February 21, 2015


The Grim Reaper's Playlist : The Memento Mori is alive and well (MATTHEW BECKLO, 2/18/15, Aleteia)

Who could forget the horror they felt when they learned that "Ring Around the Rosie" was about the plague? That as kids, when we chanted "ashes, ashes, we all fall down!" and let go of each other's hands, collapsing to the ground giggling, we were really enacting a historically driven memento mori?
Part of the creepiness of that realization is owed to the fact that death is something we do our best not to talk about, much less sing about. With the exception of religious observances like Ash Wednesday, the primordial reality about life - that it ends, for each and every one of us - is papered over by so many layers of disengagement, irony, and ambition. (Even for kings, Thomas More reminded us, death comes.) Family and communal rituals around death that cultivated a kind of existential intimacy with it have, for various reasons, weakened and even vanished. Death becomes a thin abstraction. Still, those words ring on through the ages for each of us: "Thou art dust and unto dust you shalt return."
Philosophy, Cicero said, is at the heart of it a preparation for death. Seen in this light, the wisdom of the medievals in confronting it in art - even with a touch of humor as in the danse macabre - is clear. But it's also inevitable. Efforts to "get over" mortality in art are just as doomed as efforts to "get over" philosophy in thought. Our being-towards-death is not morbid or depressing, but part of our being human and facing the world as it is. There are the films of Woody Allen which return time and time again to the grim reaper. There's the stand-up of Louis CK, who joked: "You're just dead people that didn't die yet."
And there's music. Jack Black in High Fidelity cranked out a list of "top five songs about death," but there are much better selections. Below is just a sampling of eight modern takes on the memento mori, which not only paint a picture of transience, but also of intimations of eternity.

Posted by at February 21, 2015 7:19 AM

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