I have a theory.

It’s wrong, of course, but theories are fun!

So, suffering and death. How do they make you feel?

Angry? Try heavy metal. (Metallica)

Sad? Try emo. (The Cure)

Pensive? Try folk. (Neil Young)

If, on the other hand, you opt for the popular “Sensual pleasure makes me forget about suffering and death!” route, try pop. (Gaga?)


  1. Matthew,

    Are you saying these things are a good salve for or a primary cause of the aforementioned horizontal, room-temperature-assumed attitude?


  2. Anonymous says

    Can't one feel a pleasure in being alive, say, 5% of the time, or do we need to think about suffering and death 100% of the time?

  3. That was Heidegger, wasn't it, who said that our affirmation for being is only found in death?

    Or something weird like that….


  4. What about being filled with a longing for a better world to come? What does one listen to then?

  5. Quin Finnegan says

    JOB: Good question.

    ANON: Can thinking about suffering and death help one feel pleasure in being alive? Maybe not, maybe …

    JOB: Heidegger said this: If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life – and only then will I be free to become myself. Which doesn't strike me as so bad. I had to do that when I was 5 years old and my hamster died, and I've been a changed man ever since.

    But, according to BrainyQuote, he also said,The Fuhrer alone is the present and future German reality and its law. Learn to know ever more deeply: from now on every single thing demands decision, and every action responsibility. Perhaps never before and never again will two consecutive sentences make for such a mind-boggling non-sequiter.

    TOM: This

  6. Matthew Lickona says

    JOB: Neither salve nor cause – rather, a thing that fits.

    Anon: I think people feel lots of pleasure in being alive, and hooray for that! There is nothing in this post about needing to think about suffering and death, so I'm not sure why you ask the question. The reality of suffering and death remain, however, and now and again, people do tend to think of them. And that's where the theory – which isn't really a theory, just a bit of fluff – kicks in.

    Tom: Again, I'm not saying that suffering and death are the only things worth listening to music for, just that you might sometimes think about them and feel a certain way.

  7. Anonymous says


    "There is nothing in this post about needing to think about suffering and death…"
    Sirach 7:36: "In all you do, remember the end of your life, and then you will never sin."

    I'm not sure if that's totally off topic, muddies the waters, or simply was the first thing that came to mind when I read your comment.
    Which raises a few questions:
    Is remembering our end death or the after life (heaven or hell)?
    If I am remembering my end at all times, it seems possible to both experience great pleasure in being alive and be thinking about death. No?

    Dcn J

  8. Quin Finnegan says

    I apologize for my poor blog behavior. I got excited, and then I got carried away.

    I stand by the Handel's Harp Concerto though.

  9. Dorian Speed says

    Vaguely teleological in the mood to combat Death with lightsabers: Brahms – German Requiem – Movement 6. Cranked up to eleven.

  10. Jonathan Webb says

    I love Heidegger Nazi stuff. It's a living symbol. Thanks Quin.

  11. Rufus McCain says

    I think there's another version of the sensual response. Not so much sensual pleasure as a way of forgetting about suffering and death — which I think can be true in a more abstract mode. But if suffering and/or death strike close to home, there is also a more rudimentary response that is something like: death is near, I must therefore procreate and perpetuate life. For that, Reggae or Jazz or Mozart might be what you'd want, along with a willing partner (or three, as Love in the Ruins). Cf. The musical-erotic.

  12. Jonathan Webb says

    Yes, reggae and a big spliff.

  13. Quin,

    Yeah, unless you impose a Christian understanding on Herr Heidegger's deathlove, it's a pretty wierd thing for him to say – ESPECIALLY (and I wasn't going to bring it up, but now that you did…) since he was a Nazi kind of guy…


  14. Matthew Lickona says

    Amen, Rufus. Great bit in the Alec Guinness bio about their decision to have a child during WWII. Someone's parents, I think Merula's, were horrified that they were willing to bring a child into the world when the world was so awful. Their response was that having a child was the absolute best thing they could do to combat the awfulness of the world.

  15. Matthew Lickona says

    Dcn J,

    Oh, I have no trouble with memento mori; it's just not what I was arguing here. There is a special pang of sweetness, as Shakespeare knew ("to love so well what I must leave 'ere long, etc.) to pleasures that we know must end – life itself being chief among these.

    I think remembering the end means remembering the last things – death judgment heaven hell and all that.

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