death fetish

Yesterday morning I came close to crying because I remembered a fond, long-lost item of clothing. A dark blue dress with tiny stars all over it. Spaghetti straps, waist tie, floor length. Hippie wear. I wore it a lot the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. I used to believe only good things happened to me when I had it on. It made me very sad to recall it now — along with the recollection came a certain feeling I as a grownup no longer can admit to. Nonsense and anticipation. The dress was a fetish.

I’m trying to figure out if there’s a way to talk about death without treating it like a fetish. No one knows what happens after we die. If fetishes are processes by which causality is inferred from desire as opposed to reason — Wendy Chun’s definition — I don’t think we can. There’s no way to be reasonable about death and causality. Who among us can say we don’t have some desire with respect to death’s causes and effects? Desire to ward it off, desire to go to Heaven, desire for a nice death.

To talk about death is always to express a fetish. But because death is always constructed by desire, because the thinking of death is always a function of wishing, the fetish is hardly detectable.

Andrei Tarkovsky may have come closest to de-fetishizing death when he said that it’s meaningless. But that’s still a guess.

A culture deeply interested in death is one in need of innocent or inconsequential fetishes. Our own death-obsessed culture is one example. Mediatization lets the fetish creep out everywhere. Death and warfare emanate from every screen. That’s been true at least as long as I’ve been alive; one of my earliest memories is watching the Bosnian war on TV. We indulge an irrational part of ourselves with every dead body we see.

In Germany I bought a garnet ring from a metaphysical shop. I imagine that the ring brought me months’ worth of bad luck. I stopped wearing it two weeks ago and haven’t had a shitty day since. I know this isn’t real. Correlation as causation is so obviously a function of desire in this case. I think an unreasonable thought every time I almost wear it and then think, no, better not.

Genesis — birth — is a fetish too, but most of us care more about the future than the past. The unknowability of how and why we got here is a much less interesting riddle than where we’re going and why we have to die.

Prometheus and Hades have a stronghold on the mind. But I try to care more about the mysteries of the everyday than the big stuff. Like I want to know where that dress went, and although it’s really pretty I won’t wear that ring again.