Wednesday, June 20, 2007
The Dominion of the Dead
You might be wondering what some of the things I post on this blog actually have to do with Death. Well, I’m going to resort to quoting Robert Pogue Harrison from his fascinating book “The Dominion of the Dead” (University of Chicago Press, 2003) in order to give you an idea of how I see “Death” as a very broad category, encompassing what is beyond human existence on earth as well touching what we do here during life.
‘Whatever the rift that separates their regimes, nature and culture have at least this much in common: both compel the living to serve the interests of the unborn. Yet they differ in their strategies in one decisive respect: culture perpetuates itself through the power of the dead, while nature, as far as we know, makes no use of this resource except in a strictly organic sense. In the human realm the dead and the unborn are native allies, so much so that from their posthumous abode – wherever it be – the former hound the living with guilt, dread, and a sense of responsibility, obliging us, by whatever means necessary, to take the unborn into our care and keep the story going, even if we never quite figure out what the story is about, what our part in it is, the end toward which it is progressing, or the moral it contains. One day the science of genetics may decode the secrets of this custodianship, but meanwhile we may rest assured that there exists an allegiance between the dead and the unborn of which we the living are merely the ligature.’
My interest in things archaeological, religious and artistic have in many ways come down to me from the Dead, from societies, mystics and visionaries, and artists who are no longer on this planet – although they have left a lasting legacy to us – to me - in their Great Work, to put it in a Thelemite sense. We will all also leave our Great Work, whatever that is, to the unborn. No wonder ancestor worship was the first type of religion for humans, or so it is said in anthropological circles. Death is a broader category to me than just morbidity. [Image: A Lycian tomb, from the cover of Harrison's book].