Seeing or doing x number of things before you die has become a widespread – if daft – concept. (It’s not as if doing things after you die is a viable alternative.)
Today’s Guardian starts a “1000 artworks to see before you die” theme. It got up to artists whose names start with the letter C (going from Albrecht Altdorfer to the Chapman Brothers) today.
I was hoping it would at least show you the artworks in jpeg format, so I could save whole years of my life that would otherwise have to be dedicated to trainspotting objects from the Guardian’s art canon. The online Guardian just describes most of the art but, phew, the print Guardian has enough pictures to allow me a few months’ idleness.
In any case, I feel obliged to cheat. I think I’ve seen the Mona Lisa, for instance. I haven’t actually seen the Mona Lisa on the wall in the Louvre. But I’ve seen it many hundreds of times in reproduction, so it feels as if I’ve seen it. In fact, people who’ve seen it in the flesh (their flesh and its pigments on canvas) don’t tend to be impressed by the experience of shuffling along in a crowd of tourists. Although they can tick it off a mental list of “seen” things, which must bring its own satisfactions.
Google throws up lots of things to do before you die (215,000) e.g This site has a “100 things to do before you die” tickbox. This one refers to a more modestly-enumerated BBC 50 things to do before you die.
Swimming with dolphins seems to come in at number 1. Oh shit, that makes 51 for me then, as I will have to learn to swim properly first. It seems that a fair few of them are too demanding of aquatic-skills for me. Diving with sharks, for instance. Make that 52 things then, if diving is in there, although it’s unlikely I can perfect my swimming skills to scuba-diving level in the limited number of years I have left on this planet.
Oh shit, as far as I can make out, despite my life’s having been relatively incident-packed (or so I naively thought until now) I can only find ONE thing that I’ve done out of the fifty. I will never fit all the rest in. Plus, I’d better become a millionaire first so that I can afford the gap year life that seems necessary.
Seeing your life as a a giant scorecard must be almost the ultimate form of alienation. A life lived as an experience consumer, with things having no meaning in themselves, just being steps in pursuit of some arbitrary achievement.
No one except yourself is going to be impressed if you tick something off. I’m certain there isn’t a final test. Those people who think Pascal’s wager is a reasonable justification for worshipping God X might have a problem though. What if there’s a god who’s a cosmic experiences auditor and s/he will send you to hell if you haven’t used your time wisely ticking experiences off on your scorecard? In that case, you may have to work your way through every list on google.