Journal of Philosophy of Life

An international peer-reviewed open access journal dedicated to the philosophy of life, death, and nature, supported by the Research Institute for Contemporary Philosophy of Life, Osaka Prefecture University


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Death and the Colonial Difference
: An Analysis of a Mexican Idea

Carlos Alberto Sánchez

Journal of Philosophy of Life Vol.3, No.3 (September 2013):168-189



The Mexican poet and philosopher Octavio Paz writes, “there are two attitudes toward death: one, pointing forward, that conceives of it as creation; the other, pointing backward, that expresses itself as a fascination with nothingness or as a nostalgia for limbo.” The attitude that points forward is found amongst the peoples of Europe and North America; the backward pointing attitude holds sway in the Mexican and Latin American imagination. We will call the forward pointing attitude, the instrumental attitude; the backward pointing attitude will be referred to as the historical attitude. My claim in the present paper is that the historical attitude toward death reflects a cultural phenomenon where death is a constant presence. The instrumental attitude reflects a more generalized “Western” notion that places death as an event of the future. The contrast between these views can be explained by what is known as “the colonial difference.”

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