In the publication Body Bereft (2006b), Antjie Krog uncovers her battle with ageing, the degeneration of the body and the dehumanizing awareness that she is no longer in control of her body within the very demeaning awareness of mortality, dying and death. The overwhelming realization of dying and death imprints scars of woundedness in the very essence of one’s “soul” due to an acute realization of vulnerability and limitation. Being frail and growing old cause inflictions to our capacity to find meaning in life. The following intriguing question surfaces: But is the degeneration of the body merely about the dust of death and, therefore, a horrifying, fearsome and ugly prospective? To approach dying and death from a more meta-physical perspective (désir métaphysique), i.e., from a spiritual angle, opens up new options regarding an aesthetics of dying and death. In this sense, dying and death can also become an aesthetic yearning: Come o beautiful death! (J.S. Bach cantata). Taking into consideration that a human being does not possess an “immortal soul”, how can the option of a Christian and eschatological view on dying and death contribute to what can be called a doxology on the mortality of the grave? In the New Testament there is reference to the link between hope of resurrection and the condition of a “pneumatic body”. A very interesting perspective on an aesthetics of dying and death is offered by Dostoyevsky in his interpretation of John 2:1. His description of the death chamber of the old priest Zossima as a wedding chamber could be viewed as a hermeneutical key to a spiritual reframing of the ugliness of dying and death. Bodily degeneration could be reframed as the preparation for immortality. Thus, the importance of a doxology on dying and death due to the spiritual facticity that the “natural body” that is sown, is a prefiguration of the expected spiritual body (πνευματικόν/pneumatikon). Thus, the following anthropological proposition: Our being human is fundamentally shaped by a yearning for transcendence (homo transcendentalis) and the ontic tension between mortality and immortality. The theological argument is developed that despite bodily decay, dying and death should be approached from an eschatological perspective of wonderment ‒ a corpse as “germinable seed”. The notion that the perfect form and harmonious features of a naked human body already encapsulate the mystery of soulfulness and a metaphysical yearning for immortality, was magnificently captured and depicted by Michelangelo in his sculptures and fresco on the Last Judgment in the Sistine chapel.
Keywords: ageing; homo transcendentalis; beauty of dying and death; bodily degeneration; pneumatic body; spiritual aesthetics of dying, death and grave; theology of resurrection
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Verwondering ondanks verwonding. Tussen aftakeling (verganklikheid) en ontkieming (onverganklikheid) ‒ oor die spirituele estetika van ’n “pneumatiese liggaam” binne die knyptang van veroudering, sterwe, graf en dood
Featured image: Superficial anatomy of the shoulder and neck (recto) by Leonardo da Vinci; public domain; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leonardo_da_Vinci_-_Superficial_anatomy_of_the_shoulder_and_neck_(recto)_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg; used in accordance with the Wikimedia Commons licence agreement: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Commons:Licensing#Material_in_the_public_domain.