The Nature of Death and the Death of Nature: The Limit Experience of Eva Saulitis
Aaron Kerr, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Philosophy, Gannon University College of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences
Death has always been the catalyst for speculative philosophy, from Epicurus (341-270) to Montaigne (1533-1592) to Schopenhauer (1788-1860). The event of death makes us all philosophers, especially when faced with the terrible interruption of the loss of a loved one, or the realization of the immanence of our own demise. In this way, reflection on death is inevitably a subjective inquiry leading to loneliness or a deeper inner solitude. However, in such speculation, we can also broaden our scope and draw deeper contextual meaning; we undergo lament and concurrently a prescient social and cultural analysis. Drawing on the work of poet and marine biologist Eva Saulitis (1964-2016), this paper will provide first-hand narratives from Saulitis’ writing on both nature and her own life with cancer. In undergoing cancer treatments while dying, and analyzing the societal actions which led to ecological disaster, Saulitis connects ars- moriendi and deep ecology; and conversely, the nature of disease and the poisoning of nature. Saulitis brings together the causes of both human death and ecocide. In doing so, she incisively critiques and connects the bio-medical presumptions of vitalism and the instrumental reason which has commodified nature. Thus, Saulitis suggests that our culture has transgressed the limits of finitude, chronically perpetuating the dangerous amplification of the desire to control, fix and instrumentalize what can only be undergone, healed and entered into. The interior and mysterious aspects of dying, in concert with rhythms of ecology, provide avenues for speculation in order that death and life become infused with wonder and receptivity. Ultimately, Saulitis renews and interrogates the moral question of dying well which ironically evinces a freedom to explore human meaning. This process in faith development is implicit in most faith traditions, and explicitly promoted by Christianity. By examining death in nature poetically, scientifically and phenomenologically, Saulitis invites us to renew a life-long process of illumination: the confrontation with our own death, and learning how to die.