Dastur on Death

In How are We to Confront Death, Francoise Dastur gives us a framework for dealing with death. It is tripartite, with a bundle of observations under the headings Overcoming Death, Neutralizing Death and Accepting Death.

There are correspondences at the endpoints to Kubler-Ross’ “Five Stages of Grief” (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, aka DABDA). See Bob Fosse’s rendition of this (Hospital Hallucination) in the musical All That Jazz.

Here’s my take on the central message of the work…

There is death, which is inevitable, and a sense of anxiety engendered by the prospect of death, which we can control, to wit

We must instead stop opposing anxiety with vain resistances and let ourselves be borne (pun intended?) by it in order thus to achieve that moment when it changes into joy.

(Dastur, Page 42).

In other words, we should focus on overcoming our anxieties rather than on the limiting factor of death. “Death” enriches our lives by forcing us to reconsider, reconcile, and perhaps reshape our lives (in a hopefully constructive way).

This is a somewhat novel restatement of thanatological precepts offered by other philosophers, including Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. I’ll pass over in silence that both were troubled men.

In consideration of “death and the meaning of life” it’s useful that Dastur switches our focus from death AND meaning as an inflection point to the range between birth and death as a time of transition.

It’s in that time that we can embrace life rather than dote on death. That’s a useful credo.

I have, however, numerous criticisms of the work. Some of her anecdotal observations are stated as facts and she’s a bit overly categorical in their application. Examples include her characterization of death as “an object of horror for everyone” and the oft recited Freud quotes, “…at bottom no one believes in his own death” and “in the unconscious every one of us is convinced of his own immortality.”

In my incidental anecdotal experience, most people are not preoccupied with the prospect of death and if anything, are in denial. Perhaps that could be measured or quantified in the next GSS. See https://gssdataexplorer.norc.org.

My wife reports patients celebrating their stents by paying a visit to McDonald’s upon discharge. Plumbers’ pants are no longer a fashion statement at Walmart, they’re a sartorial commentary on life.

I have witness people grappling with these issues on their death beds, but usually on the brink of a morphine induced fog. I would hardly call that higher order thinking. It’s more akin to a Kumbaya sort of “coming to terms” moment.


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