Meditating with Corpses
Six Feet Under is notorious for its horrific delineations of the mutilated and moldering human corpse. This chapter argues that the series gains potency by juxtaposing these gruesome images with the characters’ shifting and interpenetrating states of consciousness—memory, imagination, dream, and hallucination, all culminating in Nate Fisher’s near-death experience and ultimate death. Through the character of Nate, the viewer shares a contemplation of death and, with Nate, perceives intimations of transcendence. The chapter proposes that Nate’s experience emulates the Tibetan Buddhist practice of maranasati, in which monks sit in meditation with corpses or imagine their own bodies in decay.
In creator Alan Ball’s anti-aesthetic style, the series reinforces the blurred boundary between the reality diegesis and alternative dimensionsof consciousness in visual creativity. Three examples of Nate’s altered states of mind—his near-death experience, his nightmare about death, and his actual death in the final season—make him the series’ central conduit, a reluctant philosopher and seeker of truth, who has guilelessly meditated with corpses in the funeral home and, in altered states, has witnessed the deterioration and demise of his own body. As the viewer is invited to participate in Nate’s fearsome meditation, Six Feet Under inspires sublime fear and awe.