chapter  6
28 Pages


Living death
WithTaylor Worley

In light of what these artists have done with the thought of death, the way forward may seem more obscure now than before we started down this road. Perhaps, nothing more should be said. Images seem to succeed most where words fail. Indeed, the images of death offered to us by the likes of Bacon, Beuys, Gober, and Hirst have not been subjugated much at all by the words that have preceded this conclusion. Indeed, there is much more to explore in each case, but this project must be brought to an end. What, then, of a way forward? Many would suggest the utmost caution. In her brief but poignant reflection on the passing of her mother, A Very Easy Death, Simone de Beauvoir asserts that “It is useless to try to integrate life and death and to behave rationally in the presence of something that is not rational: each must manage as well as he can in the tumult of his feelings.” 1 She is surely not the first nor will she be the last to verbalise such sentiments, the echoes of which resonate down through the ages. Today, however, society’s so-called advances have only served to frustrate us, picking at and further irritating this tension. Some commentators have articulated particularly worrying diagnoses for this spiritual irritation. For instance, Charles Taylor identifies this cultural condition in terms of modernity’s “embrace of death.” 2 In his magisterial A Secular Age, he explains:

We don’t know how to deal with death, and so we ignore it as much and for as long as possible. We concentrate on life. The dying don’t want to impose their plight on the people they love, even though they may be eager, even aching to talk about what it means to them now that they face it. Doctors and others fail to pick up on this desire, because they project their own reluctance to deal with death onto the patient. Sometimes the dying will ask that their loved ones make no fuss over them, hold no ceremony, just cremate them and move on; as though they were doing the bereaved a favour in colluding in their aversion to death. The aim can be to glide through the whole affair, smoothly and as much as possible painlessly, for both dying and bereaved. 3