Sunday, November 13, 2022

Haruki Murakami on the power of writing simply - D]eath is much more complicated than simply the last event of life

Beyond the window, some kind of small, black thing shot across the sky. A bird, possibly. Or it might have been someone's soul being blown to the far side of the world.
Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 (1Q84, #1-3)

Haruki Murakami -‘I want to open a window in their souls’: Haruki Murakami on the power of writing simply

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'I Fit You Like a Glove'

“[D]eath is much more complicated than simply the last event of life. Death is actually interwoven into life at many levels. It has influenced what we are as a species. In many ways, we depend on death for our very existence. In fact, death has shaped most of the aspects of our life . . .” 

A preoccupation with death may signal a morbid narcissism – or its opposite. Some worship death, weaponizing it. A custodian I know told me about Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte -- a benign personification of death. When Spinoza concluded that a free man “thinks least of all of death,” he too placed death at the center of life. Try not thinking about death when you’re told to keep your happy thoughts focused only on life. Listen to Death speak in Anthony Hecht's “Death the Hypocrite”:


“You know me, friend, as Faustus, Baudelaire,

Boredom, Self-Hatred, and, still more, Self-Love.

Hypocrite lecteur, mon sembable, mon frere,

Acknowledge me. I fit you like a glove.”


The first section of Hecht’s Flight Among the Tombs (1996), “The Presumptions of Death,” consists of twenty-two monologues delivered by Death personified, accompanied by Leonard Baskin’s wood engravings. Death speaks as Punchinello, a carnival barker, a whore, a scholar and a Mexican revolutionary, among other roles. “Death the Film Director” closes with these lines:


“This film has a large cast,

A huge cast; countless, you might almost say;

And for them all, for everyone one of them,

I have designed, with supreme artfulness,

What could be called an inevitable plot.”


The final letter in Hecht's Selected Letters, dated August 10, 2004, is addressed to Eleanor Cook. He writes: “I have, I regret to say, some distressing news to impart. I have been diagnosed with cancer [. . .] and it has taken me and my wife completely by surprise. In fact, I had been taking notes for an essay I would like to write. . . . But I will have to put that aside for the present.”


Hecht died two months later, on October 20, at age eighty-one.


[The passage quoted at the top is from an entertaining and revelatory book, The Biology of Death: How Dying Shapes Cells, Organisms and Populations (Oxford University Press, 2021), by Gary C. Howard. The letter to Cook can be found in The Selected Letters of Anthony Hecht (ed. Jonathan F.S. Post, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.)]