The Absurdity of Death: A Consolation in the Form of a Philosophical Meditation

What follows is a short philosophical meditation on death. It is meant to help those who fear death or are experiencing its power.

Have you had this sharp and unique realization? Let’s call it “the absurdity of death”: a deep emotion simultaneous with the perception of you or someone else you love disappearing.

He is no more, she is no more. I will be no more: a subjectivity is thinking its being no more: perhaps this is the beginning (and end) of philosophy, as suggested by Plato. Philosophy as a meditation on death.

The experience of death is nearly unconceivable, in the first sense of absurd. But it is also absurd in the sense of difficult to hear, complex to understand because the voice of death is usually covered by a multiplicity of mundane experiences.

There is something to hear in the emotional experience of the absurdity of death. Let’s face the idea for a while — before we forget about it again? — instead of suffering from it.

Death designates a nothingness. And that nothingness, as it was noted by Buddhists or philosophers like Sartre, is not necessarily nothing. It might for example be an epistemic nothingness, a limit to our knowledge. Or it might be a metaphysical nothingness, a vacuum that is no thing but yet that is not nothing: it could be indeed a force that is inseparable from being, as in Lacan’s or Heidegger’s The Thing. Or Kant’s Thing-in-itself. A noumenon: an absolute unknowable. However, let’s not give up yet and proceed a bit further with our meditation on the “absurdity of death”.

The nothingness felt in the experience of the absurdity of death manifests itself like a destination — I am going to die, she is going to die, he is going to die. But metaphysical nothingness could be an origin. We could say convincingly: in the beginning there was nothing. Now the very fact that nothing iswould then create in some minds a dynamic contradiction. If one transposes this contradiction into a cosmology, one could conceive that something like a Big Bang could have emerged of a primordial contradiction between being and nothingness. That nothing came to be was, for some, the biggest atomic bomb ever conceived, strong enough to create our universe.

Let’s consider it as a logical bomb. Nothing is and is not at the same time: this is at least an idea in our heads, here and now. Why do some imagine that ideas in their heads are real, that they describe cosmological truths? There is already an assumption there, an underlying logic, a belief in the correspondence or analogy between mind and matter, and a belief that our experiences are not radically singular, that they are universal. When I write about the experience of the absurdity of death, I am expecting it to be a transmittable idea, one that makes sense for other beings using language. Yet, for certain philosophers, chief among them Wittgenstein, this implicit universalism might be a false idea generated by an excessive belief about the effectuality of language. Here we are becoming Kantian again. However, let’s proceed a bit further with our meditation.

What is the opposite of nothingness? Is it being? If there issomething like nothingness, it appears that being might not be the complete opposite of nothingness. We might rather feel like saying that the opposite of nothingness is proliferation or multiplicity.

Why do things proliferate in nature and in societies? Perhaps, some would say, out of fear of nothingness, to avoid absolute eradication. A survival instinct, the avoidance of death would generate proliferation and multiplicity as a reaction to elimination. This is part of the philosophy of Darwinism. How would it work cosmologically? Perhaps the following narrative: in the beginning there is nothing. At one point, nothing realizes its being. The mega-emotion generated by nothingness realizing that it iswould be manifested as a massive explosion of proliferation (we can again call it Big Bang or we can call it Creal). In such a fable, if nothingness became afraid of its own void, all we see around us in the cosmos, nature or societies, all the disparity and proliferation of multiples would be motivated by a primordial emotion: fear of elimination, fear of being void, the absurdity of death as primordial panic.

Here is an alternative story: in the beginning there was nothing (this refrain does not change). Nothing realizes that it is: this realization generates an infinite joy, an absolute awakening of exhilaration that emerges not from a primordial being or beings but from nothingness itself. In realizing that it is rather than not, nothing explodes of joy, the joy of being. The proliferation that we called Big Bang or Creal becomes a proliferation of joy.


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