Saturday, April 4, 2015

Where Artists Are Born

THE HUMANITY OF DEATH If I wrote a novel in which no one died a violent death, my readership would be small even if I were an established best-selling author. There are exceptions (there always are, or we wouldn’t need the word), but in most of the fiction we enjoy, Death occurs. Some of the best feature Death prominently; in The Book Thief, Death is the narrator. People die in Harry Potter; in fact, murder is the entire back story defining the main character’s importance. Without Death making her appearance, most stories are boring. There would be no mysteries, no epics, no war stories, drama and angst can exist without Death underlining the moment. Humans are violent, primitive, deadly creatures. We are not evolving quickly enough to suit me, and our stories that glorify death and Death just fuel the fire, and I know this. And yet I kill people – sometimes in most inventive ways – in my own stories, and recount other deaths in my re-tellings. The same thing that makes war seem so glorious when you are 18 and training to fight yet so heinous when you are 19 and have survived the fight, that makes the danger of being killed in a story or on a movie screen so intensely frightening and surviving the story (even by remote control) is the humanity of death. That humanity finds its roots in our fear of and fascination with the Dark Lady herself. I am guilty – I like it. I confront my demons by writing about them directly or enjoying the agony of others in a similar battle. I can rationalize by saying what I am confronting is my very own nature through vicarious actions, which is true but also a bit of a cop-out. I am human. I think about dying. I think about killing. And as long as my thinking is abstract and not confused by the reality of a real body lying face down in a pool of blood or the crushing weight of a metal box burning inside my own chest, I am safe. I believe it is accurate to say that every human being is both living and dying simultaneously, but only a fraction of us give that much thought. It is that fraction from where artists are born.

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