The Language of Skulls

medieval memento mri

Over time we have lost some of the sounds which skulls once stood for. These sounds are completely out of our conversation, which may surprise. We are used to thinking of ourselves as an entirely-present group of creatures, in permanent possession of any item which could have at any time be called a human’s possession—this is of course insane. We are neither a single aging body nor inheritors. It is possible to lose things.

Once the image of the skull meant:

Your own face

– You will be as I am now (repent!)

– You will be as I am now (celebrate!)

– You will be as I am now (this is the case)

– This is your true self ultimately

– This is your true self immediately

The nature of the phenomenal place or item where the image of the skull is located

– This place will cause your death

– This is a place to inter the dead / this is a place for the dead

– This place belongs to death / to the dead

– This thing is like death

– This thing causes death

– This is a harmful thing

– This is an evil thing

The nature of the one where the skull is located (this one is often an artwork of a transcendentally absent one, like a god)

– This entity has the actual attendants of death (time, change, temporality)

– This entity has the sentimental attendants of death (fear, wildness, cruelty, irresistibility)

– This entity has mastery over death

– This entity is Death

A statement made by the one who bears the skull

– I will cause your death

– I wish your death

– I am able to cause your death

– I have the actual attendants of death (time, change, temporality)

– I have the sentimental attendants of death (fear, wildness, cruelty, irresistibility)

The nature of the world

– Death exists

– At once life and death are the case

– Life is temporary

– Reality is hidden beneath illusion

Another person

– One [who was beloved] has died

– Remember this one who died

– This one here is dead

In our simple and fearful age, we use only eight skull sounds. All these meanings have to do with our fears for ourselves and our appetites for and against others.

Items and people:

– This will cause you to die (it wills your death)

– This will cause you to die (it has no will but is deadly)

– This thing can do you harm

I and thou:

– I am stronger than you

– I can cause your death

– I will your death


– I feel as if I am like death (I am ill, I am void)

– I have the sentimental attendants of death (fear, wildness, cruelty, irresistibility)

Our mouths remain the same. Our teeth and our tongues are as basically capable of forming each sound which has been lost as were our ancestors who used to describe the human skull in greater dimension than “others want what I’ve got. The strong eat the weak and the weak infect the careless and the merciful”. It is possible to use the language of skulls more fully than we do—but it is not done. Our only language is of overwhelming and submitting. Everything is described in the terms of overwhelm and submission—and everything which has submitted against its will plots to overwhelm.

Our ghost stories are about fear of the injured, fear of the done-wrong-by; “it will somehow make me to become like it”. The ghoul looks sick and sad. It is often a long-haired woman or a child who looks like a woman. It may actively long for the thing which you possess (life), and end the thing it longs for because it longs for it—or it may long for life by its very meaning; as the body of the beautiful woman is full of longing whether or not it actually longs, the ghoul wants your life by its nature. The woman is desired—we agree socially that she must be full of desire. I have life, which is the only thing worth having, and therefore the ghoul must want my life.

Some try to make friends with death. Our language system gives them two options: they can agree that they deserve to be mastered by death (they are unworthy of life, or they already have the qualities of the dead body, or, most ridiculous of all, that the qualities of the dead body are good or desireable) or they can submit to the future power of death in hopes of receiving its favors during life.

What is the means of discovering our lost sounds? Maybe to discard this idea of overwhelm-submission. Certainly the idea should be discarded, as it does not accurately describe reality. I think a more useful strategy, however, would be to fatten our definition of longing. To strengthen our longings, to allow them to grow and develop, would stretch us out of the appetites we have become and into human beings.

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