Life Insurance: A Corruption of Sacred Memory between the dead and the dying (By Charlie Clarke)

What does it mean to insure ones life? To place a commercial figure in which ones relatives are compensated for a lost other, a lost other who’s otherness is generally an essential part of their being. There are two moments in this puzzle; there is the one who is no more and there are those who ‘benefit’ from the firsts absence. Ontologically speaking, life insurance opens up a structure of presence and absence within the overarching ideology of ‘commercial exchange’. Consequently the reverse must occur; within the relation of presence/absence a structure of ‘commercial exchange’ is enforced. Because this necessarily ‘capitalist’ procedure presents nothing new in the way of a ‘Marxist’ critique, I will examine its relation to certain other ideas with a pre-supposed sympathy for such a critique. I will therefore restrain from undergoing an ontological critique of Marxism and instead assume the licence to dither between philosophies, however inconsistent such a dithering may be.

My focal question will be thus: To what extent does life insurance as an act, corrupt and determine the access to and desire for, a suitable memory of the other?

What does life insurance mean for Dasein? On first glance one might be surprised to note the possibility of a certain authenticity associated with the act; for it would seem obvious that the primary motivation for insurance stems from an acceptance and comprehension of ones own death. But this is a perverse simplification. If such an act constituted authenticity then anything that illuminates our lack of immortality would provide us with the ‘silence’ and ‘resolution’ towards the ‘nothing’. Heidegger wants more from us, this is obvious. Finitude is necessarily more then the opposite of the infinite or the immortal. The infinite is a diversion from being, within the infinite is hidden the finite, not as its opposite but as its possibility. It is here that Heidegger breaks from Hegel: The infinite discovers its truth in finitude, there is no vice versa. Life insurance is not an acceptance nor is it a comprehension of death, and if it is, it is an acceptance of a death clustered with beings, a death still immersed in the world of things and a death provoked by a misconception of finitude.

In truth Heidegger will have little to say on the matter of life insurance. As an act towards death, a being-towards-death, life insurance is an inauthentic diversion from true death, death as the final possibility among possibilities. Life insurance does nothing but anaesthetise one from the chaotic thought of ‘nothing’. But in the end this is an irrelevance. What is preventing us from taking out life insurance whilst Dasein ‘resolutely’ ‘comprehends’ finitude in ‘silence’? Nothing….

The problem is one of relation. The problematic relation exists at the level of ontic death as opposed to authentic death. Death is beyond analogy, i.e. in the death of another one understands nothing of ones own death. Authentic death is the realisation that death is my absolute possibility; the magnitude and affect of this possibility prohibits representation and remains original. Ontologically there can be no relation between my death and the death of the other. But as I stated earlier, life insurance as an act possesses two explicit moments: The ‘gift’ from absence and the reception in presence. Death is therefore not the final possibility amongst possibilities. We always open up further possibilities when we die, i.e. in the fulfilment of our final possibility we disturb our possibilities within the ‘world’ we leave behind. Philosophically this is not a problem for Heidegger; I am swaying from his concerns. The possibilities that I leave behind through my exit from the ‘world’ are no longer possibilities for Dasein because Dasein is no longer there.

What I have stated above is merely a negative account of Heideggerian thought in relation to death. I do think these problems undermine Heidegger’s notion of being-towards-death completely. All they do is demonstrate the limit of considering death in the singular.

My thesis is that death is not one dimensional. Although it does present us with the understanding of singularity, it also offers up an experience of inter-subjectivity. There is an authentic experience of death in the death of the other. This ‘authentic’ experience occurs on the terrain of memory. Life insurance is an act that distorts this terrain, if not exclusively then at least with particular control and determination.

[Charlie will follow this post up with some more thoughts on life insurance, death and memory soon. I will respond to this myself with a post called (maybe something like) ‘Life Insurance: Jack-pot death’. I am very happy that Charlie is now writing for AvoidingTheVoid and that some fruitful philosophy can be achieved between us]


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