Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Necro-Eco: The Ecology of Death in Jim Crace's Being Dead

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Necro-Eco: The Ecology of Death in Jim Crace's Being Dead

Article excerpt

Blighted by rain, pecked at by gulls, and feasted upon by glucose-hungry blowflies and maggots, the putrefying bodies of two doctors of zoology in Jim Crace's Being Dead become a burgeoning locus point for the convergence of non-human agents during the six days they lay upon the lissom leaves that flourish on the beach of Baritone Bay. The consortium of species that congregate within and surround the dead bodies of Joseph and Celice enact a vital, animate process of interspecies participation and community that I define in this essay as a "necro-ecology." Advancing a post-mortem theory of being that interprets the life-death distinction through the vitalism of Gilles Deleuze (which views life as a vital continuum), I argue that Crace's necro-ecological narrative continually affirms the organic relations of decomposition as a radical mode or condition of being that extends beyond the moment of death itself. This approach utilizes the interactionist ontology of New Materialist scholarship and Karen Barad's concept of "agential realism" to analyze how an ecology of decomposition fortifies a new world of non-human material agency that challenges the humanist schema of life and death. In conceiving of this post-mortem literary landscape, Crace's necro-ecological narrative views being in the world as infinite and agential, which in turn creates possibilities for thinking and narrating beyond what Jacques Derrida describes as the "aporia" of death. Imagining what is impossible to think, Being Dead explores the capacity of the corpse to produce alternative ways of knowing (and unknowing) what it means to be dead.

In taking on a vitalist approach to the life-death distinction in Crace's novel, this essay diverges from the framework of finitude that grounds much of intellectual thought on the subject of human and animal death. This framework has been used for several purposes. A host of animal studies scholars from James Stanescu to Chloe Taylor and J.M. Coetzee, for instance, depend on a framework of finitude in order to advance a responsible and compassionate ethical paradigm that responds to the biopolitical (or thanatopolitical) state's violent and systematic slaughter of human, and especially non-human, animals. Other approaches to human and animal death--notably Derrida's The Animal That Therefore I Am and Cary Wolfe's critique of "double finitude"--emphasize the shared corporeal vulnerability and mortality of the human and animal, and in particular the human's own subjection to the "materiality and technicity of language that is always on the scene before we are, as a radically human precondition for our subjectivity" (Wolfe, "Human" 571). While these critiques make a valuable contribution to thinking through notions of grievability, ethical responsibility, and suffering, the framework of finitude nevertheless produces a number of problems. First, finitude depends on the notion that the subject is subjected to external (if not also malevolent) forces, which implies that life itself is ultimately weak, vulnerable, and easily assailable. Even further, finitude maintains a sharp division of the living from the dead as it interprets death as the definitive end of being. Thus embedded in a negative structure of loss, mourning, difference, and vulnerability, the subjected subject of the framework of finitude views life as finite, with death as the final terminus.

Examinations of Deleuze's vitalist philosophy, including those undertaken by Rosi Braidotti and Claire Colebrook, articulate how this negative conception of life comes to bear upon our understanding of subjectivity and being. Colebrook maintains, for example, that Judith Butler's "widely influential account of subjectivity as subjection" (Deleuze 109) places the bounded organism in a "relation of negation" through its submission to the heterosexual matrix (110). This negative relation is also present in Derridean deconstruction, Colebrook further argues, due to its negative emphasis on reiteration and repetition, which arises from the notion that death haunts or infects life (47). …

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