On Dead and Living Beings

High Five, Dale Langford

Some will say there exists some relationship between being alive or a dead being, between death or the living being, but the two are distinct. Instead I will talk about how the two are entwined: death and living.

I think it fair to compare “death” with achievement verbs (i.e. “arriving,” “finding,” “understanding,” to name a few). Why is this? One must travel before one can arrive, and one must look before one can find, and, as I assume, one must be born before one can die. This is a similar relationship we find in the cases of what “looking” is to “finding” and what “traveling” is to “arriving”.

Where these achievement verbs differ (as an achievement verb) from death is the guarantee of death. One may look for a something and perhaps never find it—looking until they die!

Having said something about how close the two abstractions are, there is, I think, different ways one is permitted to relate to beings that are living or dead.

Various relations between the living and no longer living body: one dead body is treated as a thing honoured where another is not, placed in casket for a public or private funeral (etiquette: no living body in the casket please!), as evidence in a crime scene, as a smelly thing, as something to be buried by the living and buried somewhere away from the living, as something to be cremated by the living, a source of income for the living, something to be documented for the living, something to be feared, something to be embraced, … to name a few relations.

Various relations between the living and living bodies: talking at or with or beside or about, smiling or frowning at or with, sometimes in the way, sometimes helpful, sometimes smelly, attend funerals with, visit cemeteries or exhibitions of plastination with, bike riding beside or with, sleeping beside or with, buying insurance for (either the whole body or parts of the body, or some parts more than other parts of the body)… to name a few relations.

There are many ways we may problematize this relation of death, birth, the living body and the body that is dead. And as we can see from these lists of relations between bodies, perhaps the differences between the living and the dead are due to the similarities we see. I do know this: dead bodies are more typically docile and predictable, whereas living bodies are a little less docile and predictable.