Der Tod steht uns gut: Vanitas heute (Death becommes us: Vanitas today), Tobias Quast
‘Der Tod steht uns gut’ by Tobias Quast investigates the paradoxical nature of the contemporary relationship to death. It’s premise being that we’re progressively suppressing the reality of death and it’s fundamental meaning in our lives, whilst increasingly encountering it in films, television and video games. The book journeys through the history of Vanitas, introducing and categorising traditional vanitas motifs such as the skull, the young beautiful woman and the mirror amongst many others, in order to arrive at today’s understanding of transience and death. He stipulates that even though society and its art forms have evolved, the same age old human yearning for immortality remains one of it’s central themes.
Since the enlightenment period, society as a whole has been stripped of it’s belief in a Judaeo-Christian afterlife, without anything new being put in it’s place. This, he says, is what has led us to search for an afterlife in a new context. The online world in which nothing ever truly disappears, and we can effectively free ourselves from our flawed material bodies can give us a taste of this immortality. The recent resurgence in popularity for Vampire stories and film adaptations also provides a good example of the way in which popular culture has taken on the search for immortality; According to Quast such stories presenting immortal characters living in ‘realistic’ contemporary society, show ‘a clear bridging of formerly Christian eschatology and Vanitas into a secular representation of death, which only knows worldly existence and promises immortality’ (Quast, 2013, p.27). Interestingly the characters of these films mirror Bataillean ideas, with it’s core route to continuity (immortality) being one of transgression. The characters in these films remain young and desirable forever, only through becoming undead (thereby transgressing the laws of life) and subsequently feeding from the living (violently transgressing the laws of morality).