By Jim Miller
It’s the day after the Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday which traditionally is both a time of remembrance of lost loved ones and a moment when the dead mock the pretenses of the living. Death is the leveler of rich and poor, proud and humble.
It reminds us that, in the end, all our bones are equal.
As Octavio Paz observes in “The Day of the Dead” from his classic book The Labyrinth of Solitude, “Death is a mirror which reflects the vain gesticulations of the living. The whole motley confusion of acts, omissions, regrets and hopes which is the life of each of us finds in death, not meaning or explanation, but an end.”
Paz reminds us that death defines life and tells us who we are. But in contemporary society we have forgotten this as, “Modern death does not have any significance that transcends it or that refers to other values. It is rarely anything more than the inevitable conclusion of a natural process. In a world of facts, death is merely one more fact. But such a disagreeable fact contrary to all our concepts and to the very meaning of lives, the philosophy of progress.”
This is because, Paz argues, “Everything in the modern world functions as if death did not exist. Nobody takes it into account, it is suppressed everywhere: in our political pronouncements, commercial advertising, public morality and popular customs; in the promise of cut-rate health and happiness offered to all of us by hospitals, drugstores and playing fields.” But the more we do this, the more death becomes an insatiable “gaping mouth” in time that has brought us both “hygiene” and “concentration camps.”
Ultimately, the truth for Paz is that, “A civilization that denies death ends by denying life.” Our death-denying culture of “modern technical progress” marches hand in hand with the “vogue of the murder story” that shows the contempt for life that is “implicit in any attempt to hide death away and pretend it does not exist.”
So we march on down what Naomi Klein calls “the suicide path” playing with our devices, consuming commodities and packaged spectacles, holding to a largely unexamined faith that technology has conquered nature and that our made world is more real than the world itself.
And the most “serious” amongst us are the most lost in forgetfulness.
The stock market ticker, the myriad of messages coursing through the imaginary world of the web, the Tweets and clicks, the remote control drone flights are all notes in our song of the dead.
We even dream borrowed dreams, charting a course from conscious to unconscious reality through a simulacrum of our own making.
Perhaps we may even try “geoengineering,” as some have proposed, a plan to alter the nature of the natural world in order to save ourselves from the dead end game of Progress.
In the meantime, we may also soon be able to fuck robots.
But here, on this November Monday, the day after the Day of the Dead, I sit dutifully at my computer, checking emails, typing, pretending to be doing important things while occasionally glancing up at the wall past the monitor at the ceramic tile my wife gave me—it’s adorned with the image of a calavera at his desk, tapping away at his keyboard and staring at a blank screen . . .
Beneath the paving stones, the beach!