transience, and attention, and the – inevitable – wronging of things in their temporality and their claim on our attention, care and recognition, it makes sense to me that the pain of death — regret and guilt, unfulfilled responsibility, unfulfilled obligation — and the problem of death, as a closing off of opportunities for relationship with the once-living-now-dead, accrue in this temporal structure as a consequence of failure to treat transient things properly as transient. We ignore things. They die away. We fail to do the appropriate honor to these transient elements, irredeemably. (I think I use this term here precisely.)

If we didn’t sin in this way, the passing away of things wouldn’t pain us, our own passing away might not pain us, in quite the same way anyway. The “sting” of the transience here arises as a consequence of the unfinished business, the missed opportunities, the injustices done to the living and abiding in the instant of their living and abiding.

This observation has some relationship to the perennial temporal structure of utopia, as well, but I think I will have to deal with that separately.


  1. […] and I developed a fondness for him and a sentimental attachment that is a matter of public record (here, here, here, and […]

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