Two Deaths

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The fact that for Zizek the apparently all-inclusive whole of life and death are supplemented, by both a living death and a deathly life, points to the way in which we can die not just once, but twice. Most obviously, we will suffer a biological death in which our bodies will fail and eventually disintegrate. This is death in the Real, involving the obliteration of our material selves. But we can also suffer a Symbolic death. This does not involve the annihilation of our actual bodies, rather it entails the destruction of our Symbolic universe and the extermination of our subject positions. We can thus suffer a living death where we are excluded from the Symbolic and no longer exist for the Other. This might happen if we go mad or if we commit an atrocious crime and society disowns us. In this scenario, we still exist in the Real but not in the Symbolic. Alternatively, we might endure a deathly life or more a kind of life after death. This might happen if, after our bodies have died, people remember our names, remember our deeds and so on. In this case, we continue to exist in the Symbolic even though we have died in the Real. The gap between the two deaths, Zizek argues, can be filled either by manifestations of the monstrous or the beautiful. In Shakespeare's Hamlet for example, Hamlet's father is dead in the Real, however, he persists as a terifying and monstrous apparition because he was murdered and thereby cheated of the chance to settle his Symbolic debts. Once that debt has been repaid, following Hamlet's killing of his murderer, he is "completely" dead. In Sophocles' Antigone, the heroine suffers a SYmbolic death before her Reak death when she is excluded fom the community for wanting to bury his traitorous brother. This destruction of her social identity instils her character with a sublime beauty. Ironically Antigone enters the domain between the two deaths "precisely in order to prevent her brother's second death: to give him a proper funeral that will secure his eternalization" (The Ticklish Subject: the Absent Centre of Political Ontology). That is, she endures a Symbolic death in order that her brother, who has been refused proper burial rites, will not suffer a Symbolic death himself.