Denial of Death

A review of by Rob Mason

I read a book recently: ‘Denial of death’ which is a work of psychology and philosophy by Ernest Becker.
Becker’s main thesis in this book is our fear of death. Being the only animal that is conscious of his inevitable mortality, his life’s project is to deny or repress this fear, and hence his need for some kind of a heroism. Every idea or project, good or evil, is intended to make him transcend death and become immortal, to prove his thesis, Becker resorts to psychoanalysis. The primary repression is not sexuality, as Freud said, but our awareness of death. Throughout the book Becker refers to the theories of Kierkegaard, Rank and Freud.
By embarking on what Becker refers to as an "immortality project" (or causa sui), in which a person creates or becomes part of something which they feel will last forever, the person feels they have "become" heroic and, henceforth, part of something eternal; something that will never die, compared to their physical body that will die one day. This, in turn, gives the person the feeling that their life has meaning; a purpose; significance in the grand scheme of things.
From this premise, mental illness is most insightfully explained as a bogging down in one's hero system(s). When someone is experiencing depression, their causa sui (or heroism project) is failing, and they are being consistently reminded of their mortality and insignificance as a result.
While reading the book I found myself both agreeing with some parts and disagreeing with others.  However, overall this is an enlightening read on questions relating to the ‘why’ of life.
Quotations 1
“Man is out of nature and hopelessly in it; he is dual, up in the stars and yet housed in a heart-pumping, breath-gasping body that once belonged to a fish and still carries the gill-marks to prove it. His body is a material fleshy casing that is alien to him in many ways—the strangest way being that it aches and bleeds and will decay and die. Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground in order to blindly and dumbly rot and disappear forever.”
― Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death
Quotations 2
“Modern man is drinking and drugging himself out of awareness, or he spends his time shopping, which is the same thing. As awareness calls for types of heroic dedication that his culture no longer provides for him, society contrives to help him forget.
― Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8axGyXyKW0&list=PL24358D78851A1EBD