Saturday, May 2, 2009

Swimming in a Sea of Death by David Rieff

Is it harder for a writer to face death than for anyone else? If writing is a means of evading mortality, then do all writers cry out in the night, as Julian Barnes has described, at the prospect of their inevitable dissolution? The main theme of this raw and personal account of Susan Sontag's death in December 2004, written by her son, is that "she died as she had lived: unreconciled to mortality". As David Rieff points out, his mother's fierce desire for more time to write was a major factor in her refusal of death. This finely nuanced meditation on "the brute fact of mortality" perfectly captures the oddly disembodied experience of receiving bad news, as well as confused feelings of filial gratitude and guilt. When a parent dies there is always something left unsaid or undone, as Sontag's last words to her son would seem to testify: "I want to tell you ..." Burdened with the choice of where to bury her, Rieff wisely opted for Montparnasse cemetery in Paris, "the most literary of cemeteries".

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