Thursday, 15 January 2015

The unbearable lightness of death

Maus' grandfather in 2012
c Jenne Bleijenburg
- Can i fetch him?
- Who?
- Grandpa. In the picture.
- Grandpa is dead, Maus.
- Grandpa is not dead.
- Oh yes, he is dead.
- But I could go into this picture there and fetch him?
- No. You cannot enter a picture.
- Yes. I can! And then grandpa will put on his glasses and take his long long legs and walk on home.

- Grandpa cannot walk anymore, Maus.
- And he will bake me a chocolate-cake.
- Grandpa cannot bake no cakes anymore for anyone, Maus. Not even for you.
- Say:"Yes, you may go and fetch grandpa, boy."
- You may fetch him, but you cannot fetch him.
- Shut your face up!

c Jenne Bleijenburg

There is something heartbreaking in his misunderstanding, hopeful smile when he talks about his grandfather. His grandfather, my father, died in the spring of 2013. And my father was almost annoyingly fond of his grandsons. So they had a very close relationship.

Extensions in a realm of otherness
Maus does not understand the concept of death. I imagine that this misunderstanding, or the source of this misunderstanding, is the same as why he does not seem to know that we cannot feel what he feels. That we do not know what he is thinking, or feeling.

- Will it stop?
- What? What stops?
- This pain.
- What pain? Do you have pain.
- Yes. Will it stop? Say: "Yes Maus, it will stop."
- Where do you have pain? Did you hurt yourself?
- If I put water on it, will it stop? Can you say: "Stop!"

The world is an oyster to him. It seems connected to him on every level. We, me, his mother and his brothers, are not really different persons. We are like attributes of himself. Extensions in a realm of otherness.
I think that is why he is incapable of imagining the death, the NOT being of his grandfather. Simply because he himself is, and his grandfather was. And still walks around in his memory.

I will cut off your head
c Jenne Bleijenburg
Death and the other minds
This connection on every level also works the other way around, because he does not believe that there are feelings that he himself does not feel. And of course, in reality there is a disconnection. We need a theory of mind about 'the others'.  But Maus does not fully acknowledge the pain of the others. When playing with his brothers we have to interfere a lot when one of them is crying: "You are hurting me Maus. Stop!" But Maus does not stop. The sounds they make seem funny to him.

Up a tree
He's learning though, we really try to make him aware of that. For when he grows up, living  in a world without that ability will surely get him into a lot of trouble. We try to learn him how to imagine the pain and the emotions, of others.
"Listen, he says stop."
[Remind me to write something about this two wonderful brothers at a later time.]

Afraid of heights
But it is hard. It's like trying to teach a fish how to build a nest in the top of a tree. He does not seem to have the innate empathy my others boys do.

It's because the mirror neurons don't work that well,  they say. Although that makes sense to me, on a representational level, like the understanding of emotions of others, on the other hand he is quite a good mimic. Which need the same neurons I suppose. So I am not sure as how and where to place this knowledge in the context of his behavior.

Maus and the other minds
When I try to imagine how it is to be Maus, it must be something like being in the world and being the world itself and being something outside the world at the same time. It is this being the world itself state of mind that we miss. It must be like Spinoza's god. The world is a part of him, and not the other way around. But there is something incomprehensibly unapproachable and disconnected about this panentheistic god. And that must be why he is navigating in such a totally different way through his live, compared to his brothers. Being connected and lonely at the same time.
I am just looking for metaphors I realize, trying to understand what it is to be Maus. And I think it must be approaching a quote of Rabbi Moses Cordovero:
"He is found in all things, and all things are found in Him, and there is nothing devoid of His divinity, heaven forfend. Everything is in Him, and He is in everything and beyond everything, and there is nothing beside Him"

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