Death and the Self
This essay continues the meditation on the self from the previous essay, “Self and Time”.
The self brings about its own death, hastens towards it out of its wish to die, and yet it does not wish to die: it wishes to live forever. The self wishes to have its way all the way till death, and then it would not like to die. And if death is inevitable, it would like to die its own way and at a moment of its own choosing. However, the self realises that this may not be possible. Nevertheless, it does not wish to give up control over its destiny. This situation turns the self into a desperate entity and it drives itself to the point where it wishes to die.
But there is another thing that needs to be considered here. That is, whose death is it going to be? Will it be the death of the self, or the death of the being which is, so to say, the being of the self? Or is it going to be the death of both of them?
In other words, is there a being which is the being of the self, a being which is part of existence? Or has the self, in the process of becoming what it is, distanced itself so much from being that the latter is not any longer one with it, that the self has become a self without being or is a self but not being?
Looking for answers to these questions, we can straightaway point out two things. Firstly, there is no doubt that the self, as it is, is situated very far away from existence. Secondly, before this entity that we now call ‘self’ became what it now is, it was part of existence. Therefore, now that it has become what it is, now that it is a self and is located at a great distance from existence, does it still have a connection with the latter, a connection in the sense that it retains some ingredient of it, that it carries a substance which resembles somewhat the substance of existence?
Let us think about it in this way. What is the most peculiar thing about existence? The most peculiar, and the most visible and clear thing about existence is that, firstly, it is there at any given moment, and, secondly, it is no longer there the very next moment as it was at the previous one. Given the fact that the self is, in its nature, an unstable entity, one can say that it shares this trait with existence. But there is another trait that existence has: it comes into existence––it is born––and then it goes out of it––it dies. In other words, there is no eternity, no endlessness about it. And this too is a trait that the self shares with it. It too is born and it dies, but what it does not share with existence is this: when it is born, existence is already there––is prior to it––and when it dies, it leaves it behind entirely intact.
This shows that the death of the self makes no difference to the life of existence. In other words, the self was already redundant for existence while it was still alive. But was it redundant too as the entity that it was before it was born, before it came into existence?
We have to be extremely careful here. When we say ‘self’, we mean that entity which has moved away a great distance from existence. Therefore when the self dies, it is the death of this entity, the entity which had created this gulf, this hiatus with existence. One reason why its death makes no difference to existence, why it leaves it indifferent to it, is precisely this gulf. This gulf is too vast for this death to make any impact on existence. And it is too vast because it was created by this entity called the self. This means that it is only the self which could have created this gulf. If the self had been a being, or if there were a being which was the being of the self, it would not have created this gulf. Therefore we have to say that, firstly, the self is not a being, or that there is no being which is the being of the self, a being which is part of existence. Secondly, the entity that the self was before it became a self could not have been redundant for existence. In other words, the self created this redundancy when it created itself.
Let us not forget that this redundancy which the self has created is the redundancy of the self itself. Thus the self is a superfluity; it is a thing which is not needed and yet is there. On the other hand, it is there but because of this redundancy of itself, it is as if the self does not exist. That is why one can also say that the self is an emptiness, a void, a vacancy, but a vacancy which has weight.
The self is an entity which, because of its weight, finds itself banished from existence. Furthermore, it is an entity which, despite its weight, turns into an emptiness.
What could have saved the self from this emptiness that it is? What would have held it firmly within existence?
But, in such an event, the self would not be a self but something else. It would not have created itself, and, in the process, created that distance from existence which has made it redundant for the latter. Given this distance––given the fact that the self is there––it wishes to die, and yet it does not wish to die: it wishes to live forever.
* * *
Wishing to die, the self takes steps to realise this wish and goes on rushing towards its death. However, the death towards which it rushes is not the death which is inevitable, but the death which it brings about.
Thus, there is not one but rather two deaths which loom over the self, and it is the inevitability of one––an inevitability that it deeply resents––that makes it speed up the advent of the other. As a consequence, the death which meets the self––or the death which the self steps forward to meet––is the death which replaces the inevitable death, happens before it, and is, as such, only a false death, a death which crops up but, as a created death, lacks the substance which would make it real. In this fabricated death, it is as if the self fails to die and because of this failure is yet to die the other death which this death has upstaged but which is yet to take place.
This being so, the self, having once died, must die a second time.
But this second death never comes about. It stays at a distance, seeming to wait for the self to come near, to approach it, as it had approached the first death, but the self never approaches it. The reason for this is quite clear. This death––which is death proper––does not wait for the self, cannot wait for it, for the self which does not exist for existence does not exist for this death either.
Nevertheless, so far as the self is concerned, this death never disappears. In fact, it is the only death which the self sees as death. And it is the sight of this death which frightens it and from which its wish to die appears. With the appearance of this wish, the self starts moving towards its death, which is apparently the death proper but is actually that false death which the self creates for itself and embraces in the illusion that it is meeting its death.
This is how the self is abandoned by death––as it was abandoned by existence––but dies. It dies at the hands of that false death which is death too but is a kind of death which is not preceded by life and therefore does not succeed it: it succeeds only an illusion and itself comes as one. Having lived without life, the self dies without death, but dies nevertheless. After this death, it is no longer there, neither as a self nor as anything else. That is why even in this illusory death the self meets a proper death, a death which is not proper but is proper to it. Even though the self was an entity without life, this death kills it: it makes sure that it does not have life. In this way it confirms––exactly as if it needed this confirmation––that the self had no life and that it was precisely because of this lack that it needed to die, and die in the way it does.
We can see that what gets confirmed in this confirmation is that the death of the self is the death of an entity which is already dead. This would mean that the self is born as a dead entity, and lives as such until it dies. It would also mean that it is born in the sphere of death, and lives in it, and then dies in it. If this is so, then the world of the self is the world of death, and the self is a deathly, a deathlike entity.
However, isn’t it true that this world––the world of death––is created by the self and that it is created precisely when the self creates itself?
Therefore, the very birth of the self is an act of creating death and of creating a world which is deathlike. The self comes into the world accompanied by death, a death created by it. It comes into the world of death, a world which is created as soon as the self creates itself. It lives in this world of death as an entity which is dead and is deathlike. And it dies at the hands of a death which is there only till it dies.
Why is this death around only till the self is alive? Why does it die along with the self? It dies along with it because this death which was created by the self was created in order to die, and once the self dies, this death has no reason to exist. It appears from this as if the self knew, when it created itself, that it was going to be abandoned by death and therefore created the space for this other death for itself. And it follows that, in such an event, the self would have known too that having created itself it must die, that it must not keep alive forever.
The self would have known it because it would have known as well that in the world it was creating––the world of the self––there would only be the self and no one else. It would have known that it would be a lonely world and that in this world it would be lonely.
This shows that the self was aware of the consequences of what it was doing. Secondly, this makes the self an entity that experiences loneliness.
* * *
Having created it––along with the world that it was creating––the self makes attempts to free itself of loneliness. To free itself of it the self must die. On the other hand, being the entity which is focused on itself, the self does not wish to die. This conflict makes the self even lonelier than it would otherwise be.
But why does the self feel lonely? Why is it the entity that cannot be without loneliness?
The self is an entity which has no being within itself. It created itself by emptying out being and making a hollow. Therefore, it is an entity which has a hollow within itself, or, to be more precise, it is made of this hollow: it is nothing but a hollow, a void, an emptiness. Nevertheless, it is not an emptiness that is sufficient unto itself. It is dependent on being but in a way that being is a thing that is outside of this emptiness and must stay there for the emptiness to be what it is. As such, the emptiness that it is is propped on an absence: it is a consequence of it and follows from it.
Therefore, it stands to reason to say that what makes the self feel lonely is the absence of being.
But what does it mean to say this?
It means, firstly, that even though the self had emptied out being, it has not been able to get rid of the latter, in the sense that being remains present in the life of the self but not as a presence but rather an absence. Secondly, this absence is such that it is felt by the self. This is how the self fails to become an entity that is sufficient unto itself. In this failure the self misses being, wants to be close to it or one with it, and since this is not possible without ceasing to be a self, it wishes to die. In this wish, however, the self continues to be a self. As such, it does not wish to die: it continues to be lonely.
This is not to say that the self is alone in its world: it is surrounded by an infinite number of things. But all of them are things that the self itself has created, and as such these are not the things that can cure its loneliness. They are as dead as the self itself is. As a matter of fact, they are deader than the self in that they are not capable of feeling lonely. Devoid of being, the self fails to put any being into them. Deprived of being, they cannot feel for the self. But this is not all. The self at least had voided itself of being, or had created itself in the process of voiding it. But the things made by the self lack this valency. They are entirely dead and are dead too for what is not themselves. Being dead as such, they are as good as being absent, but this is an exaggeration. They are not absent: they are very much there, around the self, but entirely dead for it. And this is not a desert in which the self lives. (A desert has a being.) This is a desolation. These things, which surround the self, symbolise what it has ravaged in the course of creating this desolation. They are the ravaged face of a world that could have been the world of a ‘self’ but has turned itself away, leaving towards the self that face of itself which is not a face but a ravaged landscape. This landscape is not visited by the inevitable death. What death will visit a place which has been voided of life? Not the death which is the antithesis of life, but only a death which will kill what is already dead.
Written in 2006, this essay first appeared in my book 'Weeping' and Other Essays on Being and Writing (Pratilipi Books, Jaipur, 2011). The book is available at www.bookspunch.com, www.flipkart.com and www.amazon.in