Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker

The Denial of Death is a very profound book  (  314 pages) ,   by Ernest Becker,who got Pulitzer Prize in 1974 for this book ,two months after his death.Becker quotes profusely  Otto Rank ,Kierkegaard and Freud to make his points clear.He died at the age of 49.5 years .The book is full of some incredible insights.
                    Becker says that all human beings have death anxiety.The fear of death haunts us like nothing else.To transcend the sense of mortality, all human beings seek to do   heroic acts.Seeking heroic acts is the central fact of human nature, as it   helps us to become a part of some thing eternal.Heroism is a way of defying death by means of achieving lasting value outside of one's transient self. From birth till death , every human being is  living to identify and pursue an immortality project till he dies.Becoming conscious of one's own method  of heroism is the primary self-analytic problems of life,Becker says. People yearn for fame , anticipate it ,hope that through it , they could create their own immortality."Immortality means being loved by  many anonymous people."It means living in the esteem of men yet unborn, for the works  that you have contributed to their life and betterment.
                    Two motives or urges  that seem to be part of creature consciousness and point in opposite directions.One is a powerful desire to identify with the cosmic process ,to merge with the rest of nature.On the other hand , is the desire to be unique, to stand out as something different.The heroic  striving  for a Beyond  gives self-validation , which is needed to live .This transference is due  to fear of death on one hand and  due to heroic attempt to assure self-expansion and connection to surrounding nature.
                                      Romantic love  is also a continuation of the causa-sui project (immortality project),it is also a lie that must fail.True heroic validation of one's life lies beyond sex, beyond the other("Thou"), beyond the private religion, beyond the consolations of others and of things of this world.People "tranquilise themselves with the trivial"- so they can lead normal lives.The essence of normality  is the refusal of  reality.In this sense,some kind of objective creativity is the only answer man has to the problem of life.
                   Otto Rank says: "With truth ,one cannot live.To be able to live,one needs illusions,not only outer illusions such as art,religion,philosophy, science and love afford, but inner illusions which first condition the outer(i.e. a secure  sense of one's active powers, and of being able to count on the powers of others).The more a man can take reality as truth, appearance as essence,the sounder , the better adjusted , the happier will he be . . . this constantly effective process of self-deceiving , pretending and blundering , is no psychopathological mechanism.". Life is possible only with illusions..When we talk about the need for illusion, we are not being cynical.On what level of illusion does one live?It depends on how much freedom , dignity , and hope a given illusion provides.These three things turn our minds to  creative living.                    
                        Human character is a vital lie.Man lives by lying to himself about himself and about the world.The failure to build dependable character defences allows the true nature of reality to appear to man. Anxiety is the result of the perception of the truth  of one's condition.Anxiety leads to possibility only by destroying the vital lie of character, the vital lie of cultural conditioning.
               Becker quotes   Ferenczi : " The  need to be subject  to someone remains as we grow up;only the part of the father is transferred to teachers , superiors, impressive personalities;the submissive loyalty to rulers that  is so wide-spread is also a transference of this sort". .Freud  provided the best insights ever into the psychology of leadership  in his great work "Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego".Men  abandon their egos to the leader's,identified with his power,try to function with him as an ideal.
      Becker finally quotes Tillich " Man  has to have courage to be himself, to stand on his feet, to face up to the eternal contradictions of the real world" .
                  This book has the power to change the way we look at life and the world.You will understand why people want  fame and immortality.I recommend you to read it.It is worthy of  your time.