by Dion Kagan. First published February 2009.
Death is so hot right now. Six Feet Under, Dead Like Me and Dexter are just the most recent cult examples of TV’s fixation with the grim, mysterious end. Not to mention
CSI, SVU, Cold Case, Homicide and a barrage of other cop, mystery and detective dramas that flirt with that out-of-reach territory beyond the rational. From funereal families to
forensics, sexy serial killers and the glamorous undead, death is all over prime time. At the box office there’s never a shortage of grief, horror, and general carnage, but the Gothic fairy-tale (think Pan’s Labyrinth, Sweeney Todd and El Orphanato) has made a Grimm comeback alongside more philosophical meditations like No Country for Old Men.
And that’s only the screen. In the world of couture, the catwalk rumbles with dark and dangerous themes and hipsters have taken to wearing taxidermy jewellery. Popular music has always been interested in mortality, but the varieties of emo and goth, death glam
and death metal are breeding faster than you can scream My Chemical Romance. Everybody Hurts, but never more so than the members of today’s melancholic youth cultures. Not to get too reductionist (there are entire websites devoted to the difference between goth and emo), but if these subcultures have anything in common, it’s surely their
pasty aesthetic and fascination with the morbid (much to the chagrin of
concerned members of society, of course – just google ‘emo’ and you get a whiff of the moral panic).
So, if corpses are the new centrefolds and burial rites are the new black, does this mean that we, as a culture, have opened up to a more frank, unequivocal confrontation with
mortality? Or is this pop fascination just the shameless exploitation of another riveting taboo? Perhaps sex, the other great tantaliser, has lost some of its lustre, and we’ve turned
to death to stimulate our curiosity? Perhaps death, in turn, shall become banal (if it hasn’t already) thanks very much to eyewitness TV, and the gratuitous coverage of violence,
disaster and other tragic events.
Death, sex, taboo, TV; these are all big questions. As one of our contributors succinctly puts it: ‘Death: it’s a big word. It always has been’.
So, how do we – yes, that’s you and I – die? In what grisly, disorderly ways will we each find our individual ends? Will there be some delicious nibblies to snack on en route? What in the devil comes afterwards? As Simon Critchley says in The Book of Dead Philosophers, in learning how to die, we learn how to live. But how do you live after a brush with you-know-who? How do you get through the day with the knowledge that death is
always standing just behind your left shoulder? And how about the gradual decay of your svelte, smooth body? How bloody long do you think you can live, pumping all manner of Ulay into your veins and crinkled brows?
In a culture paradoxically described as death-denying and death-obsessed, the intention of The Death Mook was to create a space for people to talk about death in creative and
unorthodox ways. We wanted to drag out the rotting old corpse and freshen it up a little for another viewing. We posed the question ‘how do we die?’ to encourage writers and visual artists to think about death in its various idiosyncrasies; to share perspectives, impressions, images and experiences that might shed some light, however grainy, on this gloomy cultural netherplace.
This collection may not contain all of the answers. But what it does contain are some very provocative, some very engaging, and some downright crackpot perspectives. It’s broad-ranging, because death happens in so many different ways; it’s unconventional, because let’s be honest here, death is strange territory; and finally, it’s utterly compelling, because try as we might to deny it, death is so fascinating you just can’t look away.
Extracted from The Death Mook.