Monday, October 12, 2009

To Learn to Die is to Learn How to Live: "Egyptian Book of the Dead"

At a lecture on how die (and consequently live well) at the New School presented by philosophy superstar Critchley, the Egyptian Book of the Dead came up repeatedly. The human obsession with the afterlife by ancient Egyptians is not unique; humans at all intervals can't stand to believe their souls might simply end. But what intrigued me was Critchley's reference to Montaigne, the French philosopher and essayist, who was fascinated by how the Egyptians constantly put the inevitability of death in their midst. At feasts, during the revels and eating, a human skeleton would be brought out to remind revellers that the end was inescapable. The title of the funerary script "Spells of Coming" (or "Going") "Forth By Day" presents also the quandry that because we don't know our afterlife situation, we don't know if we are coming or going.

For a better print discussion on dying and Egyptians and philosophy, see the recent review in the Nation by Alexander Provan: "The End of Self Help." Simon Critchley was entertaining (he stands on his toes as he speaks) and the lecture was thought provoking rather than dark. His recent book is The Book of Dead Philosophers.

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