Baldwin And The Cook

The dying King Baldwin I of Jerusalem told his cook, “On this subject, as you love me, or as you used to love me when I was alive and well, so should you keep faith with me when I am dead. Disembowel me with the knife; rub me inside and outside especially with salt; fill my eyes, nostrils, ears and mouth generously; and be sure to take me back with the rest.” Here the first person singular runs the gamut of the ambiguities. “As you love me” is a reasonable thing to say when you are still alive; but then Baldwin anticipates his death by speaking as if it has already happened; there is undoubtedly something odd about a living man saying, “When I was alive”. Then clearly the “me” whom the cook used to love and the “me” who is to be disembowelled and taken back, pickled in salt, to my capital, cannot be the same entity.

And yet it is hard to say what Baldwin ought to have said to do justice to the facts of the matter, even disregarding his belief in personal immortality; for the Christian soul has nothing much to do with the pickling of a disembowelled corpse for transport in the hot sun of a Palestinian summer. The problem does not lie here at all, and the ecclesiastic-turned-king Baldwin would probably have used the same words to the cook even if he had been that rare bird, the medieval materialist atheist. After all, as the account of Albert of Aachen elsewhere makes clear, the point of smuggling his body through enemy lines and burying it next to his brother’s was more political than personal. No, the problem is with natural language: that we use the same personal pronoun about ourselves when we are alive and when we are dead.

Alas, now I have done the same thing myself; we can die but after we have done so, we cannot “be” dead. For after we have died, there is no “us” to be anything at all, including dead. Death is not a contingent state of “us” like being hungry or horny. Death is not a state at all, but a process, and after the process has run its course there is nobody left to be in a state. I am not sure even that “we have died” is allowable, as it suggests a present entity that has acted or undergone an action in the past. Nor could I have properly written “after our deaths”, because following this event there are no subjects for the relevant possessive.

Posted on May 8, 2009 at 20:31 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: THE LONGEST CON, Religion And Conceptual Muddle

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