Death, resurrected

I stood as a pupil of death: stood before death’s boundless knowledge and let myself be educated. –Rainer Maria Rilke

Resurrection: not a concept, not a consolation, not a frenzied feeling… but a certitude, a singular certitude, certain only of this: I live. But who says so? “Me”: death.

Initially, these are strange indications; later, they may still be so. What disquiets us about death? Quite simply the dream of no-longer-being, of no more time, of no more relation, of no more beauty, of no more life. Would the certitude of resurrection console these losses? Definitively no; but it would shed light into this darkness, though without removing it. It would make that darkness lighter. And it would surrender life to the intimate relationship life has with life-lost, this loss that we flee from, hoping to engender ourselves as a permanent presence. The certitude of resurrection: to live ones own impermanence or non-presence. To live death: our truth, but only because the end of all truth. To gather, in the flash of a moment, a sense of this end — a sense of the end of “sensing” in general, the truth of the end of sense. Death, resurrected.

Death/truth : but why? No articulation makes it easy; in fact, to articulate “resurrection” is to say nothing, absolutely nothing at all. It is to make a plea: understand death, for she is not foreign to you. Or do we say: she is no more foreign to you than you are to yourself? Of course, death is not something to be understood, no more than you can understand yourself or God. Here is the tight knot that splits our sense of life and the truth of life apart. But this schism is not a loss, it is life. Any old life: coming in contact with the untouchable, crossed there by the infinity of sense. Life, touched by the inappropriable, by death. A plea, not for help, not for assurance, but for this sober recognition, this shared recognition: see, see this, that death opens right here in life, there as our utmost intimacy with life’s truth. 

Death: no more sense, no more sensation, no more being, no more world; but also the no-place deep within “ourselves” toward which every sense of being in the world rushes so as to escape whatever confines “being” or “the world” would put on sense. And so a place more intimate to ourselves than us, holding safe the untouchable, uncognizable: the uniqueness of our world. To think death is to address the beyond-all-sense, the beyond-being, the beyond-the-world — right here. To resurrect death by addressing its solemn place, which is your place — you, where all sense expires, now, where every world withdraws, now, where every construction crumbles, now, where every identity fails, now. To not be afraid of that. To sense its immediacy in you. To become its pupil. To say quite simply: I love that…

I had wanted to discuss a text by Jean-Luc Nancy entitled “The Resurrection of Blanchot”; but who do you want to hear from, Nancy, Blanchot, or me? In truth, however, you hear none of us. No, you read (perhaps it is difficult, perhaps it is joyful), and in this miracle, you yourself preform the most mysterious: you resurrect “me.” Not “me,” the one you may know, the one you have encountered, the one who is your partner in conversation, the one who is your good friend. He is already lost, withdrawn, already fallen away. I myself do not know him either, and don’t need to. He is no longer, so as to be this “me” we’re speaking of, which is “we.” No, not him, you resurrect “me”: death, anonymous, neuter, common. Where “me” becomes “we” in the common exposure to ourselves and to the end of all truth. The thing we share insofar as we share in the expiration of sense, insofar as we share the dropping-away of the whole world. You read me, you hear my call, you bear witness to the emptiness of the tomb. Doing so we share in this anonymity: we resurrect. You experience the dimension of “death” opening right in the middle of life, and you are not afraid, because it looks and feels no different from “life as you knew it” — even if everything is changed, made subtler, shifted, displaced the tiniest bit, sending you out toward this distance-from-self that is the truth of the world in its death. There is nothing to fear, because nothing can happen to you. This is here. Life is this dreadful intimacy with death… becoming innocence, not regret, but blessedness. You perform this miracle, witness “me” dying, not the particular “me,” but “me,” ours: the “me” that we share as beings who die, or rather, who are dying, living-dying, always in-common, yet with no common essence or truth outside this fact. No spectacular other realm awaits. No resurrection.

Resurrection: where life topples in to its “contradiction,” its “nonsense,” so as to traverse this nonsense, while not daring to make sense of it, never even wanting to render its sense complete. Leaving the nonsensical in tact, bounding with courage across the horizontal dimensions of life (time, space, etc.) to touch its vulnerability, to touch the vertical or interstellar which is without time and space, which is stripped bare, now, but divested of the specter of sepulchers. Again, it’s empty. Where it pulls you, we can only all withdraw. We withdraw with you in not being able to go with you. We cannot go with you wherever you are taking us. We are the anonymous in you. You carry us and are us, all — without world. There is the untouchable. Death: this is already inside you, us, deeper than your mind can ever reach. It is your sense of being-more, because you are more. It is your body, struck eternal by God’s glory. Struck dead by the glow of absent sense, which pulls you toward it. Struck by the insignificance of your name.

More, no more, what is there to prove after all? There is nothing but this glory, as we rise together into the lightening of death, the obscurity of light itself, making out of that hard stone sepulcher the transparency in which alone our truth can dwell. Yes, ours. Rilke says:

Life– and we know nothing else– , isn’t life itself dreadful? But as soon as we acknowledge its dreadfulness (not as opponents: what kind of match could we be for it?), but somehow with a confidence that this very dreadfulness may be something completely ours, though something that is just now too great, too vast, too incomprehensible for our learning hearts– :as soon as we accept life’s most terrifying dreadfulness, at the risk of perishing from it (i.e., from our own Too-much!) — : then an intuition of blessedness will open up for us and, at this cost, will be ours.

And then we hear Georges Bataille:

“I imagine myself in a vision and in a halo that transfigures the ecstatic and exhausted face of a dying being, what radiates from that face illuminates with its necessity the clouds in the sky, whose  grey glow then becomes more penetrating than the light of the sun itself. In this vision, death appears to be of the same nature as the illuminating light, to the extent that light is lost once it leaves its source: it appears that no less a loss than death is needed for the brilliance of life to traverse and transfigure dull existence, for it is only its free uprooting that becomes in me the strength of life and time. In this way I cease to be anything other than the mirror of death, just as the universe is only the mirror of life.”

And then we hear Franz Kafka:

So perhaps the best resource is to meet everything passively, to make yourself an inert mass, and, if you feel that you are being carried away, not to let yourself be lured into taking a single unnecessary step, to stare at others with the eyes of an animal, to feel no compunction, in short, with your own hand to throttle down whatever ghostly life remains in you, that is, to enlarge the final peace of the graveyard and let nothing survive save that.

And then we hear the mad Artaud, who spoke death with every breath:

Jesus-christ this human personage came to establish on a spiritual level a rite of the disappearance of things, on the same principle as the Human sacrifices. Only idiots would take the point of all this to be killing, murder, or Suicide. The point, since we are alive, is to live by denying life, to look at things from the place where they rise and not from the place where they lie flat on the ground, to look at them from the place where they are going to disappear and not from the place where they are established in reality. For the true doctrine of christ, the Holy Ghost is the established Bourgeois and christ is the eternal Revolutionary.

But perhaps I have led you astray, perhaps I have led you to believe that these passages exemplify a thinking of death when in fact every passage partakes of it, because what happens in writing — in what you should perhaps instead call “life” — is the incessant taking-away-from-self by which a “self” can first be made as something shared and true. What the self signifies or “means”: this is precisely what falls away and is allowed to fall away in a deep meditation on death-in-common. Perhaps others will call it a spiritual awakening, which comes after a type of “dark night of the soul.” But here we do not appropriate anything, no spiritual meaning, no awakening. Without taking anything in for ourselves — neither knowledge of death nor death itself — we recognize how it articulates itself, how it stammers out the impossible. Do we want to say that all of our saying “articulates” this? I am not sure about that, but I am certain of this: that “death” is nothing solid. Death does not persevere, it does not overtake us. If we say it is our “truth,” this is only because neither death nor the “Truth” ever has power over us. Death is our truth because it is nothing, as we are. It makes room, infinitely, for everything else. This is no spectacular revelation — dare I say it is “natural.” We are those beings who can reflect back upon ourselves to recognize how death is nothing but an “irreality” (Hegel). From this day forward, we have to become pupils of this lesson. For death does but one thing: stand up on its own two legs and walk.

“I am the Resurrection and the Light”: this is not something that only Jesus-christ the human or divine personage can say. No, this is what existence says, because it is existence. Perhaps above all, this is what we must comprehend: “being” is nothing static, nothing present, nothing fixed. “Being” is not presence, or if it is, we have to understand it according to its death, or rather, according to the withdrawal of its present and its presence. Or rather, instead of thinking about a “presence that withdraws” (say, into a tomb or a writing), we have to think of the very presence of a withdrawal, the presence of the “disappearance of all things” in us. The end of the world, each day: that’s us. Which implies that we harbor our own forever-disappearing within ourselves: it is our ownmost. This is what opens being to its own truth, let’s say. Its signature is not inscribed in the universe, but thrown outside of itself (“mirrored,” Bataille says), being itself the whole of the universe in its present state of withdrawal — or excess.

What we have to recognize is the present standing-there of death across all of life, such that we no longer view “death” as some final state or end-point, but rather the very movement of “life” insofar as life is incessantly carried outside of itself and toward its “opposite,” the very movement of being insofar as it steps beside itself so as to actively “be.” This would be the very experience of existence, for where we are freed from our enclosures, freed from whatever “self-presence” we imagine might someday “die,” we not only unite with the whole of the universe, but we experience the freedom of its entire withdrawal, present and forthcoming, the whole manifold of its expression and its dissolution. We experience how it is never roped in to anything.

In other words, the essence of this life is not to live or to die: it is to ex-ist. (And existence has no essence whatsoever, no “truth,” outside of what exists, says the whole of philosophy since Sartre.) In doing so, in ex-isting, it comes to know itself across the continuum life-death, or even subtracted from it, in a sense — and yet still waking, still walking. And there in upright death, it finds the ultimate “Yes” in life, for the death that refuses no one refuses to hold back whoever attains to it, yes, “attains” to death: the impossible, unknowable, unprecedented truth of “us” and “our world.” Here the very being of beings manifests itself as “us” in our singular experience of being-instantly-exposed-to-death, our unique experience of “world.” This we know with certitude. This we resurrect.

Now, obviously, someday I will be “no more”; but I can think this “I’m no more” in life. I can think the other of all life in life. I don’t have to be afraid of this, even if it brings me perpetually toward the possibility of my not-being. This thought begins in fright; it is anxious, dreaded. But the flip-side of this fright is the joy of being the world in the presence of its absolute withdrawal, its safety in being untouchable. And this is the thought that makes us most ourselves: that the whole world is us, that we are the whole world, each time unique. But this means that “my” death is something I cannot share with anyone, not even myself (but so it goes with my world, too, because it is also inaccessible to me: there is no accessing the totality of my solitude); and so I entertain the same relationship with my death as I do with another’s (as well as their world, your world, which I can never access either). The simple point is that death is so far away from us, that both of our deaths are “equally” far away from both of us, and so always “another’s.” That death is always another’s, even when it is my own: this means that to be responsible for myself, for my death and for what I do with my life, is, in a sense, to be responsible for everyone else’s, to be responsible to the absolutely other (this is the sense behind “loving God”) — or even to be responsible for the other’s death, for every other’s death. (Levinas’ thought puts this responsibility into play most explicitly, most rigorously.)

The impasse we need to lay hold of here would be this: on the one hand, if there is anything that is ‘mine’, it is my death; but on the other hand, I have no idea what this is or could be, or if I will ever get there, or if I can ever even experience it. What is most “mine”… I don’t know and can never know. It is absolutely other and inappropriable. “My death” therefore calls in to question every sense of “property,” every sense of “ownership,” every “my.” To think “my” death is think the presence — instant, instantaneous — of my own disappearance. For if “my death” stands for both my most intimate point and that point I can never pass through, I’m left admitting that I myself am impossible.

This needn’t be terrifying — at least not always. And perhaps the intermittence between dread and joy, or rather, their concomittance, is precisely what a thinking of death has to think. There is a passage through this impasse that, of course, never annuls it, but rather outlines or raises up this border, this limit of the possible. We’re not talking about consolations against death, nor are we trying to tell ourselves that those who have died “didn’t really die.” I admit that something remains impenetrable here, something that always remains to be thought. And yet, it seems there is a light to be shed here, albeit a disconcerting one. Perhaps not a light that brings light into the darkness, but one that simply “lightens” the darkness itself: a new way of weighing or weighing up to death as such. A strange light(e)ning that would transform the whole world, “my/our” world, into gift, grace, gratuity. Pure excess over any and all expiration, by becoming its only pupil. This light(e)ning align us along a vertical axis, an ascending axis of sense — a sense that, since it is the sign or the reality of an end of sense being touched upon, can only make sense incessantly topple over in excess of itself. Always. This grace, this gratuitous gift of “death lightened” — resurrected — would be my/the world, responsible for this ascension of sense over itself and the whole world, as such. Responsible for sharing, in a sense, death’s rigorous nonexistence. Responsible for sharing all of this, responsible for giving it. The gift of death.

What carries us to these heights, if not the recognition of this: sense does not stick to itself. On the contrary, we take it with us, into that farthest distance, most proper to us, which is dreadful and yet blessed, our death: again, not some final moment, but the very presence of joy in our lives insofar as we recognize that this joy withdraws infinitely from any essence, meaning, or signification that would register it once and for all — insofar as it withdraws from any “myself.” Paradoxically then, “death” would be the very name for this never once-and-for-all… which I am. The closer we step to it, the closer we see ourselves in it (our impossibility and our highest point, where we are both shared out and where we become responsible), the closer we see that what we see is “death’s constant step toward us,” that there is clarity in its distance from us (no enigma! no crisis! no grim reaper!) which sees nothing in particular, clarity in this experience of freedom that sees no constraint in death, but only this beating heart that’s touched by countless others, dead and alive, across life — a breathing being, constantly inspired, respiring and expiring. For it truly is joy that recounts this, and it is a joy to recount this — it is Rilke’s “Too-much!”, Bataille’s “practice of joy before death” — it is everything that expresses us and exposes us before this fleeting-(sense-of-)self-and-world. It is here that we dissolve, here where there is never anything “absolute” about death, here where this truth is our only “absolute.” There is no sense to death: and this is what frees sense from itself, freeing our being from itself, so as to exist and freely be, to freely experience itself, and to be so as “world,” in fact the only one, this sole and unique world, still “all of ours,” ever withdrawn. This is what makes us living-dead so precious: our inexchangeability, our responsibility, our impossibility. Our world, our life, our death.

What more is there to say? Truly I tell you, I send this out from the bottom of my death, from that place behind me that exceeds me, this place outside of time and the world, this place I choose to make room for in the world, not for myself, not for “death,” not for anything at all, save for the common swerve we share in our inimitable experience of “world,” which outstrips all of our selves. Here where darkness bubbles over in to……, perhaps it is out of place to talk about “clarity.” And yet, some semblance of a clearer sight is there, beckoning us. It exists. Who could deny it? It is there because you resurrect it, resurrecting death itself in you, as it calls out to you, “here,” drawing you deeper into the one thing we share: nothing at all, death, ourselves.

Truth/death/resurrection: the beyond of sense, sensed — here, yes, in life. Where else?

The mild and perfect light in which one no longer suffers from one’s soul, however infested with evil. A light without cruelty or passion in which only a single atmosphere is now revealed, the atmosphere of a serene and pious, of a precious fatality. Yes, coming to you, Madam, I was no longer afraid of my death. Death or life, I saw only a great calm space in which the shadows of my destiny dissolved. I was truly safe, liberated from all misery, for even my misery to come was sweet to me, if by some impossible chance I had misery to fear in my future. —Antonin Artaud


Nancy, Jean-Luc. “The Resurrection of Blanchot.” Dis-Enclosure (The Deconstruction of Christianity, vol. 1). New York: Fordham University Press. 2008. pgs. 89-97.
Rilke, Rainer Maria. The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. trans. Stephen Mitchell. New York: Vintage International Press. 1989. p. 317
Bataille, Georges. “The Practice of Joy before Death.” Visions of Excess. University of Minnesota Press. 1985. pgs. 238-239.
Kafka, Franz. “Resolutions.” Complete Stories. Schocken Books. 1971. p. 398.
Artaud, Antonin. Selected Writings. University of California Press. 1976. pgs. 408 & 126

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3 Responses to Death, resurrected

  1. Pingback: Common ontology | fragilekeys

  2. Rowan Moses says:

    Beautiful poetry! Perhaps this is what people in Auschwitz in 1943 missed while contemplating their deaths. These are just words, beautiful strung up words…Terror is what gives Philosophy its skin and sadly Philosophers run away from that…

  3. Pingback: My Verdict on Bataille | fragilekeys

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