For a recent class project, we were told to write about our favourite word. I turned in a short write-up called: 'Litera Scripta Manet', The Written Word Remains. It all begins with Philip Larkin and his masterful Aubade:
This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.
And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.
- Aubade, by Philip Larkin
The intense fear of the nothingness which is sure to succeed death has to the primary drivers behind much of art. As eternal life is tedious, eternal oblivion is terrifying. It is from the realisation that time is limited that the fanatical obsession of artists with their art arises. They burn the candle at both ends and find, as the late Christopher Hitchens said, that it gives a lovely light. Art is an act of rebellion against mortality.
As such, If art is to supersede death, Writing is not just for the present. I think the Malayalam word for 'Alphabet' which is 'Aksharam'(അക്ഷരം) demonstrates this clearly. 'Sharam' means 'to perish, or be destroyed'. 'Aksharam' is 'that which shall never perish' and by extension 'that which shall remain'. Writing is not for the present, but much more significantly, for the future past. Our fear of being forgotten leads us to search for a place in the memories of the future, and cliched as it is, to immortality through our work.
All we can hope for is a place in the future past of memory, and as survivors of history, try to convert an intense fear of death into a fervent love for life.