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The three sections of Chapter 7 explore (1) the collapse of the birth and death contraries; (2) the rebirth topos; and (3) the Buddhist doctrine of the unborn. The first section concentrates on A Piece of Monologue of the late 1970s, noting its allusions to cycles of rebirth and scenes of wall gazing and repeated evocations of a ‘beyond’ resonating with Schopenhauerian will-lessness and Buddhist scriptures. In the second section, probing the drama of rebirth throughout Beckett’s writings, allusions to a Schopenhauerian hellish existence are linked to parallels between Dantean and Buddhist conceptions of hell and purgatory. In contrast, Ill Seen Ill Said’s last pages are seen to allude to an end to rebirth in a coming home to the void via detachment from illusion. This chapter’s third and longest section concerns the convergence of the Beckettian theme of unbornness with the Buddhist doctrine of an original and immanent state of mind beyond birth and death.
The second chapter explores in more detail the Buddhist concepts relayed by Schopenhauer cycling through Western culture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Focusing on the Beckett of the 1930s and writers and artists with whom he was conversant, the chapter chronicles what their works owe to the Buddha and Schopenhauer’s teachings. Subsequent sections probe the analogies that are evident for Schopenhauer between Eastern and Western mysticism – the Buddha and Meister Eckhart’s teachings in particular – resulting in Beckett’s allusions throughout his oeuvre, over six decades, to both Buddhist and Christian Neoplatonic thought. The Buddha and Schopenhauer’s two-world view of the empirical and the metaphysical serves to interrogate nihilistic interpretations of the Buddhist absolute and to focus closely on Schopenhauer’s rescue of nirvāṇa from such misreadings. A short disquisition on the unknowable and silence, values Beckett shared with Eastern and Western thinkers, concludes this chapter.
“Jesus and the Gender of Blood.” Here’s a place blood seeps in where it hardly seems to belong: Crucifixion kills not by blood loss but suffocation. Neither crucifixion nor a common meal requires blood. Hands and feet can be lashed without nails. Why must Jesus bleed? Gospel writers portray Jesus at the Last Supper as mobilizing the language of blood to transform a structure of violent oppression – crucifixion – into a peaceful feast. The image of the Woman with a Flow of Blood, read as dysmenorrhea, recognizes a kinship: three gospels identify both the woman and Jesus with their bleeding, as leaky. The stories feminize Jesus by turning his blood away from male-gendered violence and toward female-gendered purposes of new life and rebirth. Reflections on the Eucharist and taboo.
Using Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death, chapter 3 describes “immortality projects” that are commonly used to avoid the terror of death. Immortality projects are activities that we humans regard as endowing cosmic significance and eternal life on us, including both publicly recognized projects and everyday, quotidian undertakings. None of these “one-dimensional” immortality projects work, Becker states. We die despite our efforts to cast ourselves as immortal. The terror of death, however, is so great that we lie to ourselves about the ineffectiveness of our immortality projects. Becker says that these lies are “vital,” given that death with extinction is so terrifying. It is terrifying because we humans desperately need to believe that our lives have lasting meaning. The only true way to deal with the prospect of death, Becker states, is to “die” and be “reborn” by identifying with what he calls “the transcendent.” Chapter 3 describes what is involved in this rebirth.
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