On the island of St. Kitts, Mt. Liamugia, formerly known as Mount Misery, is located on the Northern end of the island. It is the youngest and most active volcano, 3,792 feet above sea level. It last erupted in 1620 and requires quite an arduous and cumbersome journey even to visit. Recent earthquakes throughout the area have affected descents into the mouth of the open crater, but from the Summit one can clearly see the majestic beauty of the Caribbean. Light never bathes more freely on the surface of the sea, than when viewed from above. Green verve monkeys, transplants to the island, run freely in abundance, especially in the tropical rainforest. They are often aggressively caught in scenes reminiscent of those as depicted on the Island of Dr. Moreau, as we witnessed in our outdoor Land Rover journey through the jungle.
Was it a premonition that our father had discussed the eternal return of the same in such mute detail the night before he died? Had he heard the voice of the demon at his door? Had our father practiced the thought of the eternal return? Was that why he was so comfortable in his opinions of our conversation? Had he lived the life of the eternal return? Was he prepared? Can one be prepared for the thought of the eternal return? Is the eternal return a revelation experienced at the moment of death? Is it something sensed before the final breath is extinguished? Or, is it a life practice? The enigmatic character of the eternal return can be troublesome and intense. One thing is certain, however, it is apparent that the time of death, the ‘loneliest loneliness’, is a moment for deep pause, a singular, unique and companionless time. The moment of death is often silent and secret. The encounter with death from the demon is not one of consolation or comfort, let alone a release from life, as in the case of Socrates. Rather, it is a confrontation with the weight of one’s own life, conceived in a joyous state, that affirms and wills the entirety of the past. ‘It is one’s joy that one believes and must believe’, claims Alphonso Lingis. In Deathbound Subjectivity (1989: 86), he continues this thought:
“The Dionysian joy is capable of embracing all things, entangled, ensnared, enamored, because it holds togehter in a ring, in a round dance, all its own fragments, enigmans, accidents, because it contains and crowds into a singl feeling all the oldest, the newest, losses, hopes, conquests, and victories of humanity, the thought of eternal return arises out of the abysses of that joy; it is the thought with which the soul opens itself in depth to the compulsions of nature in its nature, with which it opens itself for the return of all the dreams and intoxications of history. Is it then a thought, itself beyond truth and falsity, which first makes the veridical soul possible?”
It could be said, in part, that the significance of the eternal return of the same is to reconnect with the forces of the earth, in a manner that not so much harnesses the powers of the circle, but relays the electric nature of the circuit. The projection of the eternal return is not to bear witness to our personal self, so much as to become. That is, to dispense with oneself, to avail oneself, cheerfully and gaily, as if a person actually belongs to oneself, and not to the earth. To learn how to lose oneself, bravely, to connect our external bodies to that which exceeds our internal bodies, becomes a central, if not guiding task. How to live the thought of the eternal return. To escape the conditions of oppression and create oneself continuously anew. Always becoming. After all, is the thought of the eternal return not a test, an experiment, a thought meant for us to literally wrestle with and box? “What if...”
As Georges Bataille notes, our vitality, our effervescence, our effort, is what becomes of critical and crucial import. No one arrogates the eternal return, but the eternal return can result in irreparable collective consequences. Alternatively, to affirm the past, the entirety of the past, is to present oneself to the collective. As Nietzsche confirms, “On one occasion Zarathustra strictly defines his task - it is also mine - the meaning of which cannot be misunderstood: he is affirmative to the point of justifying, of redeeming even the entire past.” (1979: 80)
The nature of the eternal return of the same is cyclical. If the circle returns, it returns for all of us, for we are all implicated in the memories and fissures of the world, however overlooked and forgotten. The closest that Nietzsche comes in his descriptions of a collective eternal return is in his elucidations of his ‘monstrous atavism’ and his inherent relationship to his parents. (1979: 12) “Higher natures have their origins infinitely farther back, and with them much had to be assembled, saved and hoarded. The great individuals are the oldest: I don’t understand it, but Julius Caesar could be my father - or Alexander, this Dionysos incarnate...” (1979: 12) But, perhaps this is in the name of “life” itself?
Two things are certain. Memories are more powerful and lurid than characteristic of a particular person; they are also more dangerous and communal than previously understood. The link between freedom and memory remains to be explored. As does the relationship between the eternal return and collectivity. What role does memory play in the eternal return? Lowith (1997: 160) states, “Only because man has a memory can everything he has ever apperceived and experienced become meaningful and remain unforgettable for him; for he thus apperceives it once and for all.” Are memories required to address the eternal return? There is freedom in memory, but there is also freedom from memory. To learn to interpret and select, to adopt a certain pathos and posture, is to become abundantly healthy, to become a creator of your own existence. It is this existence, this creation, in learning how to stay alive, that remains the focus of this dissertation. How to think life beyond the human condition. Whilst this dissertation was originally formulated in terms of an aesthetics, an aesthetics of existence, an aethetics of the earth, as inspired by Nietzsche’s geophilosophy, which Deleuze and Guattari attend to, it mutated into something entirely different on January 11, 2006.
Whilst we had studied the architecture of Arakawa and Gins and tasted the pleasures of their thought years before, we had never considered their work seriously.
That is, we had never taken seriously the affirmation - “We Have Decided Not to Die’ - not until the event of our father’s death, and the lonely, awkward plane ride home. We suppose, it was not that we didn’t believe them, or in their project, but rather that we had no reason to. Paradoxically, it took the event of our father’s death, to start to see the implications of Arakawa and Gins philosophy. This is not to say, however, that encounters with death launch investigations into architecture procedures. Nothing could be further from the ambitions of Arakawa and Gins. Reversible destiny has always already begun.
Suddenly, an entirely new panorama of questions opened up before us. Why is our species mortal? Is there a way to promote and increase longevity so as to go on living, perhaps indefinitely? What are the biological considerations behind these estimations? Architecture never really has been afforded the opportunities it deserves, outside of metaphors?
Why not support the efforts of Arakawa and Gins? Could Arakawa and Gins, in their attempt to ‘recast or reconfigure’ life, be on the verge of something? How would this impact philosophy? What if death, the concept of death, was eradicated as the ultimate plane of resonance for thought, of what would philosophy become? “Who or what are we as this species?” ask Arakawa and Gins, in a tone reminiscent of Nietzsche. “Puzzle creatures to ourselves, we are visitations of inexplicability.” (2002: xii)
As a matter of fact, we had the most recently published book by Arakawa and Gins on the beach in St. Kitts, tucked under the umbrella, protected from the sand and waves, but not from the curious and random interlocutors. The Architectural Body (2002) dedicated, ‘To those who have wanted to go on living and been unable to and therefore even more so To transhumans.’ We had even discussed the chances, eventualities, and probabilities of overcoming death, however arbitrarily and unmethodical, with strangers, and passerby's. Our father, in fact, a physician, with a wealth of medical knowledge and involvement, had more than a passing interest in the concepts of Arakawa and Gins. In the least, he listened to the arguments on our frequent, transatlantic phone conversations. But at the time, our thought and energy was consumed by the forces of the eternal return of the same. If needed, we also entered into discussions of the “Overman”. How different things sounded in London, than in Sioux Falls. How different they are remembered in St. Kitts. Today, one can’t help but wonder, just as Nietzsche chose his madness, did our father choose his death? As Nietzsche describes in, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (2005: 62) in a section entitled, ‘On Free Death’. “My death I praise to you, the free death, which comes to me because I will it.”
The strength of Nietzsche, no less than Heidegger, seemed insuperable on this account. Substantially, because they seemed to have the weight of history on their side. Besides, how could one formulate a sustainable position, beyond the parameters of our finite structure? If the eternal return, in its infinite structure, had not created an escape route for our species, why Arakawa and Gins, why now? Nietzsche’s eternal return and Heidegger’s being towards death. The purpose and thought of the eternal return didn’t seem extinguishable at the time.
In many respects, Nietzsche’s eternal return is an aberration within modern thought itself. It draws on an ancient and mystical tradition, but in an entirely new and convoluted way. That is not to say that the thought of the eternal return is preposterous, only that it is difficult and complicated, a formulation that becomes bearable, only after a certain period of time. Have we even reached that point? Perhaps the best way to characterize this, is that when that which returns eternally recurs it is enmeshed in the nature which returns with it. Of course, there are at least two interpretations of the eternal return. For Nietzsche, the intensification of the eternal return of the same, the overcoming of the self by the affirmation of the self, is a positive operation, a joy, a natural condition of life. Heidegger (1987: 210), for his part, depicts the eternal return thus:
“What is strange in this thought, which Nietzsche himself in a multiple sense called the “most burdensome thought,” can only be grasped by one who is first of all concerned to preserve its strangeness; indeed, to recognize that strangeness as the reason why the thought of the “eternal return of the same” pertains to the truth concerning beings as a whole. Almost more important at first than the explanation of the content, therefore, is insight into the context within which alone, the eternal return of the same, as the definition of beings as whole, is to be thought.”
And yet, despite this interpretation, and Nietzsche’s conception, it also seems that the eternal return is the culmination of a certain mode of thought, a certain way of thinking about death, in spite of its ‘strangeness’. Has death not shaped thought more than any other concept in the history of our species? Has death not also shaped our evolution? Is Nietzsche, no less than Heidegger, not the peak of a certain historical, Western philosophical tradition?
“Humans are those who are mortal, and transhumans/bioscleavists/posthumans are those who are learning how not to be mortal.”
-Arakawa and Gins (2006: 158)
As we approached the island of St. Kitts, on the small, dual-propeller aluminum aircraft, the bright lights from the tiny island suddenly appeared in the night, and we slowly finished reading, Manuel Puig’s Eternal Curse of the Reader of These Pages.
While the descent now seems like a distant memory, cast aside on the shores of the island itself, where the ocean methodically laps up the sand and beats against the rocks, the vividness of our departure a few days later remains supreme.
The front page of The New York Times, dated January 12, 2006, read, ‘Die at your own Risk Mayor Proposes’. The headline alone warranted further examination, especially on this particular day, the day after our father had died. The overly polite stewardess had offered the paper, as if to comfort our sadness. So as not to act conspicuous, we cordially accepted. Anything to remain anonymous in our grief. She must have sensed our particularly serious and turbulent hearts amongst the rest of the distracted and disheveled passengers. Outbound flights from tropical locations contain the remnants of the beach, and the pool, and the sun; burnt foreheads covered by newly purchased panama hats, worn out sunglasses, and neatly pressed Hawaiian shirts. They express none of the anxieties and anticipations of the inbound flights the crew experienced the night before. We continued to read the article, “There is no more room in Biritiba Mirim, a city in a preservation area of rich farmland, to bury the dead, and environmental rules bar a new cemetery and cremation. So the mayor, Roberto Pereira da Silva, has proposed a solution: outlaw death. His proposal to the city council urges residents to ''take good care of your health in order not to die.''
Only later would we read this exact same headline captured in the contents of Making Dying Illegal (2006), by Arakawa and Gins. The circumstances of this coincidence seemed apparent and troublesome. Everywhere we looked and felt, we could sense the freshness of death; the thoughts of our own death, the thoughts of other peoples death. We could see the wings of the airplane catching on fire, hear the sounds of the pilot as he chocked. At the same time, we felt that death would not reach us, not then. The statistics were too high. The probability too low. Physicians and morticians and ambulance drivers and those unexpected witnesses caught at the scene of someone else’s death, must learn to adopt a far more congenial relationship with their environment. Or maybe they just learn to forget. Not to remember. Death, however, is not easy to dismiss, as our father knew all too well, as he finished his oncology residency in Minneapolis, Minnesota. What does the earth remember?
In a way, our father had prepared us for his death. He had been preparing us from our birth. The Nietzsche in me, the Heidegger in me, the Deleuze in me - the entire history of philosophy, in fact - reassured me. And yet, I couldn't quite take comfort in the event. Needless to say, I relish the memories now. Of time lost. Of time spent, idle and transparent to my father. When I think about some of our conversations, they all seems so trivial and meaningless, as if compositions from somebody else's life. But of course, they are mine, and they compose my relationship with my father, the strength it had, the endurance it had, the persistence it maintains. For instance, I can still feel myself shaking his hand, firmly, un-hesitantly. I can feel the warmth from his hands, the infinite reassurance in his grip, the friendliness and compassion in the duration of our exchange. But, most of all I can still feel the nurse of confidence in his release. It was his way of saying, "Son, I'm proud of you. Don't be afraid. You can do it. I know you can. You don't need me to tell you." And, of course, it didn't matter what it was. It didn't need to. It was him who truly believed.
My father taught us many things, many lessons of life. He might have even taught us that learning how to die, is learning how to live. You see, he was a great Nietzschean. Our father had made his peace with the formulation of the eternal return. He knew the demon. He'd met him many times before. Yet, for some reason, we were uncomfortable with that posture. The peace of that moment unsettles us still. In our estimations, and following Arakawa and Gins, we believe that we must ask, and take seriously, the question: what would it mean to learn how not to die?