At some point after the news of David Bowie’s death, across my social media streams came mention of sainthood for David Bowie. Dannielle Jenkins of Greaser Creatures while David Bowie was alive made these saint candles of Bowie (and other rock and film icons). It makes a certain sense, Sainthood claims not only that a particular person was of significance during the persons biological life but that said person can’t be summed up in their biological life and continues to live on and have effect in the world after biological death.
Jacques Derrida pointed out that when we are dealing with people we know through their body of work (artistic, philosophical, political, theological) there is as desire to connect up their historical and biological body with their body of work. This is a difficult task. While there is obvious coincidence of the biological body and the body of work under the same signature and name, each also has a life of its own.
One of the many things the philosopher Jacques Derrida wrote about was this relation between our biological existence, our projections of our selves, and death. For Derrida death lurks in us, in our communication of our selves, in our attempts to gain access to the other. There is a difference between death and life and yet they’re intermingled.
For Derrida death lingers in the different bodies of an artist or philosopher. We often want to make these bodies coincide. Yet, there is a separation. Death shows this separation. What we have of a philosopher or artist after death is their body of work, this survives death, but their biological body, their self aside from the image projected as philosopher, artist, theologian isn’t accessible to us (and wasn’t accessible in life to a degree these names and bodies are already dead to us even during the biological life).
Sainthood approaches these aporias and conundrums of image and images and multiple bodies attached to a name, by adding a body, the body that transcends or survives death beyond a body of work. This body continues to interact with the world after the biological body has ceased to live. This can involve miraculous events attached to the name of the saint, including revelations and visions of the saint.
But we can’t make all the bodies attached to a name neatly coincide, neither can we dismiss the connections, the overlap, and the coincidence of the bodies received under one signature and name.
David Bowie as a stage name hides from us one body, that of David Jones. And yet the way in which David Jones’ biological body is also David Bowie’s body and the way in which that shared body was part of the body of work signed David Bowie, there is already in David Bowie a certain transcendence of death even before the death of the biological body. This is analogous to the ways in which the body of a Saint already shows signs of transcendence in their biological bodies. David Bowie isn’t only already marked by death, but also marked by the transcendent body David Bowie.
Now David Bowie’s body of work is complete. We now hear and see David Bowie differently. We may even begin to wrestle with his darker side, things that we may not want to attach to the body of work and yet are part of the biological life and body of David Jones/Bowie.
Yet it is perhaps important to remember that the bodies of David Bowie are different while they overlap. We can’t either ignore the difference between David Jones and David Bowie, nor can we ignore their coincidence.
What we have now access too, and only had access to as fans and aficionados of David Bowie is the body of his work of art, the story of which was told in David Bowie Is exhibition, and which we now have as its capstone in Blackstar.
And I think we also have that body that transcends death in that David Bowie’s body of work because of the nature of that body transcends death, and continues to give us messages and encounters with David Bowie beyond the grave.
Although we have the body of David Bowie complete, we won’t be able to comprehend these bodies. There will always be those things beyond our grasp. David Bowie may have a transcendent body that we will only now discover as we carry with us the artistic corpus of David Bowie. However, unlike what is claimed of the saint, we will never have (and never did have) accessible to us the body of David Jones. David Jones is lost to us, all we ever had and will ever have is the bodies of David Bowie, biological, artistic, and transcendent.