by the Chief Ethnographer, Hari Kunzru
First I would like to express my thanks to the officers and central committee of the International Necronautical Society for the opportunity to make this short presentation on the historic occasion of the society's first congress. It is a great endeavour that we have embarked upon, perhaps the last true adventure open to humanity in this unadventurous age. It is an honour to be part of it. We live in a life-obsessed era - racked by cosmetic surgery, fitness crazes and vitamin supplements, ignorant of and repelled by the skull beneath the skin. To follow the Ancient Mariner, and experience death in life and life in death is a truly awesome possibility - and what finer goal could one have than to die, and come back to tell our story in the pub? We must not lose our way. The world is waiting for the result of our researches.
For these reasons, I beg that the committee will indulge the following remarks and realise the reluctance with which I make them. I hope that they will be takien as an expression of the rigour mortis and deadpan attitude expected of all aspiring necronauts.
On my appointment as chief ethnographer to the society, while cognisant of the high honour bestowed on me, I found myself embarrassed and confused. The title seemed to imply that I was to bring to the society's attention all 'non western conceptions of death' and indeed, in the preformance of my duties, material relating to the suicide cults of polynesia, the mummification rituals of the Nazca of Peru and the pioneering necronautical practises of the Tibetans have all been forwarded to me. For these I am grateful - how could I not be? Yet I feel the very categorisations under which I have been forced to work do violence to the noble aims of the society.
To ghettoise all maps of death except the fragmentary one made by the Christian church of the West is to risk the immediate failure of our noble mission. Death, as I hardly need remind you, my fellow necronauts, is unknown. It is the absence, it is the void. And so how are we able to say at this early juncture in our mission that it is not something from which one returns to be born again, or even a separate space? To give priority to a Judeo-Christian concept of death is not only offensive and foolhardy - it negates the very real possibility that the tens of millions of people who believe in reincarnation may be able to help us in our mission - that they may have ALREADY BEEN to the place we strive so hard to go.
If we look seriously, as we should, at the necronautical practises of India, we find that death-travel has been going on for thousands of years - indeed is so universal an experience as to be hardly worthy of comment. One is born, one lives one's life, and according to one's actions in that life one is reborn, higher or lower in the great evolutionary scale of things. A necronautical sage is higher than a dog, say the Hindus, but that dog is itself a necronaut. The ultimate goal of existence is to escape the cycle of death and rebirth, to overcome duality - the same duality which we as necronauts strive to bridge with our heroic and visionary journeying. So the final death, the death into oneness with the cosmos, is the escape from life and death, is the necronautical experience not as journey but as dissolution - fading into total identity with the universe - entirely transcending the paltry misleading metaphorics of space with which we so vainly struggle.
Reincarnation poses a serious question to the necronaut, and indeed to the aim stated in the charter of society that death might eventually be 'colonised'. Quite apart from the language, which will be felt as unfortunate by all those members whose ancestors suffered the misfortune of colonisation, this implies that the life-death journey is linear, irreversible and permanent. What of the wheel? What of the momentary negation and the shock of rebirth into a new body? Could it be that death is only amenable to a weekend break, rather than a long vacation? Could the ambition of setting up home there be a kind of violence, done by the living against the space of death? Could death, simply, be a kind of temporary total autonomous zone, a bubble, a breath, a pause in the cycle? All these are important issues and remain to be resolved.
So let us not be prisoners of the European churchmen, with their ladders, their staircases, their gates and rivers. Let us explore the full range of necronautical history, which has flowered across all continents, in all cultures. Let us learn - for example - from the kings of Dahomey, who for hundreds of years sent two teenage necronauts every morning to carry messages to the ancestors. Though the technology - live burial and a sharp knife - was crude, that should not exlude these African journeys into death from proper consideration. Likewise the constant death communications of the Maori, the journeys of the Ugric shamen, and the terracotta armies of the chinese.
Thus my first official action as chief ethnographer of the INS must necessarily be to resign. In addition I move that mention of colonisation be struck from the charter of the society. Secondly I move for the dissolution of my section, and the distribution of its functions throughout the ordinary activities of the society. I propose, as an annexe, to apply for reelection to the committee under the title Minister for Eternal Return, and to disembowel anyone who stands in my way. I thank you for your kind attention. May you live fast and die young!