milton avery, rolling surf, 1958
Yesterday I saw a film with death as its theme and today I saw another with death for its theme, though in an entirely different approach. One Danish, the other Chinese. I think nothing of a film or novel or anything about death, but just about everyone I know can't deal with giving the subject any attention. I live in a world of people whose artistic input has only been television, the bottom when it comes to "low art," and Thomas Kincaid. Everything has to have a happy ending. All stories must be cute and fun without making you think about anything but how sexy so and so is. Television is about not thinking, not giving any consideration to anything not obvious. I've come to think of television as the mystery of the obvious. So many people I know who watch tv and have no other artistic input can only function in a world of the obvious. Response to something not obvious: What? Irony has never really been an American thing, but television has utterly killed irony dead in America. It never works to say something in irony to anybody, ever. This is tv world. Only the obvious is real.
I saw someone I know today who has an appreciation for art, good films, to a point. When I say, "to a point," it's not in blame. My own appreciaton for art is "to a point," too. He had recently seen Lars von Trier's Melancholia. He was glad his wife went to bed early that night, because she would not have liked it and he would not have been able to see it all the way through. He wasn't so sure he's glad he saw it, but had to give it to it as a good film. The problem: not a happy ending. Not at all. He was a bit morose and slightly depressed-seeming while he talked about his reaction to the film. Of my own feelings and thoughts about death I have a hard time articulating, because much of it is self-delusional. I may feel like I'm ready and can go into the light embracing it, but I don't know what I'd do if it came to facing it straight on. I think I could face a gun barrel with less fear than a pack of wolves. I couldn't handle being run down by wolves. Couldn't handle it. I'd lose my cool. Completely. I don't like to think about something such as that, but am not afraid of it. Many people have known that fate down through time. It is a valid human experience. Though awake in bed at night, if something like that creeps into my mind and stays, I'll get up and read a book.
My eye and ear for art is all-inclusive. I believe the entire spectrum of human experience -- human because it's the only experience we understand, or have the capacity to understand -- is available for weaving into an art experience. Not every individual's life ends happily. Not everybody is happy all the time. How's that for obvious? Then there is the more obvious: nobody is happy. The tv viewer wants a distraction to make him happy for a split-second of self-delusion, called not thinking about it. The death issue in Melancholia is as absolute as a vision of death can be. When the planet earth penetrates a planet the size of Jupiter, a baseball hitting a catcher's mit, all the world's history went with it, everything that has ever been important to anyone, everyone, not just self, but the whole of earthly existence, the Bible, Adam and Eve, Popol Vu, Bhagvad Gita, good works, bad works, right, wrong, everything suddenly as if it had never been. Some extra-terrestrials will have seen it happen, a few witnesses from outside, like seeing somebody's shoe thrown into the ocean. Instead of making a sci-fi special-effects extravaganza of it, von Trier focused on four people taken from their everyday lives with time to think about it. Of the three adults, one could handle it, two could not.
Melancholia examines not only the death of the body, the ego, but the end of everything ever having to do with the earth, the earth, itself, ceasing to exist at the same time as all its life forms. At least we feel that when we die, some will go on remembering us, we'll have a grave stone, birth and death certificates, records of existence. When everything goes at once, it's the same as it never was. It's a fairly profound way of looking at death when everything we held important is over as if it never had been. It's a bit of a leap into the unknown to imagine the cessation of our own individual existence in the body, our individual "earth," let alone when all we've ever known of is gone too, no more than a grain of sand dropped into a pot of molten lead. Less than that. Nothing unto nothing. I forget that a lot of people are uncomfortable about death. I can't say I like it, but have come to learn over time that death is the parenthetical end to a lifetime with a parenthetical beginning. The lifetime dances between the parentheses. I've come to see that there is no death. I think of it more as dropping the body than dying. While I was entertaining thoughts of the end of everything we've ever known and thought is the same as nothing, the same as never was, I felt like I had an insight to why grave stones are so special to us. Name carved in "permanent" marble, a record of existence.
Leaving existence is something difficult to ruminate on. Like I said about lying in bed with thoughts of dying some horrendous way, I'll get up and read a book. I feel like I have an understanding of the soul shedding the body. I think about what if somebody got a wish to live forever. Beyond 100 they would need a wheelchair, would have to be kept in a nursing home for centuries and centuries unable to die. After a few thousand years, seems like the body would be something like beef jerky. Who wants to be like that? Better to be dead. The question of does the spirit go on after the body dies, or is this life it, rattles my curiosity like light tests positive in waves and positive in particles, meaning light must be particles traveling in waves.
The death of an individual life is absolute as it gets. But the death of an over-populated planet inside one minute brings in a much bigger perspective. A much bigger, more vast blackness, so vast it's the same as never was. As the soul never dies, all the lives on the earth will continue their individual evolutions on other planets, earth one of many playgrounds in the universe for souls to use for a playing field. I tend to see it also like the instant demise of the earth is about the same as a bowling alley, a playing field, burning down. Seeing the earth as the place where souls have learning experiences, the place where all the scriptures that have come to us in various times in our collective spiritual evolution telling us we live best without attachment, it seems a shame. Unattached to earth and objects, all of which are perishable, is the key to living without suffering, with peace of mind. When the birdfeeder at one house runs out of birdseed, the birds go to another feeder.