This is a helpful starting point.
I had already spent last weekend at the ‘Southbank Death Festival for the Living’. A curious way of naming the Festival I thought, as I turned up on Saturday at 10.30am to join a large expectant crowd of about five hundred people in the Royal Festival Hall (Level 2). However, I had been looking forward to the two day programme, which was packed full with events that seemed to cover most of the cultural, the contextual, and the critical aspects, but I did not know what else to expect. The bits I liked best were the ‘Before I Die’ installation, which was a smooth black wall on which we (well, actually other people… it was full up) were able to chalk our ideas, and then down on Level 1 some large rectangular boards that were works (of art?) in progress, on which we (yes, I got to do this) were able to chalk/draw little circles, one for birth and one for death, and then add a remembered name (or names) on a third board in coloured crayons of our choice.
There was also the ‘Death Café’ on Level 3 at the Festival, which sounded like fun and somewhere everybody should try going to sometime. However, surprisingly it was only open for one hour during each day during the Festival, and there were only thirty chairs. In other words, there wasn’t room for everybody, which couldn’t be right. In fact there was hardly room for anybody since the thirty lucky punters who got there first stayed for the full hour (it looked like group therapy to me, and there wasn’t any coffee to be seen anywhere although the free chocolate cake on offer looked good).
Overall it wasn’t the nobler journey into the Natural History of Dying I had been hoping for, but then perhaps I have been walking in the company of Walter Benjamin and Max Sebald for too long and have unrealistic expectations.
An irreversible insufficient supply of oxygen is a good definition of dying. Patch Adams (Gesundheit!) said it more or less the same, but then continued with this very important sentence, “Everything else is living”.
A Natural History of Dying? At one level it is personal, and at another level it is political. About endings; both personal and political being finite. One day I will die (obvious!). One day the United Kingdom will die too (Why does that seem surprising?). Should it happen to take place as a result of the 2014 Referendum for Scotland…
…But here my personal and political minded selves get muddled up. Post 2014 and a dissolution of Ukania, would either half of my balkinised name be adequate for the other, or would the separation of the states of England and Scotland have to be accompanied by a similar cancelling of the union between Mackay and James? Stateless, and reduced to the hyphen between the two names, not permitted entry to either place, somehow caught in between, I am brought to another stop.
Move along, please sir, there is no loitering around allowed here.