Two evocative syllables.
The word elicits hushed tones, noir images and blurred boundaries.
It can be seductive and scary. And no matter how much we try to avoid it, we eventually collide. As Benjamin Franklin reminds us, “nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
Death is the great leveller.
We don’t honour it as in times past. Even our language conspires to soften the blow. When my mother died, the phrase “passed away” fucking pissed me off.
It still does.
The platitudes — “she’s in a better place … be strong … she’d want you to get on with it” — made me positively homicidal.
And yet we happily experience the taboo vicariously through popular culture. I love the show Dexter. I would often reflect upon this phenomenon: The protagonist is a serial killer who endears himself to us. Why? Perhaps we glimpse his humanity as he questions his psychopathology:
“Light cannot exist without darkness. Each has its purpose. And if there’s a purpose to my darkness, maybe it’s to bring some … balance to the world.”
These sentiments echo the mythology of Star Wars. The struggle between light and dark; good and evil; sacred and forbidden has been with us since time immemorial.
Anakin Skywalker is lauded as the one that will bring “balance” to the Force. Yet we know his redemption isn’t linear: “I do not fear the dark side as you do.” His decision to kill the Emperor as his dying son cries out for mercy touches something deep.
We all have a dark side.
As Carl Jung observes, “Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” The taboo permeates our lives on a fundamental level. My mother disliked lilies due to their association with death. And if I cast my mind back to her funeral, I’m still assaulted by their hideous stench.
My poem Fear explores the realms of sex and death — Eros and Thanatos. It was inspired by Angela Carter’s short story, The Bloody Chamber. Carter’s postmodern re-working of the fairytale Bluebeard is set on the Normandy island of Le Mont Saint-Michel. I was immediately struck by the myriad references to lilies. I could see them. Smell them. Death hung in the air.
The female protagonist is whisked away by her new husband, the Marquis, to an unknown future … which soon reveals its horrors as she disobeys her husband’s command to stay away from “a little room at the foot of the west tower.”
But, like Persephone who ate the pomegranate and Lot’s Wife who turned to witness Sodom’s fate, our heroine’s innate curiosity compels her exploration of dark recesses — a darkness she sees reflected in the mirror: “I sensed in myself a potentiality for corruption that took my breath away.”
Acknowledgement of that potentiality — of our potentiality — is the beginning of transformation and rebirth.