Mar 30, 2011

Road Reading: The Book of Mormon and 'The Denial of Death' by Ernest Becker

I've never been much of a reader. Don't know why that is but its probably the most obvious culprit - laziness. I purposely didn't bring much stimuli on this trip, partly so I would have less belongings to secure and also to be more open to situations. No books, no MP3 player, no laptop and no smart phone. Save for the camera I lost in München, I don't I even own those things.

This has led to a generous a collection of other people's photos and pleasantly in the last few days people have volunteered their books. What makes these books more compelling have been how they speak to the people who gave them to me. These are words they literally live by and having spent entire days with them in vibrant conversation they resonate even more.

Book 1 - The Book of Mormon
Two mormons on a mission in Girona, Spain. They engaged me as I was heading to the hostel I booked at the very last minute. Rather than dismiss them entirely I invited them to help me find it, the walk giving them time to rap. Smash cut to us hanging out the next day. Met up with them at the local Aldi where a Uruguayan compatriot drove us to a massive dam 40 minutes away from the city. We picnicked with Argentinian staples, munching on Alfa Jores and drinking Mate.

"Our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream." Jacob 7:26

Book 2 - 'Denial of Death' by Ernest Becker
A captivating American poet and artist staying at my hostel in Barcelona. A few brief, intense conversations unwittingly led to an "intellectual courtship". We eventually did get to hang out for a day. It led to me postponing my trip to Valencia, one of the string of excuses I used to stay in Barcelona. It was a day of walking and vigorous conversations on life, art and everything in between. The artist was embarking on his first international exhibtion in Paris.

We hung out at Montjuïc Cemetery where he took abstract photos of decay and moss patterns to file for upcoming works. We found an empty plot which he dared me to jump in for photos, it happened.

denial of death, ernest becker
From the Preface
... So long as we stay obediently within the defense mechanisms of our personality, what Wilhelm Reich called "character armor" we feel safe and are able to pretend the that the world is manageable. But the price we pay is high. We repress our bodies to purchase a soul that time cannot destroy, we sacrifice pleasure to buy immortality, we encapsulate ourselves to avoid death. And life escapes us while we huddle within the defended fortress of character.

Society provides the second line of defense against our natural impotence by creating a hero system that allows us to believe that we transcend death by participating in something of lasting worth. We achieve ersatz immortality by sacrificing ourselves to conquer an empire, build a temple, to write a book, to establish a family, to accumulate a fortune, to further progress and prosperity, to create an information society and global free market...
Update: I later realised Ernest Becker is of influence to some of my favorite comedians and personalities (Marc Maron and Jason Silva)

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