Be honest about your desire … make a wish before dying … John Waters invites people to write their last dream on walls … but the revolution is expressed in the question itself …
I have become intrigued by the worldwide invitation “Before I Die,” for people to write their greatest desires on public spaces. It may be the most revolutionary use of graffiti the world has yet seen. “Before I Die” is an interactive project that invites people to share their hopes and dreams in public spaces, on walls designated for this purpose (see http://beforeidie.cc/). The project will culminate in a book, Before I Die, to be published by St. Martin’s Press next year. So far, there have been over 25,000 responses, on 12 walls in 7 countries. Many of the expressions have been fairly banal:’Before I die, I want to ride first class’… Others have gone a little further: “Before I die, I want to discover the reason that I’m here.”
Of course, the very posing of such a question is the revolutionary aspect, because the real “success” of the bunker culture–of which Pope Benedict spoke in the Bundestag last year–is that it suppresses the question rather than offering a definitive challenge to man’s answering. In a sense, then, it does not matter if many or most of the answers are reductions of man’s desiring. One of the most intractable problems in our culture is that the understanding of desire as a thing in itself, as something that defines man in a positive way–as opposed to occurring, for example, as a reaction to the blandishments of the marketplace–has become hidden to the point where it appears implausible.
I found myself greatly challenged by the idea. What could I write, in a sentence, to give expression to my renewed awareness of my own desire–and after that to express its most fundamental character? Thinking about it, I realized how beautifully the idea forces me to consider and articulate my sense of where I have arrived in my human journey.
It is tempting, as in everything else, to write or say something for effect, to suggest that I have “arrived” somewhere already. I could say: “To understand, finally, the meaning of my life” or, “To be ready to jump, without fear, toward my destination.” Such formulations would serve to get me off the hook, attract a little studied attention, and not cause people to question me too deeply. They would satisfy most people that I was at least being honest about my desire. In other words, in seeking to fill the space of answering the question, I would be seeking the approval of others.
But none of them would really satisfy me, precisely because they would represent attempts to communicate to others that I understand the question. And yet, my intuition is that central to the truthfulness of my expression of my most fundamental desire should be an indifference to what others think of me. I should not care about it, because such concern is itself symptomatic of an awareness of the bunker culture and its imperatives. When I give voice to my desire, I should not do it for effect.
Indeed, the truth of it is that I cannot express my desire to my own satisfaction at all, never mind to an extent that will resonate totally with another. If I try, it will come out as a reduction, a sentimentalism, at best a hint at what I intuit to exist as its correspondence.
What, then, is the point of answering the question? To honor the question and to vivify it. For now, the question is what matters, because it is all we can really express of what we know with certainty to be true. (Traces 6 2012)