16 February 2012

The Prison Cell Concept of Death

Who wrote that Russian story, was it Babel or maybe Yuri Olesha, about a man dying in his bed. His death is described as a progressive deterioration of possibilities, a methodical constriction of options available to him. First he cannot leave the room, so that a railroad ticket, for instance, has no more meaning for his life. Then he cannot get out of bed. Then he cannot lift his head. Then he cannot see out the window. Then he cannot see his hand in front of him. Life moves inward, the sensations close in, the horizons diminish to point zero. And that is his death. A kind of prison cell concept of death, the man being locked in smaller and smaller cells, his own consciousness depleted of sensations being the last and smallest cell. It is a point of light. If this is true of death, then a real prison is death's metaphor and when you put a man in prison you are suggesting to him the degrees of death that are possible before life is actually gone. You are forcing him to begin his dying. All constraints on freedom enforce conditions of death. The punishment of prison inflicts the corruption of death on life.

- E.L. Doctorow, The Book of Daniel, 147-148

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