Hitchens, in an address of the notion of death, appeals to Shakespeare’s ‘seven ages of man’ notion. Throughout our life, we have transitions to different kinds of people. The person we were as a child may be unrecognisable to our selves of today. We are always going through different phases of life, and as one new phase begins, another dies. In that sense, many people have died many times over before our ultimate demise. Why is the physical death so ultimate and conclusive when we have died many times before? So the thought goes…
We have a habit of immortalising a single kind of person when an individual dies. Although we acknowledge their growth and change, we alays remember them in some singular, unitary kind of way. Michael Jackson escaped his negative press by his death, and became remembered for his career highs. Some, by contrast, will always be remembered for their death. This year, the actor David Carradine had died, few people remember him for his circumstances of his death (autoerotic asphyxiation), but more toward whatever production they remember him most fondly. Kill Bill, for example, or Kung Fu.
Sometimes people can be remembered as their youthful selves, perhaps those to whom it would benefit seeing them as the eternal young. Others, by contrast, may be seen in a moer sagely light as the elder. I recall a discussion about which picture of Brahms one should remember. While Brahms is most often remembered as the mature, bearded man; his career the highlights of his career span throughout his younger years as well. When we consider David Hume, we imagine his empiricist philosophy, and the man sporting a turban. It was a twenty-three year old Hume, however, who had written his Magnum Opus, the Treatise on Human Nature. Why should we not remember Hume in his glorious youth and at his most intellectually fierce.
The person we remember may tell us something of when we may talk of the ‘peak’ of their career. For many composers, we remember them for great works of music but ignore the horrid circumstances of their twilight years. Stephen Foster, composer of great American Folk tunes like Beautiful Dreamer died penilless. It may be seen as an appeal to remember those who had died young, considering how much more they could have done in their lives. The likes of Kurt Cobain, Buddy Holly, Janis Joplin may have been saved of a life of mediocrity. There are many who age well, some who died agelessly young, and those who, by manner of their own poor dispositions, age terribly. Ironically, it is those who try to hark back to a past self.