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Catechism over death

The Book of the Dead Philosophers
Forfatter: Simon Critchley
Forlag: Klim (Danmark)
Simon Critchley's obituary is a display of Socratic ignorance and may be a thought for many.


With this book, Simon Critchley delves into the tradition where philosophy is not only a method of understanding, but also a tool that its practitioners can use to change themselves by creating a new relationship with the world, for knowledge, for truth and history. Well-known examples are Emperor Aurelius' Thoughts to himself; Seneca The brevity of life; Montaigne Essays, as well as Villy Sørensen's Seneca. The Humanist at Neros Hof.


The book is an alternative to "European Buddhism", where we cultivate our inner potential while remaining apolitical, unengaged and unhappy.

Life and thinking are connected, and we understand why an "unreflected life is not worth living" (Socrates). Critchley's obituary is not about saying, "You race around and sit in the hamster wheel because you are afraid of death, stop now." By contrast, the author shows that there is a connection between living an unreflected life and living an empty and false life . How to turn to the former? Critchley's response is through an awareness of death or all that surrounds death. His grasp is the use of the concrete life example of thinkers of all kinds. Not a saint (hagiography) but one doxografi
(philosophical depiction), where the exemplary lies not in the holiness of the thinker, but in the "way in which they showcase their weaknesses and strengths".

Believe in your limitations

For Critchley, religion previously taught us something that we have forgotten today: an acceptance of ours skabthedthat we depend on something outside ourselves. In religion a God. But one does not have to go to religion to understand this. We have our mortality. Critchley's obituary is a belief for those who do not believe in God, but in the "limit of existence." In a reflected life, we discover the good and the creative that actually has our weakness and limitation as its source. Faced with exams, workloads, children and refugees, we face our own inadequacies everywhere. Concrete ethics is not first about written norms, but about the fact that we are dependent on each other, that we are weak. The Book of the Dead Philosophers is therefore not about biological death, but about how the shadow of mortality – grief, aging, illness, vulnerability and weakness – teaches us to think, live less falsely, practice care for others. Critchley himself calls his book an alternative to "European Buddhism" and the self-help industry in which we cultivate ourselves, our energy and our inner potentials while remaining apolitical, unengaged and unhappy.

Death: an absolute horizon

"No matter how strange it may sound, I feel that it is only in grief that one comes closest to being who you really are."
? Simon Critchley

Death is not a social construct we can just relate to, but an absolute horizon. The pain, the grief and the aging are what we cannot fake and escape. Philosophy begins with this contention that something is not right, therefore, it is not a matter of knowledge, but of the work of love. The horizon of death, its reality and the uncertainty of life is our chance for transformation, to question everything. Death and the power of finality start something crucial with us that overturns the cultural cones of the table. For Critchley, seriousness and humor (laughter) go hand in hand: the more we accept and understand our limitations and fallibility, the easier we can laugh at ourselves, which can prove to be a very good starting point for ethical and political revival. When laughter hurts, it is like a thought that challenges us.

The weakness as strength

"It's the eccentric details of a philosopher's life that make them accessible to us: Hobbes's penchant for playing tennis and singing in his bedroom, Kant's weakness for English cheese and anxiety for sweat, and Marx's boils." Almost 200 examples are there on dead philosophers from ancient Greece to the present day. Paul, who shows us that the idea of ​​the value of life requires the example of death (Christ); Japanese Buddhists' making of death poems shows a way to "await the moment just before his death"; Chinese Zhuang Zi shows how we can only live properly when we have learned to accept our own humility; Lyotard's example shows that faith is about “becoming a riddle to oneself, getting old, hoping for a solution.

Heraklit was suffocated in cow dung; Diogenes died by holding his breath; Diderot when he ate an apricot.

Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am weak ... "Grief is what for Critchley brings us closest to death and own weakness:" No matter how strange it may sound, I believe that it is only in grief that one comes closest to being the one Not really the self-cultivating self-knowledge, but an insight into the part of a self that one has irrevocably lost when losing one's loved one. The art of living is about reaching a calm in relation to the passing of a loved one, he writes.

To die laughing

Critchley's list of fun death episodes is long, from Heraklit who was strangled in cow dung, to Diogenes who died holding his breath, to Diderot, who was strangled to death when eating an apricot, presumably to show that you could experience pleasure to the last breath. For Critchley, humor is an ethical category. While the small laughter of the irony merely confirms one's own status and identity (the others are some idiots), one laughs in the high laughter of humor basically of one's own fragility, nothingness, faith. He who cannot see his own limitation (including the philosopher or the highly educated) has no wisdom. Perhaps the entire Critchley deadbook is a display of Socratic non-knowledge. Although I think his book about Bowie is better – more concentrated on one character. With nearly 200 entries, many readers will go to his book as they surf the web. Even I think that Villy Sørensen's book about Seneca (on the same topic) leaves deeper traces. But for many, Critchley's book will still be an eye-opener on an important theme.

Alexander Carnera
Alexander Carnera
Carnera is a freelance writer living in Copenhagen.

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