Death doesn’t exist. Certainly not as an entity, or a place. Even if we consider it a process, we have no good way to determine its limits: where does it begin? When does it end? Either way, we argue over when precisely it happens, and even disagree with each other occasionally over whether someone is or isn’t dead. When I write ‘Death doesn’t exist,’ part of what I mean is also that the word death refers to the absence of something, and that an absence isn’t itself a thing. The Buddhist notion of rebirth arranges these familiar difficulties into a complementary loop of sorts: death begins at birth, and begins again with the next birth. Ending only happens if you attain enlightenment. No more birth, no more death.
Posts Tagged ‘Deathpower’
Who Shall Bind the Infinite? – William Blake
Making great progress on my manuscript, so instead of writing more substantive work, let me leave you with this quote from William Blake, which for me encapsulates so much about my work on deathpower:
I bring forth from my teeming bosom myriads of flames,
And thou dost stamp them with a signet; then they roam abroad,
And leave me void as death.
Ah! I am drown’d in shady woe and visionary joy.
‘And who shall bind the Infinite with an eternal band
To compass it with swaddling bands? and who shall cherish it
With milk and honey?
I see it smile, and I roll inward, and my voice is past.’
She ceas’d, and roll’d her shady clouds
Into the secret place.
I’m working great guns on my manuscript and the associated Book Proposal for publishers that I’m sending out in the next week. The book has a working title of Deathpower: Buddhism’s Ritual Imagination in Cambodia, though the only thing I really care about in there is the word “Deathpower.”
I’m also teaching and doing other stuff. Did I mention the kids had Spring Break last week and so were home all week while I was teaching, and then my eldest got some sort of pukey-flu that kept him home yesterday, too?
While I do that, I’m not writing on Sihanouk’s funeral, yet. I did promise to do so, and do plan on it. In the meantime, let me recommend the single-best web-coverage in English I’ve found on the funeral, including day-to-day coverage and reports, and collections of newspaper links, over at LTO Cambodia. LTO stands for Long Time Observer, and his stories, photos, and commentary are worth regular attention.
No real reviews here, but a short list on what I’ve been reading this Summer, and how I generally feel about the books or articles. What have you been reading? Anything I should know about? Let me know in the comments.
Both of my long-term readers know that the key concept in my work on Cambodian funerals and religion is deathpower, the social power created through the proper (moral or amoral) management of death. A colleague recommended Alfred Gell‘s monumental 1998 volume Art and Agency: an anthropological theory to me, and what do I find on p. 149 but this gem, which practically describes my work:
A Buddha statue celebrates the possibility of a ‘good death’ and monks are semi-dead individuals who aspire to the ultimate good-death condition….In a sense, then, what the relic does is make the Buddha state like the Buddha, by making it ‘dead’ through the insertion of a ‘death-substance’–in the rather paradoxical sense that Buddha-hood implies death-in-life.
Looks like the new Pansukula ceremonies in Thailand are catching on elsewhere, though I have no idea if there’s any actual transmission, or if this is mere ‘morphic resonance.’
Christopher Hitchens is a hack. Here’s how I know. A non-hack would situate a seemingly weird story in context, rather than attempt to exaggerate its supposed uniqueness to demonize an enemy. He’s also smart, so I can’t give him the excuse that Hitch is just stupid. See, if there’s one thing I’m pretty well-trained in, it’s the theory of necrophilia. Seriously. It’s at the heart of much of my work on death rituals, though I focus less on the psychoanalytic aspects of the theory than I do in the practices, and the commentaries on those.
So, while I’m happy to have no less of a prose stylist than Christopher Hitchens address my topic of choice, he presents it as news, when it’s nothing more than another chance for him to lob his anti-Left IEDs into the interwebz. First, let me be clear: there are great reasons to criticize Chavez, though these criticisms are rarely shared by those who most loudly criticize him. Nope, the people whose criticisms of Chavez get heard are right-wing journos like Simon Romero (his NYT page) and Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens, who was a prolific writer of left-oriented journalism prior to his right-wing conversion has spent his time since advocating “The Clash of Civilizations,” attacking supposed “Islamo-Fascism,” attempting to transform George Orwell into a conservative fellow-traveller, and sneering at any and all leftist attempts to pry the fingers of the neo-liberal regime away from their necks.
So, when Hitch starts running on and on about Chavez’ necrophiliac love of Simon Bolivar, I get to say ‘balderdash.’ Also, would someone please check the Hitch’s sources? This is o l d news. And it’s much much bigger than Venezuela. In what remains, I make two points by snarkily referring to three texts which should have served to deflate Hitchens’ and Romero’s ‘graverobbing’ rhetoric. First: Chavez’ idealization of the Liberator is very very old news. Second: this ‘grave-robbing’ by Chavez is classic nationalist ritual. This is hardly ‘graverobbing,’ but instead ‘nationalist mortuary ritual’ of an extraordinarily common type. The characterization that Hitchens and Romero are involved in is disingenuous at best; Hitchens at the very least should be aware of the way Chavez’ worship of Bolivar falls very squarely in the most common of national rituals (sure, it’s still weird, but hey – humans are weird).
First of all, Chavez’s idealization of the Liberator, Simon Bolivar, is hardly unusual in South America. Read the rest of this entry »
Thanks to Lokkru Frank Smith, of the excellent online Khmer language study site, studykhmer.com, and also the main teacher and coordinator for Khmer language study at the Southeast Asian Summer Study Institute (SEASSI), and teacher of Khmer at UC-Berkeley, for pointing this out to me.
NAKHON SRI THAMMARAT: In the latest drug craze to hit the south, youths in Nakhon Sri Thammarat’s Muang District are reportedly drinking a concoction that includes the ashes of recently-cremated corpses and extract from leaves of the krathom tree.
‘Phon’, a 17-year-old from Muang District, said he and his gang of about 10 friends had tried every known concoction of krathom leaf available until they stumbled upon the new formula.
The mixture is made by boiling the leaves and then adding ashes taken from beneath funeral pyres following cremation ceremonies.
The youths believe the mixture confers physical strength as well as spiritual protection from the ghost of the person whose ashes were drunk, Mr Phon said.
The drink has an indescribably amazing taste and anybody who tries it becomes instantly addicted, he added.
To satisfy their thirst for the elixir, the youths drive around looking for funerals. When the cremation is over, they sneak in to steal the left over ashes, he said.
The mixture is known as ‘Avatar’ after the hit film or ‘tai hong’, which means ‘violent death’.
This is all really classic stuff. The notion of ‘instant addiction’ is of course completely fictional, like the supposed instant addiction of crack cocaine or methamphetamines. That said, I imagine that if these kids really are mixing cremains into their krathom extracts, this drug might be somewhat healthier than either of those alternatives (!). Read the rest of this entry »