Saturday, December 01, 2007

Two Quotations in Light of No Country for Old Men

The most important structural principle of the film is its charting of death as belonging to bodies to death as belonging to selves. Death enters as a corpse and exits as the person who is dying. Conspicuous moments in this transforming definition are when the assassin/reaper draws a shower curtain over his about to be shot victim and of course the death of the pseudo-protagonist, whose death does to the plot what the shifting representation of dying does to the body, a homology which has as its natural and clearly intended product the viewer's heightened awareness of his or her own death as a problem of narration, how to disentangle oneself from the narrative of one's own life, how to include death in that narrative, etc. Hence the first comments of many persons after the film was over were disoriented in a manner that recalled the speech of those about to die in the the film.

"This much I know: that not one person died who was not destined so
oner or later to die. Moreover, life's ending abolishes all difference between a long and a short life. For, of two things that no longer exist, one can hardly be said to be better and the other worse, or one longer and the other shorter. What difference does it make what kind of death puts and end to life, when one from whom it is taken away is not obliged to die again? . . . No death is to be deemed evil which has been preceded by a good life; nor can anything make death evil save what follows it." (Augustine, City of God, I.11, tr. Zema and Walsh)

"From the purely physical point of view, death does not involve annihilation of even the body, but physiologically it has become unfit to be the continued dwelling place of the spirit, and has therefore lost all importance. . . . When others die, the individual loses only one or at most a few friends who have played an important role in his earthly existence. But when he dies he loses at one stroke all the persons who had entered intimately into his own life. He also loses all his possessions and is broken away from the achievements on which he had built the very foundations of his sense of accomplishment in life. As the crowning touch, he must also leave behind the very physical body with which he had identified himself so completely that he was rarely capable of imagining himself as anything but that physical body. This complete annihilation of the entire structure of the individual's earthly existence is therefore a crisis without parallel in his life. This critical turning point, which occurs at death, is attended by both advantages and disadvantages. . . . If death has any value, it is to teach the individual the true art of life. It would be wrong for the aspirant to seek death with the hope of making further progress thereby. On the other hand he should not fear death when it overtakes him. A true aspirant neither seeks death nor fears it, and when death comes to him he converts it into a stepping stone to the higher life. Some people are particularly afraid of the exact moment of death because they anticipate unbearable pain at that instant. In reality, all physical suffering experienced during illness or just before death terminates at the moment of death. The process of the actual dropping of the body is quite painless, contrary to the superstition that a person experiences indescribable agonies in death. However the severing of the individual's emotional entanglement in the gross world is not found to be easy. The various religious rite observed after a death have primarily the purpose of helping the departing individual disentangle himself from these ties. . . . The thought or wish the dying individual holds at the moment of death has special importance in determining his future destiny. . . . It is quite common for an individual not to have any specific thought at the moment of death. Even if he has had thoughts or wishes before death, he will tend to forget them at the time of death." (Meher Baba, Listen Humanity, 101-4)

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