Impulse – Volume 11 Number 4, Winter 1985

Eldon Garnet.

Eldon Garnet, Carolyn White, Judith Doyle, and Gerald Owen.

Contributing Editor:
Sylvère Lotringer (New York).

Death Issue Guest Editor:
Sylvère Lotringer.

Eldon Garnet.

Associate Editors:
Carolyn White, Judith Doyle, Gerald Owen, and Andrew Payne.

Art Direction:
Carolyn White.

Editorial Assistants and Business:
James Gronau, and Sharon Brooks.

Advertising Representative:
Natalie Olanick.

Cover Photograph:
Bernard Faucon.

Cover Design:
Carolyn White.

Table of Contents:
Jean Baudrillard, 'The Child in the Bubble'; Pierre Guyotat, 'Coma'; Judith Doyle, 'Animal Lives, Rights, and Death'; Ken Hollings, 'Public Citizen: Private Army'; Andrew James Paterson, 'Necrophilia: Beyond Persuasion'; Sylvère Lotringer interviews James Van Der Zee; Alain Jaubert, 'The City Below'; Paul Virilio, 'The Spirit Of Defence'; Kathy Acker, 'Scenes in World War III'; Eldon Garnet, 'I Shot Mussolini'; Brian Well, 'Miami Police Force'; John Brown, 'Land: Sleep'; Louise Noguchi, 'The Catch'; Sharon Cook, 'How to Draw a Vulture'; Gordon Lebredt, 'Death Throe'.


We don't kill people any more. We put them to sleep. Like dogs.

We used to carry our death inside like a growth. Now we carry life in our organs. But to deliver we have to die.

Spare parts: Technological psychosis.

Noncoital collaborative reproduction. We removed sex from procreation. Now we have procreation without sex.

A teenager in chemotherapy asks his father to freeze some of his sperm for his future wife. Technological incest. Frozen sperm can keep for dozens of years: a great-grandfather will be able to fertilize his own offspring across the generations. Genealogy and filiations are about to collapse, but Oedipus still reigns supreme. And the Name of the Father. We are now losing the Law, the Name . . and The Thing (Das Ding).

A California real estate developer and his wife crash in a light plane. Their two offspring are waiting in Melbourne, Australia to receive a share of the millionaire's estate. Frozen in suspended animation. I bet they're dying to be born.

A woman was kept clinically alive for six days at Buffalo's Children's Hospital in 1981 until her baby could be born with a better chance of survival. The woman had suffered brain death, but the fetus showed movement and a good heartbeat. "The bottom line was that she could care for the baby better than we could," Dr. Dillon said. Who was she?

"Where's the patient? Where's the patient?" cries Arthur Knobloch, an ambulance driver for the Hasbrouck Heights Volunteer Fire Department. "We heard it's a cardiac case."

"It's not a patient:' the assistant explains. "It's a heart"

Baboon transplants. We should get their brains, too. It would make us more human.

Antonin Artaud talked about a "body without organs." Now we have organs without bodies. Soon the body will go, too.

The advent of cyclosporine, a new drug that persuades the immune system to tolerate grafts, has made the transplant of all kinds of organs increasingly feasible. Enthusiasts assert that by the end of the decade no one need die of organ failure.

Barry Jakobs, a defrocked doctor from Reston, Virginia, plans to start brokering human kidneys. He hopes $10,000 will persuade a donor to part with one. The second kidney must be more expensive.

The artificial heart was still beating when Dr. Clark died.

Decline in autopsies raises concern. Biopsy techniques are now so precise that they provide a mini-autopsy while the patient is still alive. No rush for dying any more. It can be done live, Dr Lundberg argues, though, that the time has come for doctors to "stop burying their mistakes" With death's disappearance, that's apparently all he could find to bury.

Frozen death is our round-about way of re-creating traditional attitudes towards death, where the dead always keep for eternity.

We always think post-mortem. Theory is our death-work.

When something becomes visible, it's already moribund. When Freud put his nose on hysteria, it was already on its way out. Where is hysteria now? Everywhere. In women and men alike. Small hysteria. No more orgasmic performances. Signs were getting out of the body. Out of hand. Freud put them back into the body. For that he had to invent a new body of science. He wanted signs to be rooted deeply somewhere. He called that somewhere the UNCONSCIOUS. It's a deadly place.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross patterned the four stages of death and dying after Freud's theories of child sexuality. Now at least death can be polymorphous perverse.

Instead of being ostracised, terminal cancer patients are now encouraged to share their experience with trained personnel. Terminal therapy: let them talk themselves to death. Death is the ultimate outrage. Don't try to make it respectable.

Dignity in death: "Gratifying for the visitor." (Kubler Ross).

"How do you deal with rage and anger?" Dr. Kubler-Ross was asked. "You try to tell him that you can appreciate his anger and his envy and that if you were in his position you would be angry, too:" she answered. "in other words, you try to put fuel in the fire and let him ventilate his anguish ..."

A few extra minutes spent with these extra-difficult patients can work wonders. They will call for the nurses less often, the family is more content, and the patients are more comfortable. God forbid anyone should look back in anger. It would make everybody uncomfortable.

Death with dignity. Two-way exit. Patients' legitimate right of autonomy dangerously coincides with "deregulation" policies. As Richard D. Lamm, the Governor of Colorado, put it bluntly, "we've got a duty to die, to get out of the way with our machines and our artificial hearts." Missiles don't have hearts, but they too, are "extraordinarily expensive" machines, and they kill without dignity.

The technology of death is way ahead of us. We're lagging behind, still trying to pump some humanity into it. Brain transplant. Who's who.

Dialogue on death and technology:

Sylvère: When someone is strapped to a machine, individual and society are one and the same thing. Society is in him with all these tubes. Money also flows through them.

Eldon: It's not an individual death any more. It's a societal death, the kind that's not supposed to exist any more.

Sylvère: But it's through the machine that we regain society. A very unhuman society.

Eldon: Unhuman? Machines are the most human aspect of our culture. They are our creations, or extensions. They are human machines, obviously, we built them.

Sylvère: They can replace us. They are operational. But they don't have a life.

Eldon: We are also operational.

Sylvère: That's what I was saying. It's the disappearance of death.

Over the last two years both prisons and hospitals have started hiring "resident" philosophers. "We hope he will ask the big questions we often don't have time to ask ourselves," said Connecticut's Commissioner of Correction. This prison philosopher program is the first in the nation. Several teaching hospitals in New York City have hired philosophers to help their doctors grapple with the ethical aspects of medical decisions such as whether to allow a terminally ill patient to die or to use sophisticated life-support systems.

When institutions start asking big questions, they really are at their wit's ends.

Death by injection. The condemned is injected with a needle connected to a tube that runs through the wall into the next room. There, two medical technicians force liquids into the tube. Without knowing which is which, one will inject harmless salt water. The other will inject three kinds of deadly chemicals.

Death cell: it has to be "comfortable enough to guarantee a good night's sleep but not so comfortable that you want to stay".

A wall for a tube. Social thought crystallized in a ton of bricks, Ridicule also can kill. Prisoners on death row volunteered for the artificial heart experiment. They were rejected, said Dr. De Vries, "because the benefits would not have outweighed the risks". The prisoners didn't stand to lose much, so where was the risk? That people might discover that prisoners too have hearts? Or that lawabiding citizens can manage with a pump?

Why don't we freeze criminals instead of strapping them to the electric chair? We may spare ourselves some guilt and a few criminal errors. Death by lethal injection: execution by "safe and effective" medication.

We should call death row 'intensive care'.

"I do have to tell society I am very disgusted with them, Tim Baldwin, 46, the "ex-altar boy," said before his body shot bolt upright and smoke started puffing from under the electrodes. "But really, I'm not afraid because I've got a curious nature to begin with. I'm curious about what happens after death." To kill him once wasn't enough.

Autoerotic deaths are causing widening concern. Parents should be "alert to such signs in their sons as frequently bloodshot eyes; marks on the neck; foggy or disoriented behavior, especially after having gone off alone for a while; and possession of or fascination with ropes, chains or other forms of inducing partial asphyxiation such as plastic bags, gags or gas inhalation devices."

Every culture provides tools to deal with death. Ours doesn't. We pay for everything. Death always happens at the end of the line. It makes up a narrative. I want death at the beginning. To be born dead is to be born alive.

Death is always buried in narratives. Break up the story and death lives. There are diseases that we inoculate in small doses in order to develop the immunity of the organism. Stories are death's vaccine.

Philosophy doesn't prepare us for death, Death prepares us for philosophy.

In America the main function of language isn't to communicate, but to maintain contact. Hence the fascination repulsion towards the "loner" who comes back gun in hand because he's taken it upon himself not to communicate anymore - or to communicate only through death. We don't communicate with the dead any more, so to be unable to communicate has become synonymous with death.

People who are afraid of death live their lives as a living death. I want my death dead to live my life alive.

You never know where anguish comes from, or where it goes. It floats around aimlessly, always ready for a call, or for a cause. There are always enough causes lying around, looking for an effect.

Fear gives anguish a point. Anguish gives fear a push.

A little anguish is always useful. It keeps on line. Anguish has no face, no identity. It is ready for anything.

Anguish makes us want security in life. Death is our only protection:

Sylvère: Anguish is at the root of the individual.

Eldon: So what's the way out?

Sylvère: Technologization of death, technologization of life.

Eldon: Do you suppose science and technology are an answer to anguish?

Sylvère: It's not the answer. It's the disappearance of the question.

Death has no meaning in our culture. So even to be fascinated by that faceless face is the mystic phase of meaninglessness.

Death is becoming visible again, not because we have acquired a greater cultural maturity or that conditions which had initially permitted its disappearance have been remedied: Death is reappearing because technology's higher bid is pushing death (and life) to a crisis.

The ancient configuration which relegated death to the margins of consciousness no longer holds. Death is spreading everywhere but in a diluted, therapeutic form. Between technology and therapy, death is slowly disappearing as a major cultural force.

Sylvère Lotringer

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