10 August 2009

Swimming in a Sea of Death by David Rieff

[...] You don't just die, as Simone de Beauvoir points out in her beautiful memoir, "from being born, nor from having lived, nor from old age. You die from something."

The particular something that David Rieff writes about in this beautiful memoir is Myelodysplastic Syndrome, the illness that in less than a year took his mother Susan Sontag's life in 2004. In her journal, she wrote:
"While I was busy zapping the world with my mind, my body fell down"

Rieff explains the guilt of the survivor, the unanswerable questions one poses to oneself, even long after the loved one is gone. The thought that it would have been easier to die oneself, which of course would be less about making the ultimate sacrifice than it would be about making it easier for oneself.

In Sontag's workbook for the essay Illness as Metaphor that came out in 1978, Rieff later found a notation that read:
"leukemia: the ony clean death from cancer, the only death that can be romanticized"

The truth had been far from it.


Listen to NPR's program about the book and read the first chapter or so.

Read an excerpt from Sontag's diaries 1947-1963 here.


UPDATE: I found this great talk held by Rieff over at Fora.tv!