Sunday, January 30, 2005

Terry Eagleton: A Different Way of Death

(courtesy of Charlotte Street)

While insurgents have been blowing themselves apart in Israel and Iraq, a silence has prevailed about what suicide bombing actually involves. Like hunger strikers, suicide bombers are not necessarily in love with death. They kill themselves because they can see no other way of attaining justice; and the fact that they have to do so is part of the injustice. It is possible to act in a way that makes your death inevitable without actually desiring it. Those who leapt from the World Trade Centre to avoid being incinerated were not seeking death, even though there was no way they could have avoided it.

Ordinary, non-political suicides are those whose lives have come to feel worthless to them, and who accordingly need a quick way out. Martyrs are more or less the opposite. People like Rosa Luxemburg or Steve Biko give up what they see as precious (their lives) for an even more valuable cause. They die not because they see death as desirable in itself, but in the name of a more abundant life all round.

Suicide bombers also die in the name of a better life for others; it is just that, unlike martyrs, they take others with them in the process. The martyr bets his life on a future of justice and freedom; the suicide bomber bets your life on it. But both believe that a life is only worth living if it contains something worth dying for. On this theory, what makes existence meaningful is what you are prepared to relinquish it for. This used to be known as God; in modern times it is mostly known as the nation. For Islamic radicals it is both inseparably.

Entire Essay


Deleted said...

From the article, suicide bombing as part of the spectacle: However miserable or impoverished, most men and women have one formidable power at their disposal: the power to die as devastatingly as possible. And not only devastatingly, but surreally. There is a smack of avant garde theatre about this horrific act. In a social order that seems progressively more depthless, transparent, rationalised and instantly communicable, the brutal slaughter of the innocent, like some Dadaist happening, warps the mind as well as the body. It is an assault on meaning as well as on the flesh - an ultimate act of defamiliarisation, which transforms the everyday into the monstrously unrecognisable.

Michael said...


The writers Don DeLillo, in the Names and Mao, and Richard Powers, in Plowing the Dark, question what role the artist/writer in a world in which the terrorist has become the avant garde performer?

Can you provide me the link to your previous weblog--I lost it when I changed to your new, updated model.

Deleted said...
I read some Delillo a few years ago, "White Noise", though I don't recall much. If the book deal allows you to send me Powers or Delillo, I would love to read and review them.

Michael said...

Yes indeed, I'll make a note and see what their latest books are...