Learning to be Dead: the Narrative Problem of Mortality

In Michael Cholbi (ed.), Immortality and the Philosophy of Death. pp. 157-172 (2016)

Kathy Behrendt
Wilfrid Laurier University
The problem of mortality treats death as posing a paradox for the narrative view of the self. This view, on some interpretations, needs death in order to complete a life in a manner analogous to the ending of a story. But death is inaccessible to the subject herself, and so the analogy fails. Our inability to grasp the event of our own death is thought to undermine the possibility of achieving a meaningful, coherent, or complete life on narrativist terms. Narrativist attempts to solve the problem of mortality often involve exercises in "learning to be dead" in an effort to demonstrate that one's death is not entirely outside one's grasp. But there are different versions of the problem of mortality, which invite disparate solutions. I argue that most versions do not in fact pose a significant conundrum for the narrative view of the self. In order to strike at the narrative view in particular, in a fashion that is significant and a form that is paradoxical, a quite specific type of death must be at issue--one that is sudden and unanticipated. But a suggested solution to this version of the problem of mortality implies that the problem can be dissolved by disavowing certain alleged narrative presuppositions that fuel it. Those suppositions may, in turn, be essential to sustaining a uniquely narrative outlook on life and death.
Keywords death  self  narrative  John Davenport
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