Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Syllabus for Death and Spiritual Aetheism in Contemporary Fiction

One of my favorite parts about flying is that you get an excuse to watch lots of crappy movies. On my flight back from hong kong, I watched Aronsky's (Pi guy) The Fountain. Something I've wanted to watch despite tepid reviews. I'll concur with those tepid reviews. Highish concept (a love story between the same two people that plays out over thousands of years,starting with the spanish inquisition), pretty visuals, boring execution.

But its main message struck a chord, as I've seen it repeated often recently. Basically, a spirtual aethistic view of death. That death is something we should accept at the end of a good life, instead of dreaming/clinging to the idea of an afterlife, or using science to prolong misery.

While I personally intend on living forever (through a brain upload perhaps), I do like the message espoused by Albom's Tuesday's with Morrie that death is best accepted rather than dreaded (though I am somewhat put off by how Albom shifted from sports writer to spiritual guru).

The message was also echoed in the children's book trilogy His Dark Materials. Billed as the atheists' Harry Potter (though I never thought Harry Potter was especially Deist), His Dark Materials was a smart fantasy, with little girls and armored polar bears and alternative universes and human souls that manifest as pet familiars (in the D&D sense). It preached the same message (more subtlely and engagingly than The Fountain or Tuesday's) and should be coming to theaters soon.

If I ever somehow find myself teaching a course in this topic, I now have the beginnings of a syllabus.


Andy said...

you mean aronofsky, right? i just saw pi and was vaguely disappointed but intrigued. the fountain sounds probably a lot more optimistic: death as an end to a good life sounds a lot better than death as an end to a tortured life.

hcduvall said...

I think His Dark Materials was billed as atheist 'casue of the author, and Harry Potter comparisons just cropped up because Harry Potter is huge. The latter's not really philosophically anything, despite a vauge stab at equal rights with the house elves storyline, and anti-heredity line...it's world was constructed w/o that sort of thinking and seemingly devoid of ethics, and strangely conservative, actually. Magic is something you study and learn, after all, and no one seems to actually create anything...

I don't know the Morrie, book too well, and haven't seen the movie yet, but does the story involve multiple lives, or immortality? I don't get the sense, from Albom at least, that he actually accepts a cessation of existence after death. There's still is, after all, the promise life after death. Maybe not in Morrie, his next book definately. A better phrase might be that death isn't the end of life.

I am enamored of karma and reincarnation myself. Each life doesn't carry the anxiety of finality, the sense of it being a test (the legacy of fire and brimstone), and is instead a process or continuum instead.

I'm not sure Atheism is specific to all this either...

HoBs said...

His Dark Materials was certainly certainly atheist. It raised a kerfuffle with the Church, and the author debated members of the catholic church and the like over it, and the main antagonist in the books was a parody of the Catholic church.

The Fountain as well included scenes that mocked catholics and the catholic notion of an afterlife.

Albom, in his latest books (though I haven't read, but seems to have gotten all new agey) but in the original, Tuesdays with Morrie was a true story about Albom and his old Brandeis professor who walked into death unafraid, and didn't need God to console him, just the knowledge that he led a good life.

Yeah, and I agree, the ethics of Harry Potter is screwed up though I do give Rowling credit for trying to make up for it in later books, a bit anyway.