All Men Are Mortal

Writer: Grace Noh

 Rene Magritte, The Mysteries of the Horizon (1955), oil on canvas. 

Rene Magritte, The Mysteries of the Horizon (1955), oil on canvas. 

“One day I'll be old, dead, forgotten. And at this very moment, while I'm sitting here thinking these things, a man in a dingy hotel room is thinking, "I will always be here."”

Simone de Beauvoir. All Men are Mortal, 1946

What is your biggest fear in life? Losing your freedom? Poverty? Loneliness? Failure? Death? Many, if not all, fear death, disappearance from this very world we live in. Rather than accepting death as part of life, we tend to separate ourselves from nature and regard death as an intruder for our ideal experience of life. Are there that many things we want to continue to hold onto?

  Pieter Claesz, Still Life with a Skull and a Writing Quill (1628), oil on wood, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Pieter Claesz, Still Life with a Skull and a Writing Quill (1628), oil on wood, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

I could not help but wonder, ‘Do I fear death itself or is it the death of my thoughts makes me fear death? What about getting forgotten of my existence?’ What a grandiose and dangerous topic without any solid, clear answer! Yet, I could not resist asking myself what makes me fragile and hopeless with the idea of losing my thoughts and being “removed” from people’s memories.

 Rene Magritte,  Golconda  (1953), oil on canvas,  Menil Collection in Houston, Texas. 

Rene Magritte, Golconda (1953), oil on canvas, Menil Collection in Houston, Texas. 

All Men Are Mortal by Simone de Beauvoir tells a story of a man who is cursed to live forever and a self-obsessed young actress who fears of being forgotten. The man tells her he is immortal and she decides that she is in love with the man because she can “exist” forever through the memories of an immortal man. The idea that she can “live” forever and her existence can be acknowledged in the memories of an immortal man seems quite appealing, but is it really?

 Rene Magritte,  Les Amants (The Lovers)  (1928), oil on canvas, The Museum of Modern Art. 

Rene Magritte, Les Amants (The Lovers) (1928), oil on canvas, The Museum of Modern Art. 

In fact, to live forever in the memory of an immortal man could be the worst death sentence. With his disappearance, there is no world either. His death is the end of the world.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres has once said in an interview, “[My] work is about controlling my own fear, my fear of losing everything. In a way, letting go of the work, this refusal to make a static form, a monolithic sculpture, I favor of disappearing, changing, unstable, and fragile form was an attempt on my part to rehearse my fears of having [my loved one] disappear day by day right in front of my eyes. It’s really a weird thing when you see the public come into the gallery and walk away with a piece of paper that is ‘yours.’”

 Felix Gonzales-Torres,  Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.)  (1991), multicolored candies, individually wrapped in cellophane, ideal weight 175 lb.; installed dimensions variable, approximately 92 x 92 x 92 cm (36 x 36 x 36 in.)  © The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation.

Felix Gonzales-Torres, Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) (1991), multicolored candies, individually wrapped in cellophane, ideal weight 175 lb.; installed dimensions variable, approximately 92 x 92 x 92 cm (36 x 36 x 36 in.) © The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation.

 Felix Gonzales-Torres,  Untitled (The End)  (1990), Offset prints on paper, 22 x 28 x 22 in. (55.9 x 71.1 x 55.9 cm) © The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation, courtesy of Andrea Rosen Gallery.

Felix Gonzales-Torres, Untitled (The End) (1990), Offset prints on paper, 22 x 28 x 22 in. (55.9 x 71.1 x 55.9 cm) © The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation, courtesy of Andrea Rosen Gallery.

Perhaps there cannot be a lover to love or be loved unless we know we are going to die after all; perhaps our mortality tells us and comforts us that we all die in a world that will never end. Our bodies will be gone, but we pass our knowledge, thoughts, love, wisdom, and most importantly, our creativity as humans to one generation after another.