Mourning, or: The loss of the ability to say what is lost

by Arran James

To have a friend, to look at him, to follow him with your eyes, to admire him in friendship, is to know in a more intense way, already injured, always insistent, and more and more unforgettable, that one of the two of you will inevitably see the other die. One of us, each says to himself, the day will come when one of the two of us will see himself no longer seeing the other…. That is the … infinitely small tear, which the mourning of friends passes through and endures even before death….
-Jacques Derrida. 2001. The Work of Mourning. p.107.

This post is born of death. It is born of a particular death. All deaths are particular deaths. It is the death of someone I was once, and only very briefly, close to. For that person, I was probably too close. I’m not going to write about the person much in this post. Nor am I going to write a theoretician’s approach to death. This post is a work of mourning that fails to be a work of mourning. Death doesn’t always come to us as a surprise, and sometimes the person that has died had already made their exodus from the territory of our life. Yet there is always the place once occupied: the empty memories, the outline of receded possibilities, the ghost of relation. What is it to “lose” what was not possessed, what was already lost? To make absent an absence. There is a sense of finality. There is a sense of senselessness. The inoperative capacity for grief.

Of this death, I felt I had a foresight. I saw this coming as clearly as one sees the sun in the sky at noon. There were no clouds to occlude this death. I felt its radiation. I was tan with certainty. There is no vindication in the “precognition” of this death. There is no sense of having been right. For the most part there has been no great passion at all…moments maybe of weirdness…moments of being held close to the breast of the uncanny. Someone you knew is gone. More than that: Someone you knew is not. The passage into in-existence is a return and a liberation. Why should we mourn? But this sense of having tasted this death well in advance of its realisation. It is as if you can be a surrogate for someone else’s being towards death. It is as if the burden of responsibility fell to you. I catch myself asking the question: what should I have done? Its too late for that. Does the moment of responsibility always come too late? It is something we have to look backwards for, to negotiate after the fact…one of our most cherished delusions. We are in love with our delusions. We are in love with them even when we hate them. I mean this literally. Perhaps the highest respect we can pay our delusions is to demolition them. So I stand in that position, with a sense of impossible responsibility and a knowledge that no one is responsible for what is impossible.

I say I know this death but the official word is no body knows it. “Unexplained”. A body is vulnerable. This is the only explanation, everything besides is a matter of detail…of making sure there is a story to be told. I mourned once for the loss; there is nothing to be mourned in the death. Or is this exactly my way of mourning? Being unable to name a feeling, to sense a sense, to relate in a clear and distinct manner to this death. I am not interested in making generalisations about mourning. Every death is singular, every work of mourning the same. This is my work of mourning: being unable to grasp in thought or feeling exactly what it is that has finally been lost.

It is not as if an “I” exists independently over here and then simply loses a “you” over there, especially if the attachment to “you” is part of what composes who “I” am. If I lose you, under these conditions, then I not only mourn the loss, but I become inscrutable to myself. – Judith Butler. 2006. Precarious Life. p.23.

In the death of a dying, who exactly has died? What exactly has been lost? The ability to say what is lost is, itself, also what is lost.