“Mortals are they who can experience death as death. Animals cannot do so. But animals cannot speak either. The essential relation between death and language flashes up before us, but remains still unthought.” — Martin Heidegger
A prince lies dying, having accomplished his vengeance, but being poisoned, he is slowly breathing his last. His best friend and witness to all the events is there, and he is commanded by his friend, by his prince, to speak. To tell his story, the tragedy of his life. But before his eyes shut, before he shuffles off his mortal coil he notes, “The rest is silence.” In so saying, he speaks his last and dies. There are no more words, words, words. There are no more possibilities. The story has been written.
That is, of course, the story of this mortal life, where language is always incomplete, fragmentary, elusive. Things are always in excess of language, and we always try to pin them down, to strap them to language, to bring them into a certain stillness — perhaps like the stillness of death. It is in the speaking, in the excess, where the living resides. In the silence between speakings, in the silence in words, there is the potential of life. The silence of death is the closure of these possibilities, the closure of being able to speak or to be silent between speakings. The rest is silence.
But we can say that we don’t experience our death. Death as the closure of possibilities lies as the ultimate impossibility in our experience. We don’t experience the moment of death, merely the last moment of life. The first moment of death always lies beyond our experience, beyond all and any of our possibilities. It is a silence which cannot speak, merely testify to an absence. The rest is silence.
How do we even speak than of our death? Can I speak of my death? If it lies beyond all possibilities, being the closure of all possibilities, it is impossible for me. I do not experience my death. Others may, but for me, it is an external event. I speak of it as an “as if”. It is as if I will fall asleep, as if I will pass into a dream, and who knows what kinds may come. I cannot say, for I speak an as if. All those who are dying do, and those who have died no longer speak. The rest is silence.
Is there hope? Or do we all pass into story and non-being the same way? Into silence, into the impossible that lies at the end of all possibilities? Is that the true and final closure? To have hope, to be again to speak after death, to be able to speak of death, there must be a word that endures. A word that enters into death and brings out life. A Word. The Word. On whom death no longer has any claim, on whom our hopes rest, because he speaks after death, beyond death. He speaks life, which calls into question the very idea that the rest is silence.