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The Denial of Death is a psychology/philosophy work written by Ernest Becker and published in 1973. It was awarded the Pulitzer prize for general non-fiction in 1974, two months after the author's death. The book builds largely on the works of S?ren Kierkegaard, Sigmund Freud, and one of Freud's colleagues, Otto Rank.
The basic premise of The Denial of Death is that human civilization is ultimately an elaborate, symbolic defense mechanism against the knowledge of our mortality, which in turn acts as the emotional and intellectual response to our basic survival mechanism. Becker argues that a basic duality in human life exists between the physical world of objects and a symbolic world of human meaning. Thus, since man has a dualistic nature consisting of a physical self and a symbolic self, man is able to transcend the dilemma of mortality through heroism, a concept involving his symbolic half. By embarking on what Becker refers to as an "immortality project" (or causa sui), in which he creates or becomes part of something which he feels will outlast him, man feels he has "become" heroic and, henceforth, part of something eternal; something that will never die, compared to his physical body that will die one day. This, in turn, gives man the feeling that his life has meaning; a purpose; significance in the grand scheme of things.
From this premise, mental illness is most insightfully extrapolated as a bogging down in one's hero system(s). When someone is experiencing depression, their causa sui (or heroism project) is failing, and they are being consistently reminded of their mortality and insignificance as a result. Schizophrenia is a step further than depression in which one's causa sui is falling apart, making it impossible to engender sufficient defense mechanisms against their mortality; henceforth, the schizophrenic has to create their own reality or "world" in which they are better heroes. Becker argues that the conflict between immortality projects which contradict each other (particularly in religion) is the wellspring for the destruction and misery in our world caused by wars, bigotry, genocide, racism, nationalism, and so forth, since an immortality project which contradicts others indirectly suggests that the others are wrong.
Another theme running throughout the book is that humanity's traditional "hero-systems" i.e. religion, are no longer convincing in the age of reason; science is attempting to solve the problem of man, something that Becker feels it can never do. The book states that we need new convincing "illusions" that enable us to feel heroic in the grand scheme of things, i.e. immortal. Becker, however, does not provide any definitive answer, mainly because he believes that there is no perfect solution. Instead, he hopes that gradual realization of man's innate motivations, namely death, can help to bring about a better world.
00. Dedication + Forward + Preface.mp3
01. Introduction - Human Nature and the Heroic.mp3
02. The Terror of Death.mp3
03. The Recasting of Some Basic Psychoanalytic Ideas.mp3
04. Human Character as a Vital Lie.mp3
05. The Psychoanalyst Kierkegaard.mp3
06. The Problem of Freud's Character.mp3
07. The Spell Cast by Persons - The Nexus of Unfreedom.mp3
08. Otto Rank and the Closure of Psychoanalysis on Kierkegaard.mp3
09. The Present Outcome of Psychoanalysis.mp3
10. A General View of Mental Illness.mp3
11. Psychology and Religion - What Is the Heroic Individual.mp3
5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond brilliant, absolutely unforgettable masterpiece,
"The Denial of Death" is one of the most brilliant books I've ever read, without a doubt. It is a work of absolute passion and brilliance, and it is obviously Becker's 'magnum opus', the product of a lifetime's worth of study and reflection on the mystery and underlying meaning of human existence. First, Becker courageously faces what he knows to be true: that human culture and everyday activitity is a 'frantic sedative' of sorts and is not at all what it appears to be. Second, he admits that the human condition is in some ways terrifying and maddeningly paradoxical, in that human beings are quite vulnerable animals unfortunate enough to have the capacity to reflect on their horrid fate:death. He has no illusions about what so called 'neurosis' actually is--Becker knows that the people society call 'neurotic' or 'weird' are precisely those who have a deeper philosophical insight into the nearly paralyzing fundamental questions of human existence. His 'answers', (although as Sam Keen puts it, they are really only palliative solutions) are mostly pragmatic in nature and require what Kierkegaard (to whom a chapter is devoted)termed 'the leap of faith'. The only consolation Becker offers, really, is the acknowledgment that these agonizing ultimate questions are what all the great souls in the history of man (Tolstoy, Peguy, Nietzsche are just a few of those mentioned), have struggled with. The book's reputation as being depressing and heavy handed is not entirely unjustified, but this in no way detracts from its beauty or undeniable importance. Sometimes chilling, but nonetheless a supreme work of perfection, beauty, and authenticity.