Memento Mori: The Quest for Immortality

Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death begins with a dedication “To the memory of my parents, who unwittingly gave me–among other things–the most paradoxical gift of all: a confusion about heroism.” A quote from Spinoza follows: “Not to laugh, not to lament, not to curse but to understand.” In Becker’s work, this quest for understanding centers on human anxiety about death and on the echoes of this existential dread in the lives of individuals and entire civilizations.

I recently finished reading The Denial of Death, my first book by Becker. I also watched Flight From Death, a documentary based on the ongoing work of social psychologists like Sheldon Solomon who are translating Becker’s theories into experimentally testable hypotheses. This was an amazing journey, and I hope to post fuller reflections on Becker early next month.

Quotes from The Denial of Death

  • “We are gods with anuses.”
  • “This is the terror: to have emerged from nothing, to have a name, consciousness of self, deep inner feelings, an excruciating inner yearning for life and self-expression — and with all this yet to die.”
  • “Society itself is a codified hero system, which means that society everywhere is a living myth of the significance of human life, a defiant creation of meaning.”
  • “To live fully is to live with an awareness of the rumble of terror that underlies everything.”
  • “The road to creativity passes so close to the madhouse and often detours or ends there.”
  • “Mother nature is a brutal bitch, red in tooth and claw, who destroys what she creates.”
  • “Obviously, all religions fall far short of their own ideals.”
  • “The man of knowledge in our time is bowed down under a burden he never imagined he would ever have: the overproduction of truth that cannot be consumed.”


  • Becker, Ernest. The Denial of Death. New York: Free, 1973.



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