[lit-ideas] Death as a non-performative

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 16 Nov 2009 13:55:16 EST

As R. Paul notes, it is possible to conceive a similar argument to Norman  
Malcolm's Dreaming on dying.

The source would be Hamlet's suggestion:
        to die: to sleep, perchance to  _dream_.
Malcolm, a disciple of Witters, was intrigued by Witters's remark,
        "Death is not part of  life".
"But dreaming is!", he objected. In fact, R. E. M. is a proof that Hamlet  
was exaggerating: to die is like _to dream_ but while we dream we are alive 
(and  move the eyes -- dogs too).
Now, 'dream' cannot be used in the future,
      "Tomorrow I will dream of my mother".
It is a non-performative in the future. In the past it is a performative,  
"I dreamed that p" (I dreamed that the cat is on the mat).
This representational character of 'dreaming' ("that the cat is on the  
mat") is absent, curiously, in the use of the verb 'to die'. "To die that the  
cat is on the mat" is hyperbolic. One may _die_ *for* a cup of tea (but not 
that  he longs fatally for a cup of tea).
The use of 'contextual clues' is important in the pragmatics of dying.  
Consider Rupert Brooke,
    "If I should die, think only this of me,
           that there is  forever England"
--- Surely most humans _do_ die. Rupert Brooke, granted, was idolised by  
his followers, and perhaps he thought he would be 'timeless' or eternal -- 
but  he wasn't. He was beaten by a mosquito in Italy and died. (Or Greece, or  
---- So, the 'explicature' would be:
        If I SHOULD DIE before too  long,
            think  only this of me:
           that there is  forever England.
But NOT otherrwise. I.e. should he NOT die, England is not forever. To  
think that some Brits take R. Brooke as a patriotic poet irritates me.
In "Personal Identity", Grice considers:
   "I was hit by a ball"
"Surely it's best to understand the "I" in that type of sentences as "My  
body"". In other uses, "I" stands for 'psycho-somatic unit' ("She is a bore 
(to  listen to and to look at)"), sometimes only psychic ("I dreamed I dwelt 
in  marble halls").
In the case of "die", the argument alla Malcolm combines the subtlety of  
Grice's analysis of 'I' as a psychic event of mnemonic units. 
   "If I (Rupert Brooke) should die
          before too  long,
        think only this of me,
       that there is forever England."
J. L. Speranza, Bordighera

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