Desiring, Departing and Dying: Affectively Speaking: Epithymia in Philippians 1:23
Sharday C. Mosurinjohn and Richard S. Ascough
In a text that has caused no shortage of speculation and consternation, Paul links “desire” (epithymia) with “death” in writing of his “desire to depart and be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23). While “desire” has mostly negative valences in Paul’s letters, often linked to sexual craving, here it is linked to his broad fascination with death that is apparent in his frequent references not only to Christ’s crucifixion but also more generally both to physical death and metaphorical death. Paul’s contemplation of which is preferable, life or death, raises questions about how issues of social and existential meaning are affectively negotiated under the aspect of death, under what conditions one desires death, and what is the nature of desire itself. Thinking in this vein suggests an ecology of instincts vital to the affective valences of desiring death. This paper will explore these issues to show how Paul’s own desire may be expressing both a passionate pull to his idea of Christ and a longing to escape that very passion.