Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins work together in their book Architectural Body to explain their theory on life beyond death. Through their effort to explain their stance on “refusing to die,” they have contributed not only philosophically, but poetically to the canon of literature and life itself. Gins and Arakawa are two architects, poets, and muses that inspire and touch the lives of not only people who follow their lifestyle, but the lives of people indirectly such as the characters represented in the bittersweet novel, Tuesdays with Morrie written by the main character, Mitch Albom. As influences, Arakawa and Gins have also been influenced indirectly) by the hands of their predecessors Walt Whitman and William James.

Arakawa and Gins’ Architectural Body proposes that they (Arakawa and Gins)  have not decided to die. Arakawa and Gins define architecture’s existence to be merely the “service of the body”(xi).  The question that these architects ask  is: How can one be most fully at the service of the body? Arakawa and Gins also ponder about living in a world that is built to serve the body to the “nth degree” (xi). The real question of the matter is whether we are living tot serve our body to it’s full capacity. Are we really learning to live life to its fullest, or are we limiting our life expectations because we believe our body isn’t capable of withstanding what our minds imagine? Arakawa and Gins help formulate their plan into actual theory in a philosophical approach when dealing with two characters in Tuesdays with Morrie. 

Tuesdays with Morrie is a heart wrenching story about a struggling young writer, Mitch Albom, who finds out that his old professor has been diagnosed with ALS(Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and is slowly dying because his body cannot handle simple tasks anymore such as writing, walking and dancing, which is one of Morrie’s favorite pastimes. Morrie claims this disease has left his “soul perfectly awake, imprisoned inside a limp husk of a body”(15).  Eventually, Mitch decides to visit Morrie every Tuesday, with the rest of the professor’s former students and listen to Morrie talk about life and death, and being able to live through dying.

Arakawa and Gins proposal to refuse to die correlates with Morrie’s will to live because Morrie is dying of ALS, a diseases that affects the nerve cell and the ability for the brain to control muscle movement.. Basically, the body refuses to work and turns on itself. But Arakawa and Gins proposal to live to the “nth degree” stems from the will to survive, outside of body and mind. Arakawa and Gins also claims that “once people realize that the human race has not yet availed itself of its greatest tool for learning how not to die, they will cease being defeatists in the matter” (xii).  In other words, once humans have recognized and appreciated the truth about learning how not to die, they will not let the idea of death defeat them, much like Morrie didn’t let his death defeat him.

Morrie’s will to live is not determined by his body but by his mind. Even though he is stricken with this terrible disease, he does not let it get the best of him. Instead of his disease controlling him, Morrie controls his disease. In one of Morrie’s Tuesday meetings, Mitch is present to hear his former professor enter a somber discussion about death. Morrie then stresses to his students that “it is only once a person knows how to die, that he can then know how to live”(82). Morrie’s statement defies the body’s will to remain useless, but his spirit fulfills whatever his body cannot.

In Jondi Keane’s “Situating Situatedness Through AEffect and the Architectural Body of Arakawa and Gins,” Keane explains that artists Arakawa and Gins “coordinate diverse research across the sciences and between the arts and sciences in an effort to study consciousness and cognition as situated and distributed”(438). Keane is scrutinizing the way Arakawa and Gins use arts, humanities and sciences in order to review how consciousness and perception are defined and delivered. This kind of thinking leads to another topic in correlation to consciousness, the struggle between mind and body and whether we can actually refuse to die as Arakawa and Gins suggest.

In William James’ “Does ‘Consciousness’ Exist” from his anthology The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, James argues that “‘spirit and matter,’ ‘soul and body’ stood for a pair of equipollent substances quite on a par in weight and interest.” Here, James is claiming that that the soul and body are two equal but separate entities. James then goes on to refute that argument by stating that to him, consciousness is “on the point of disappearing altogether. He argues that consciousness does indeed exist and that it stands for a function. That function is knowing. Once we accept the fact that we have the ability to know things, we accept that consciousness exists. As James states, “‘Consciousness,” is “necessary to explain the fact that things not only are, but get reported, are known.” The potential for acknowledging brings consciousness into existence.

What does this have to do with Morrie or Arakawa and Gins Architectural Body? Well, the point of knowing and accepting the fact the consciousness exists, leads us a step closer to discovering that mind and body are two separate entities. Accepting the fact that mind and body are two separate things opens the door to whether one entity is more powerful than the other. Arakawa and Gins’ idea of taking a stance against death challenges and introduces the concept of transhumanism.

Transhumanism is the idea or practice that refuses to accept traditional human limitations such as death, disease, and other biological frailties (www.mactonnies.com/trans.html). Arakawa and Gins are trying to get the world to reject the restrictions life gives us and to accept that we are able to develop a future that exists beyond our human nature. In order for Arakawa and Gins idea to come into fruition they must build upon the idea of William James, with respect to Kant, on the idea of consciousness existing and mind and body interacting on a bipolar relation.

Arakawa and Gins then goes on to explain how organsim-persons build upon the dynamics of consciousness. Arakawa and Gins write, “Terms such as ego, consciousness and psyche, losing the body as they do lack those air passages through which the body draws in atmospheric wherewithal”(2). In other words, for transhumanism to really and truly flourish, one has to acknowledge the fact that consciousness holds no weight. Consciousness loses “body” and cuts off any links in which the body can gain atmospheric resources. Arakawa and Gins believe that architecture is a great tool for humans which can help them live a better life without fear of dying.

Morrie is an example of the beginning of transhumanism. Like James and Kant, Morrie has realized the fact that his mind and body are two separate entities working on a parallel plane to create balance. Morrie talks to his students about death and his lack of fear for dying. Morrie tells his students at one of his Tuesday meetings that “death ends a life, not a relationship” (174). Morrie is simply stating that once we interact with out environment and he people in it, then we can live on forever. Our body might wither and turn into dust, but the relationships we make in life are eternal. Morrie states that after we die, our connection of love that we have with the people we’ve met on earth still remains strong.

Morrie is in the beginning stage of Arakawa and Gins idea of transhumanism because he is refusing to die. Morrie has come to the fact that his body will not last forever, but his mind will. The relationships he’s made on Earth will also last and because of his interaction with the environment, Morrie is considered an “organism-person” that will live beyond death. Consciousness has a lot to do with Arakawa and Gins idea of refusing to die because consciousness tends to overlook the existing body and focus on the mind altogether in one perspective. Consciouness exists because of knowing, and once Morrie knows and accepts the fact that his body is dying, he is then at peace with himself and can carry out life to its fullest capacity from beyond the grave. Morrie is considered an “organism-person” because his life continues with no ending in disappearance.

In Christopher Rizzo’s excerpt “Not to Desire the Hemlock,” Rizzo explains the utopian project that Arakawa and Gins so desire. Rizzo,  uses Jean-Jacques Lecercle to make his point clear about the world achieving some type of utopia.  In Lecercle’s words, “the great value of the reversible destiny project as an architectural project: it is a utopian reject in the noblest sense of the word”(23). Lecercle is stating that with Arakawa and Gins’ idea to take an architectural approach on humans and their strong advocacy to not die, they have indirectly started a campaign for a utopian world. Rizzo states, “Utopia is not a hoped-for condition that takes its meaning from the past, but an emergent that thematizes immorality (6). Rizzo’ statement agrees with the fact that the utopia Arakawa and Gin have indirectly proposed for mankind is not dependent on the historical evidence, but it is a fresh, and unique idea that thematizes immortality. The fact that humans’  having the option and will to live forever, where there is no end in disappearance, helps further Arakawa and Gins idea on refusing to die.

Moving on, poet Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass  adds a poetic stance to Arakawa and Gins take on transhumanism and the idea of life through death. Whitman’s “When I Read the Book” is a short poem that has meaning to immortality and defining life. Whitman states, “When I read the book, the biography famous/And is this then (said I) what the author calls a man’s life? (16). This book can be considered Arakawa and Gins’ Architectural Body in which they discuss the idea of life and death through arts and sciences. What doe Arakawa and Gin call a man’s life? How is it measured? Through reasoning of Arawaka and Gin, a man’s life is measured through his interaction with the environment. The relationships we leave behind are dependent upon our achieving immortality.    Whitman then goes on to state, “And so will some one when I am dead and gone write my life?'(16).  Whitman questions whether someone will write about his life when he is dead and gone.

Unlike Whitman, Morrie focuses on his life rather  than his death when it comes to teaching his students on life values. One can compare the narrator’s take on life in “When I Read the Book” and the character, Morrie, in Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie and state that the narrator is a pre-transhumanist idealist who has not yet discovered Arawak and Gins method for immortality, while Morrie has indeed become an example of what a transhumanist is and what he stands for. Morrie refuses to die, and if he ever thinks about dying, then it is not the death we typically think of. As Rizzo points out, “There is death, and then there is death”(AB pxviii). Morrie’s death is not the quintessential death one automatically thinks of. Yes, Morrie will eventually die, but his soul won’t. Morrie’s death is perceived through Arakawa and Gins’ mindset of immortality. Arakawa and Gins state, “And if, because we can never distance ourselves enough from ourselves to asses the whole in its particulars, because the world always gets in our way as still more worlds, should we not, then, judge as correct Wittgenstein’s assertion that “The value of the world must lie outside if the world?” (xii).  In simpler terms, these authors are merely stating that we (humans) have never assessed the whole in particulars about life, because we have never distanced ourselves far enough from our own ideas and concepts about life, so we miss the big picture Arakawa and Gins are trying to paint for us. The value of the world lies outside of the world, and once we have that knowledge, then we can achieve Arakawa and Gin’s idea of transhumanism.

In conclusion, Morrie thought outside the box when he found out he was dying. He didn’t choose to think about where he wanted to be buried, instead he chose to fight his ALS, as a true transhumanist would do, and he chose to look beyond his illness and not fall victim to it. Through this self-process, Morrie  distanced himself from himself in order to asses what values lie outside the world. And through this process, Morrie was reborn. His old pre-transhumanist forms of ideas had collapsed and died, and Morrie was able to find a new meaning on life even though his body was giving up on him.

This Kantian idea of consciousness proves that  mind and body are indeed two different identities with a bi-polar relation. Morrie chose the immortal route, one Arakawa and Gins would be proud of because he refused to die. He refused to succumb to his illness. And as Whitman writes, “I often think, know, little or nothing of my real life/Only a few hints, a few diffused faint clews and indirections/I seek for my own use to trace out here,” Morrie lives vicariously through Whitman’s writing. Through his consciousness of knowing, Morrie has separated himself from the world, and chose the path of Arakaw and Gins’ ideologies. He has become immortal because he has decided not to die. Instead, Morrie “seeks for his own trace,” his new identity, his new organism-person. One that lives on long after the flesh is gone.

Works Cited

Arakawa, S. and Gins, M. (2002). Architectural Body. Alabama: University of Alabama Press.

Albom, Mitch. Tuesdays with Morrie. New York, New York.1997.

Keane, Jondie. “Situating Situatedness through AEffect and the Architectural Body of Arakawa and Gins.” Griffith                        University.

www.mactonnies.com/trans.html

James, William. “Does ‘Consciousness’ Exist?” The Journal of Philosophy and Scientific Method.Vol. 1, No. 18.                              (September 1, 1904), pp. 477-491. Journal of Philosophy Inc,      http://www.jstor.org/stable/2011942. Accessed:              06/01/2010/ 19:59. University at Albany.

http://eres.ulib.albany.edu.libproxy.albany.edu/eres/coursepage.aspx?cid=4943&page=docs#.  Accessed:                                 05/2/2010.

Rizzo, Christopher. “Not to Desire the Hemlock: The Ethical Work of Arakawa and Gins.” University       at Albany.                         http://eres.ulib.albany.edu.libproxy.albany.edu/eres/coursepage.asx ? cid=4943&page=docs#. Accessed:                           05/2/2010.

Whitman, Walt. “When I Read the Book.”  Leaves of Grass. Biblio. end of AOLMsgPart_2_e53ad983-4b89-450e-b926-               a99795a04c9d

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