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The Death Within

By Nicholas Brady

The death is always in me. Within me is the fact of death that cannot be transcended.

The death within is not the property of the flesh, but the knowledge of the flesh’s necessary end. We do not know what this death entails, it remains a mystery that forms us. This mystery touches as we attempt to grasp it. We tremble at the touch of the death within. This mutual touching is our self. This touch is something different than the fact of death: it is our relation to the death as fact within us.

If your breathing is stopped, you feel pain and panic creep into your brain. This pain is information, one message being the possibility of your end. Pain is also information about the organization of your flesh in abeyance of the death within — how it resists and clings to life. Pain may be the language of the death within, but we cannot say that for sure. Either way, we learn the call, how pain warns us of the horizons of life. The relation to death is how we make sense of the end of sensation as we have always known it. This relation is also the death within reaching out to us, creating us without our control. Our self is this relation to death. We develop our relation to the death within as it devastates us with its inevitability. We are born and we die from this obliteration of the fantasy of self-mastery.

So the relation to the death within is anything but inevitable or reductive, even if death itself is inevitable. The relation can be and is taught. There is no singular teacher or class, even if there is teaching. The relation of death envelopes us, forming us in the wake. The formation of self is inextricably bound in relation to the death within. The crudest form of power is take control over other’s relation to death. The most direct and simplest way is to take control over death’s blossoming. With direct relations of force, the sensuality of pain and death become a means of taking and producing power.

Antiblackness is the organized theft of the death within black flesh. What the master was buying at the coffle was not simply or necessarily our life, but a deed giving him right over the death within us. The ledgers and accounting books calculated the amount of lifeforce that could be squeezed from the slave up to its demise, speculating on the value produced from the breathing dead. The documentation is paper thin, but the relation to death is concrete and felt. Mastery is a parasitic relation to the death within our flesh. The blossoming of death within us is the slave relation coming to fruition, the harvest of his position in the world. The capacity to kill black flesh is the bedrock of mastery. The liberal individual endowed with rights and recognition is nothing more than a fantasy made from the blossoms of the death within us. Even without the material ownership of black flesh, the fantasy is enough.

Mastery names not only a capacity then, but a social network of parasites. The death within us is a socially owned object — a fantasy to speculate and wager on. Our captivity is not chains and cages necessarily, but the structurally guaranteed vulnerability to this fantasy. We cannot escape what is put at stake by the worlds organized around the social fantasy of mastery. The death within is inescapable, we carry it with us wherever we go. So, the anti-black world appears wherever the social fantasy of mastery has taken root. Wherever they stand their ground or take the land. We cannot get rid of the thing they must have. We cannot transcend this death within. We can abandon each other, but not the death within. We can run away from individual masters, but not the social network of anti-black mastery. If our flesh is the field, this structure is an arrangement of flesh. Plantation, colony, segregation, ghetto, prison, university, nation, globe. We are held captive in a network of parasitic arrangements.

Their economies alchemize our death within into new financial instruments and legal identities, yet the experience and relation to death multiplies and moves into many directions at once. Fungibility provides the potential rearticulation of ancestry at the very site of death. How do we come to belong in death when they only cared for us to belong to death, to them?

The community of those who live beyond the horizons of death give psychic home to those who bear death as a mark in life. The community of ancestors, who touch us from the limits of life. Those who were fungible objects to the world are our ancestors, in a blackened world where life and death name a site of entanglement and bond. We share this vulnerability to objectification. We discover we are objects among other objects, yet we know that objects relate to each other. In the way that death touches me, I can feel a piece of how our ancestors felt and lived, the audacity and abundance of living black. The repetition carries a mark we come to recognize as home. I can sense them in the forms of our lives. How we create joy in and against zones of disposability. This death within me is not only a mark I carry, it is a mark that makes me an ancestor to come. Their experience of this relation to death connects us in this horizon of endless dying.The death that will make me an ancestor made them mine.

This sociality of death is the underside of social death, an unwanted clarification in the term itself. Unwanted by those who wrote on this concept before, maybe, yet there is much more to say than the fact of death. The way death is felt, sensed, known, related to, and fought over gives us other ways to think about the sociality of death and the dynamics of terror that connect our present to other timespaces.

Out of love for those who came before who are now without bodies, we hope to form a critical memory and consciousness in the field of endless dying. May we remain present, feeling, and questioning in the killing fields of the modern world system. Mackala Lacy’s words sound a particular clear note of care on this when she writes,

We are held in the tongues of our descendants, in the hands red from clapping, the feet calloused from dancing, the candles burned to the wick on the altar. We are held in ink, in tears, in blood, and in song. Death is a part of Life, and especially and particularly Black Life. If we forget that we are immortal, kept alive by the memory and honoring from those surviving us, we lose our power. We lose multigenerational wisdom. We lose our family. We lose our names. We lose ourselves.

May we never forget this death that remains within us.

“The struggle is eternal. The tribe increases. Somebody else carries on.” -Ella Baker


Nicholas Brady is a black writer from Baltimore and a doctoral candidate in the Culture and Theory Program at University of California, Irvine where he is working on a political and rhetorical theory of black rioting

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