Like many contemporary philosophers, Xunzi assumed that the dead are just that – gone, from us, from life, from existence. But Xunzi did not imagine that this stone cold fact signified much. Fact pales before desire and desire wants translating into action, into doing. In early China, one form of doing was the soul-summoning ritual. Upon the death of a beloved, the bereaved would take to the rooftop to beg their dead to return – ritually pleading, “Come back!” – no matter how impossible one knew this to be. Because, Xunzi might say, the longing is the thing. What matters most is not that our dead cannot come back to us but the helpless, hopeless, and most important desire that they could. The wish too is a fact and it is one of the more exquisite human facts, the felt power of our longings to go on a little longer with those we love. If we are not to be false to this more important fact, we need somewhere to go with it, to give it its due, and the rooftop seems as good a place as any. As does the graveyard, digging through layers of rock to make a place that is not a hole.
from Amy Olberding