The Underground Lady [Page Twenty]

What cannot be recuperated is the sense of existence as a stream, which the pre-Socratics held to, and which once it was given back to us by Christianity, had been changed into something else entirely: grace.  The recuperation of what has already been recuperated for us, under particular conditions and with a particular (ideological, dogmatic) end in mind, is a near impossible task.  The original sources have been destroyed, and even the Heideggerians drive themselves insane trying to accomplish some measure of their reconstruction.  (Derrida got the furthest, and he ended up going in circles.)  This is as close as any force or institution has come to obliterating the record permanently.  Herein one sees the greatest sin of Christian hubris—an erasure of experience itself that makes the Crusades look like a seaside holiday. 

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In our own era, it is the corporation that is trying its best to top the original act of erasure with its dogmatic obliquity and historical elision.

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We each worry that the particular constellation of knowledge we possess will die with us and that as a unit it will pass out of the universe forever.  And so we write, to try to get down a little of the pattern of our thoughts, of how we would arrange things.  It is an outline, barely, that we manage to draw, and if we are good at it, what then?  We will haunt the succeeding ages with our ghost.

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A ghost in this sense—a trace of real people and their passings, like all those who have come and gone before us on a subway platform—this I firmly believe in.  These are real ghosts, and this effect explains our fascination with the method of time-elapsed photography when it’s turned on a crowd.   

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Ghosts speak softly to us through the pages.

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What can one say about the contemporary obsession with corpses and the forensic sciences?  Television is full of it.  First, it should be made clear that forensic study is an ancient art, although in times past it referred almost exclusively to the role of the funereal physician, who performed certain religious rites on the body as well as preparing it for burial or burning.  Perhaps the emphasis today on the investigatory functions of the examiner of dead bodies constructs a different mythology around the dead and our relationship to them—namely that by paying close attention to them we can retrace their lives, and so in some sense, restore them.  It is the role of Jesus-raising-Lazarus that we now assign to the coroner. 

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If we cannot have everlasting life through God’s absolution, along with belief in the offices of last rites and a Christian burial…if all this is insufficient to the modern mind, which it must be…then perhaps science fiction and detective stories can keep us alive forever, or at least, bring us back from the dead through the magic of technology and deduction.  This is the undercurrent around death in contemporary pop culture.

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Of course, the preceding explanation for our obsession with dead bodies is roundabout.  A more direct interpretation of our necro-fetish might be that we wish to desensitize ourselves to the all too real fact that our own final disposition is always as near as our own aches and pains.  Whichever the case, we are knee-deep in cadavers.

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Nobody watches television.  They sit in front of it and look at it.  The difference between these two things is vast and untraversable.

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