For the past few years, I’ve been researching death and mortality from every possible angle: grief over personal loss, death at the hands of the state, death of “the other,” death of a pet, you name it. More specifically, I’ve been examining the notion that all living beings are equal in mortality and death, as quotes such as the following two by Publilius Syrus (85–43 BC) and John Donne (1572–1631), respectively, would have us believe:
“As men, we are all equal in the presence of death”
“Death comes equally to us all, and makes us all equal when it comes.”
The research covers multiple facets of mortality—everything from individual death to global extinction, human death to data immortality, and the tragedy of human loss relative to the invisible death of factory-farmed animals—and my aim is to redefine mankind’s place in the universe—which has been undergoing something of a shift in light of technological developments—on the basis of our growing awareness of not just our own mortality, but also that of other species and the possibility of total ecosystem collapse.
A research subject of such breadth makes finding the most suitable methodology a challenge in itself. Death is everywhere and in multiple forms all at once, and my chosen methodology has to accommodate this mosaic ubiquity. It is with this in mind that I’ve been going through the archives of the Stedelijk Museum, the Eye Filmmuseum and the Khardziev collection. From , I aim to select an artefact or artwork and try to see what we can learn about their author’s relationship with mortality, on the basis of the chosen works, and how can this relationship can be interpreted both historically and through the lens of contemporary criticism. Each log will constitute an element in the mosaic model of my research, and present yet one more facet of the complex image of mortality.
My research and presentation method is in fact a combination of several methods. And though seemingly chaotic, rhizomatic, nonlinear, devoid of hierarchy, to name but a few of its qualities, it is the one that most faithfully corresponds to reality at the time of writing. Today, researchers and laypeople alike have ready access to an incredible amount of information of varying degrees of depth and reliability. Consequently, never before has the image of the rhizome reflected the multivariate reading of texts as accurately as it does today, and similarly the lack of hierarchy and stylistic integrity of the information therein. A. In postmodern philosophy, it is a fundamentally nonstructural and nonlinear means of organizing knowledge that allows for immanent autochthonous mobility and, consequently, the realization of its internal creative potential for self-configuration. The term “rhizome” was introduced into philosophy in 1976 by Deleuze and Guattari in their joint work “Rhizome,” in the context of developing basic provisions of the nomadological project of postmodernism, which served as a radical rejection of the presumption of a constant Gestalt organization of being. The structure of is rhizomatic, as is its text, which can be read in any order.
Stylistically and methodologically, my research was also inspired by the works of Vasily Rozanov, who expressed his own thoughts in the form of “fallen leaves”—fragmentary writings that resist logical or even external connection between successive fragments. In such works as the eponymous Fallen Leaves and the collections Saharne, After Saharne, The Momentary, and The Last Leaves, the author attempts to reproduce the process of “understanding” living oral speech in all its complexity, hyperfocus on minor details, anecdotal qualities, and lively facial expressions—a process merged with ordinary life and conducive . Rozanov’s method cannot itself be classified as scientific, but it is important for this study because many questions related to death cannot be fully resolved at the verbal level due to the limitations of language as an instrument of cognition and description. More intuitive and imaginative linguistic sketches, references to symbols and stories from the world’s cultural heritage, allusions, and metaphors can collectively add expressiveness and depth to a philosophical study, even if such an approach does not fit the strict framework of an academic text.
Another historical-genealogical method—is based on the search not for a single origin but for the accidental beginnings of discursive formations, and on the analysis of the real diversity of origin stories and the consequent decomposition of the imaginary identity of the historiographical subject and its contemporaries. Objecting to the tradition of global historiography that endows history with a macro-consciousness, Foucault suggested that this kind of history should be dissolved and transformed into a diversity of histories and plurality of discourses that continually resurface and sink back into non-existence. The critical historian is faced with the task of dissolving false continuities; he must not construct this or that teleological relationship, be interested in large-scale causalities, strive for syntheses or adhere to the principles of progress and evolution.
Armed with these methodologies, I will bravely immerse myself in the Stedelijk depot’s vast sea of links, references, objects and ideas, avoiding distinction between world-renowned artists and their lesser known contemporaries, finished artworks and mere newspaper clippings, iconic art pieces and works that have never graced a museum floor, all in hope of formulating a method with which to learn about and discuss death, one that will accommodate interpretation, change as a constant, the complexity of the system in question and, sometimes, intuition and chance.