Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Purpose


"...And so he chose to die. One evening as the sun went down over the barn at the other side of the path that bordered the field he was walking in he decided to die and he exercised his will to that end. It should have been easy. Everything he had done had been easy when he had wanted to do it. He had loved at will, believed at will, swum at will, persuaded at will, run, jumped and kicked at will, learnt, passed exams, won places and awards at will, thought and understood at will, created worlds at will, exactly as he wanted them...
...At that moment it never occurred to him that his will would not be enough to kill him. He was deeply disturbed to find he still lived, and it was several minutes before he could accept that he had not died. If his will would not act directly on his heart, then it would act on his body in other ways...
...there was a tree there and his belt would serve as a rope. He found pleasure in the contemplation of the act, in the working out of details, in the solving of problems. How many times had he asked himself, as an adolescent and a young man, certain there must be an answer, ‘How can it be that the end of life is death?’ The only end of life is death. At times he had lost confidence in his question, and begun to wonder if it was not simply so. The only end of life is death...
... having had the insight, he could believe passionately, that the only end, the only purpose, of life, was death. To die? To die well? To die aesthetically? To die bravely? It was hard to know what any of these ideas might mean, and it was probable, if the original proposition was true, that they meant nothing. He could seek a beautiful woman, a good and promising child, a philanthropic old man, a dynamic and big-hearted young one, and give his life to save theirs. It should not be impossible to contrive the circumstances...
...Should he seek truth in his death? He could contrive a death that would express great dramatic truth, coherent and complete in its narration of itself. His death could be great art. An expression of the very fact that it was the central, the only, purpose, not of his life, but of all lives. He could die for God, as he had once desired to. He could die for love as he had once been ready to. He could die for socialism, for nationalism, for freedom of speech, for the right to pasture goats on common land, for an administrative matter so insignificant and obscure that no one would ever understand it. That would be great indeed; to die for something which nobody else in the world could possibly conceive of dying for...
...So he stepped off the bough, to achieve death. His fall had barely started when it was arrested by the running out of the very limited slack there had been in the belt. His hands, which he had not tied, instantly and without his consent, began to rise towards his neck, but they had only moved a matter of inches when the branch snapped cleanly and he fell. He hit the ground hard and awkwardly, and was unable to stir for some seconds. The buckle was closed in the normal way, and had not tightened on his throat. When he became aware of himself once more he felt pain in his neck as from a blow, in his back as from a severe twisting motion, in his head as from a very bad conscience, and in his chest as from a heart attack...
...But what was right. A public death perhaps, but only public because it had to be, not to stage a spectacle. Standing before a bus in Trafalgar Square. But why? What purpose was served by such a thing? The driver and even the witnesses could suffer permanently from the shock of it, and there was no need to cause trouble in that way. and people would think he was doing it for a cause, as a protest or some such thing. Perhaps he should have a cause. It would delay him slightly but he could find a cause to die for. Immediately he saw the difficulty. His death was his purpose. To construct a reason for it would be worse than useless, it would be to recognise that his death was not a purpose in itself...
...He thought of those who had chosen to die by their own hand, not from cowardice, or hopelessness, or monumental stupidity, but from greatness. He thought of Seneca, dying of loyalty, surrounded by the friends his greatness had brought him. Tom was not prepared to share his death with anyone, let alone such friends as he had, but the slitting of the wrists was something to be considered. It was associated with abandoned girls, fallen performers and overcharged melodrama. That was another problem- he could not be dramatic for the sake of it, but neither could he be melodramatic....
...He thought of Socrates, dying of justice. Also surrounded by the friends he had earned, and completely certain that what he did was right. The story told was in this case probably very close to the truth. But both of these men had died because it had been decided that they should. They had accepted the decisions and so had made their deaths feel right. Tom’s death was entirely a consequence of his own understanding of what he should do; only his will and his reason were involved... In any case, the drinking of hemlock would definitely have been melodramatic, and could give rise to misinterpretations which would devalue any assessment of his action.
He thought of Cleopatra, dying of dignity. Her end, at least as transmitted by the old historians, was far too self-consciously dramatic to serve as any kind of model, and her reasons were a long way from his. The snake might be a problem, too. So wrapped up was he in his thoughts that it was a moment before he smiled at this. He thought of Thích Quảng Đức, dying of, truth, perhaps, his final thoughts unknowable, but apparently clear and serene. His death had a meaning that his continued life could not. His death, whatever it actually achieved meant to him exactly what he intended it to mean. He knew why he died, and he believed that he should..."

4 comments:

James Higham said...

Now you've got me worried - it's not you, is it?

CIngram said...

No, no, I am in the most robust of physical and mental health, but thanks for your concern. It's a a few segments taken from a long scene in a novel which I might one day finish and even publish if anyone's interested. And it's not all misery, either; some of it's lively and fun.

Vincent said...

The character as described in this passage seems rather solipsistic, but I always have that problem with the concept of Will. It's a matter of temperament. I've always cast my fate to the wind, danced with what happened, using will merely to solve problems which present themselves, or finish projects which demand to be finished. In the matter of Death, I merely send a message to the Dark Angel with the scythe "Come and get me when you are ready." I would never trust myself to initiate the deed.

Your piece was good in the way it got me thinking though.

CIngram said...

The book is about a man who spends his entire life searching for a purpose to his existence. Nothing seems to him sufficient to justify his living. One of the possible purposes he tries is death. These fragments are some of the thoughts that he has when trying to convince himself of(and finally talking himself out of) the idea of death as the end (purpose) of life. I can see that you would be unlikely to identify with a character obsessed with constructing his life by the force of his own will.