The fatuous injunction to live life to the fullest, to take nothing for granted, to live as though each day were your last, is nothing more than an invitation to a heightened form of sentimentality on the one hand, and on the other, an acknowledgment that the lives we already lead are oppressive, confining and soul-destroying; that the labor we undertake, the routines we must follow, are a kind of prison sentence; and that only by making the effort of a conscious, and indeed, violent, break with that routinized existence can we begin to remember what it is to be capable of absorbing our own experience.
As a poet, I humbly submit that I am already living my life to the fullest. Absorbing experience and re-directing it through language is what I do. “Life to the fullest” is an expression, anyway, that begs for some further examination. Is it a consumerist model of experience that is being promoted here? To live life to the fullest means first admitting that life as it is now is dreadfully and scandalously empty. Hence, the soteriological function of terminal disease as a redemptive trope.
Case in point: the fawning press coverage of “The Last Lecture,” and its the tiresome doling out of the injunction to “live every day to the fullest.”
While this effort to recapture some meaningful form of experience from the iron cage of the matrix is laudable, it begs the question: what do we mean by “full living”? Is it intensity, untrammeled, the unmediated thing in itself? Is it the recovery of experience from the domain of regulated behavior? What would that even look like? The valorization of full living presumes some primal originary space where the bourgeois subject can throw off the chain of reification and participate in some oceanic sense of self that is mysteriously a-historical. It is the final expression of the ideology of self-actualization. Nowhere is this better attested to than in the current vogue in adverts for My-ness. “My body, my biography.” My-ness becomes the trope par excellence for self-consumption and the reification of the perfectible subject.
“Living to the fullest” means: forget that you are constituted from without. Yet the desire to get outside is real and should be honored as genuine resistance. If only it were that simple. As Bunting says: “It easier to die than to remember.”