the persistence of bodies

by Andrea Elizabeth

I am currently listening to Dostoevsky’s Idiot on Audible, and the Prince just described the author’s semi autobiographical near execution. People like to watch executions probably because it is a foreknown, prepared for, timed, observable death. What amazes me is how the person’s physiognomy is relatively unchanged in the face of, and Dostoevsky even says the word, “destruction”. We believe death is destruction, but yet the body persists, and Christians believe the soul does as well. Their separation isn’t even complete as relics attest.

I remember the 24 hours after I was told my 7 month old gestation baby was dead, before he was born. My impression was that a dead baby is a formless blob. I unconsciously expected him to be indistinguishable as a person when he was born. My shock at his perfection was profound.

Even guillotine beheaded heads have a certain peaceful, human repose about them. The human body is very persistent. Ask any murderer who tries to hide a body. Bodies keep asserting themselves. In Captain Fantastic, they plan to burn a body in a funeral pyre with the idea of flushing the finely ground ashes down the toilet. That would not work. It takes way more heat to disintegrate a body than occurs in an open pyre. Even cremated bodies have bone fragments in them. The amount of energy it takes to obliterate a body is on a Hiroshima, 9/11 scale.

Yet I am still shocked that a person involuntarily facing death still looks sort of normal. I expect the scariest, profoundest thing, next to a birth, where one’s life will cease would have more of an effect than trembling. How is it that these people can walk up a gallows or even kneel before ISIS at all? Why don’t they faint or involuntarily contort their faces grotesquely? Their fear removes expression so that they look almost resigned. To submit to such a fate probably does include a feeling of utter powerlessness. Still, I expect one to have to be dragged kicking and screaming as I did before my 5 year old shots.

It’s not like all people facing execution believe they’re going to heaven. For all they know they will either cease to exist, even though their body potentially wont ever, or go to hell if they are guilty of some mortal sin. Kicking and screaming should be the order. What are they going to do to you if you do kick and scream, kill you?

“Do not go gentle into that good night.”

But kicking and screaming is an indication that destruction is imminent. And that’s why it still surprises me that someone contorted with all their might and held down still looks like a normal human after succumbing, though silenced and stilled.