death. week 2.
city. new york city
It’s Sunday today, but it’s snowing softly so I got out of bed early and went out for a walk.
I wanted to visit a nearby cemetery, the First Shearith Israel Graveyard, which if the plaque is to be believed, served NY’s Jewish community from 1656 - 1833. Positively ancient by American standards.
Sadly, albeit unsurprisingly, the cemetery was closed, so I just kept on walking down to the East River.
On the facade of a building facing the river, I spotted a series of large posters with the following text:
I START THE DAY HIGH
AND IT ENDS SO LOW.
LET’S STEP CAREFULLY INTO
THE DARK. ONCE WE’RE
IN I’LL REMEMBER MY WAY
IT’S WHY I’VE ARRIVED.
YOUR SEX GOD.
HERE TO TAKE YOU
WHERE YOU NEED TO
GO. TO WHERE THE DARK
OPEN UP YOUR HEART LIKE
THE GATES OF HELL.
I GUESS THIS IS THE END.
The mapping of states of consciousness onto space (high/low) and color (darkness) interested me. The poster was an ad for a new album by an artist named mitski, so I put on some headphones, turned on her music, and considered my own ‘deathly associations’. Here’s what came to me:
Death = dark, empty, cold, trash, sick, silent, frozen, winter, night, solid, still, rotten, old, frail, past, lost, sad, mad, rage, bubble, wilt, brown, black, end, finished, hard, horror, white, smoke, ash, fossil, release, bliss, sweet, light, heaven, hell, shriek, devil, Satan, god, angel, soul, tomb, memory, dirt, filth, disgust, suffer, sorrow, tears, hollow, nothing, cavity, space, ancestor, history, beginning, source, energy, essence.
I was surprised by how many opposites appeared. White and Black. Shriek and Silent. Sweet and Disgust. Horror and Bliss.
I suppose that I don’t see death as a one-sided phenomenon, but more like a form of excess or extremity. Death doesn’t just come after life, it surrounds life from all sides. Death occurs outside of life; whether that be before, after, beneath, or above it.
Death supports life, much like planet earth is suspended in some sort of infinite emptiness.
As I was laying in bed this morning scrolling through Facebook, I came across the following post:
Sartre contends that human existence is a conundrum whereby each of us exists, for as long as we live, within an overall condition of nothingness (no thing-ness). Yet simultaneously, within our being (in the physical world), we are constrained to make continuous, conscious choices. It is this dichotomy that causes anguish.
In paying attention to death, I’d like to pay special attention to the empty things. The objects, places, and experiences that contain a certain nothingness or absence. The moment just before or after an event. The hollowness within an object. All that is hidden, missed, or forgotten. The failed attempts and aborted projects.
I’d also like to shift my attention from the future, back toward the past. I believe that in contrast with love (which invites us into the future), death guides us back toward the past, back toward the beginning.
I know these are simply intentions, and may amount to nothing much. But I’m only just beginning to notice the empty, dark, silent side of things, and I hope this will help me orient myself.
Music is the space between the notes.
- Claude Debussy