A Death Full of Gods: The Arcane Link between Beauty and Death in the Philosophy of 'Socrates' and Shankaracharya

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Abstract: The present paper seeks to explore the emotional structures that make human beings afraid of death in solitude, the feelings that necessitate the imagining of a peopled death, a death accompanied by fellow humans, gods, or God. In order to do this I take up the works of two great thinkers of the East and the West, and place them on a comparativist spectrum. The discussion covers many areas, including the polytheistic imaginations of ancient Greece and eighth century India, in the context of the complex interface of beauty and death in the thought of Shankaracharya, the great proponent of Advaita Vedanta in India, and Socrates, who, in the Platonic dialogues, presents a monism Shankara could have recognized well. I try to investigate the tension between decay and beauty which leads these philosophers towards a strict ascetic impulse. At the same time, I also argue that neither of them could exclude the beauty of this world altogether from their thought. Finally, I explore the ways in which we can imagine a beauty greater than death that does not let us logocentrically negate death but rather encompasses it. Rather than taking death as the closure of all possible beauty, as ultimate nothingness, can we envisage a beauty that drowns death in the sea of kalon envisioned by Diotima in the Symposium, or in the saundaryalahari, the flood of majestic beauty radiated by Shankaracharya’s Goddess? To explore these areas and to understand the interconnected issues of plurality, impermanence, beauty and truth, I draw on the twentieth century philosophers like Iris Murdoch and Sri Aurobindo as well as Socrates and Shankara. This paper finally embarks on an imaginative journey towards a peopled or crowded death, where gods or divinized humans accompany the dying person in the process of death as his/her “necessary others”(a la Adriana Cavarero). Author’s bio-note: Anway Mukhopadhyay is a doctoral research scholar at the Department of English, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India. He is the author of Do You Love Me, Master?, The Place of Eros in the Master Slave Dialectic(Saarbrucken, Germany: Lambert Academic Publishing, 2010),and Bloom Again in Autumn, The Move towards an Empathetic Temporality in Yuri Medvedev’s “The Bride’s Room” (Munich: Grin Verlag, 2012) and has been published in reputed international journals in India, the USA and Australia. His areas of interest include Indian and Western philosophy, gender and literary and cultural theory. His current research centres round the polyvalent nuances of ‘planetary’ feminisms in our time. Email id: anwaymukhopadhyay@gmail.com, anwaymukhopadhyay@ymail.com
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Archival date: 2015-11-21
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