I’ve always been fond of Xavier Bichat’s definition of life from Recherches physiologiques sur la vie et la mort: ‘Life is the collection of functions that resist death’. This simple definition contains echoes of Spinozan conatus, and it can be modified to yield a general theory of life as maintenance. Life is the maintenance which resists decay. This is of course true at the level of the organism, which does whatever it needs to in order to avoid malnourishment, fatigue, vulnerability, and whatever else will lead to its demise. The same thing can be seen at the level of social movements, trends, and events in general. By contrast, there are events that persist without maintenance–happenings. These must be accounted for without appeal to their maintenance. In the latter case the aleatory is opposed to the maintained. The aleatory event dies a death without resisting; it dissipates on its own terms, which means that it has nothing to do with life as Bichat understands it. The maintained event, on the other hand, assumes a certain conservatism that may or may not become a burden to itself. Here, life becomes an obstacle to life, as Nietzsche discerned.
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