the beauty of death

The relationship between the words ‘awful’ and ‘awesome’ must have some etymological ancestry that makes sense – a line of slight semantic misunderstandings occurring in the course of history – but it makes no logical sense that a word describing a bad thing is so similar to a word describing a good thing. The two words are basically identical, which, to me, proves that there is some kind of linguistic recognition of the relationship and interchangeability between the things that are used to understand the goodness or badness of things. The borders between good and bad things are – in this sense – transparent and dynamic in nature. As far as I can tell from my research the word ‘awe’ has its roots in a religious discourse, describing the kind of fearful respect that God inspires. If you look it up words like ‘wonder’, ‘horror’, ‘admiration’ and ‘dread’ appear. Awe is apparently an emotional state that is both positive and negative.

My sister has a thing for dead birds – whenever she sees one lying on the ground she simply has to stop whatever she’s doing and study the carcass very closely. She will drop everything in her hands and crouch down by the bird to get closer. I imagine that she will determine the cause of death (she’s studying medicine) by observing the birds this way. She will examine the dead birds, finding one with a deep hole in its stomach, another with a missing head, and another that has been crushed flat by the tires of a car. Sometimes the remains of a bird is just a small pile of bones and feathers. She takes several photographs of each bird, adjusting her camera phone’s position and angle in order to get the perfect picture. At first glance it would seem like she’s doing artistic work, but I don’t necessarily think she considers it that way. There’s no doubt that she finds the bird corpses beautiful, and also treasures her photographs and their aesthetic quality (she’s always eager, never missing a chance to show them to other people), but I think the act of photographing them is motivated by something else than the need to produce something artistic. What this ‘something’ is I’m not really sure of – an inherent recognition of the beauty of death, perhaps. The beauty of death is a good example of the ambiguous fog that surrounds the borders of good and bad things, wonder and horror walking hand in hand.


(photography by Ditte Marie Hansen)


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