Andrey Velikanov traces the changes in our understanding of death throughout history and analyses its place in contemporary culture.
Marking the end of our physical life, death is also what fills this life with meaning, while remaining beyond our understanding. This is an idea one can find in many books. According to Plato, Socrates is not afraid of dying because he believes that, once separated from the body, his soul will in fact reach a state that is far more natural for a philosopher’s mind. Shakespeare makes Hamlet wonder whether ‘to be or not to be’ without the fear of death, but aware of our inability to know what happens in the eternal sleep. Our understanding of death has changed dramatically throughout history. From a natural, commonplace and even necessary stage in every person’s life, it has evolved into something absurd, and meaningless. In the twentieth century, as even the mention of death became too horrifying, death was banned from culture and today even dead bodies are made to look like living humans. Still, death is never too far away, ever-present in our language, when we speak of ‘the death of God’, ‘the death of the Subject’, and ‘the death of Author’.
‘Let us also think in the following way: how great a hope there is that [death] is good? Now being dead is either of two things. For either it is like being nothing and the dead man has no perception of anything, or else, in accordance with the things that are said, it happens to be a sort of change and migration of the soul from the place here to another place. And if in fact there is no perception, but it is like a steep in which the sleeper has no dream at all, death would be a wondrous gain.’(Plato. Apology of Socrates)