Tuesday, April 14, 2009

'Who the hell does?'

One thing that I like about this Zadie Smith piece is that at first it seems a little strange to thread a memoir of your father's death with ruminations on stand-up comedy -- and then it seems like the most inevitable thing in the world.

Also, ever since I read this, I've been thinking about the obvious-to-everyone-except-me notion that death is perhaps the defining experience of life, or at the very least is the signal event of a life, and yet we either do not experience it or have no means to communicate the experience to others.

With apologies, heeeeeerrreeeee's Zadie!

Conversely, the death we speak of and deal with every day, the death that is full of meaning, the non-absurd death, this is a place-marker, a fake, a convenient substitute. It was this sort of death that I was determined to press upon my father, as he did his dying. In my version, Harvey was dying meaningfully, in linear fashion, within a scenario stage-managed and scripted by the people around him. Neatly crafted, like an American sitcom: “The One in Which My Father Dies.” It was to conclude with a real event called Death, which he would experience and for which he would be ready. I did all the usual, banal things. I brought a Dictaphone to his bedside, in order to collect the narrative of his life (this perplexed him—he couldn’t see the through line). I grew furious with overworked nurses. I refused to countenance any morbidity from my father, or any despair. The funniest thing about dying is how much we, the living, ask of the dying; how we beg them to make it easy on us.
As it was, I missed the death, I missed the body, I got the dust, and from these facts I tried to extrapolate a story, as writers will, but found myself, instead, in a kind of stasis. A moment in which nothing happened, and keeps not happening, forever. Later, I was informed, by way of comfort, that Harvey had also missed his death: he was in the middle of a sentence, joking with his nurse. “He didn’t even know what hit him!” the head matron said, which was funny, too, because who the hell does?

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