Posts Tagged ‘death’
August 23, 2013 | by Lisa John Rogers
“‘It’s not black and white,’ a young doctor from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles had told me, in 1982, about the divide between life and death.”
—Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking
I had been avoiding the research, the further reading, about my father’s death. After discovering that the Detroit Police kept appealing the lawsuit, trying to pin the “accident” on the fourteen-year-old they were chasing before he crashed into my father’s car, I became depressed, and stopped digging. This was two days before Detroit declared bankruptcy. Before I heard about a man, Dwayne Provience, who was suing the city of Detroit for “accidentally” convicting him of a crime he did not commit. Now the city was bankrupt and his lawsuit was frozen, like the nine years of his life spent in prison. Provience’s lawsuit is for police misconduct, similar to the one that my mother filed after my father’s “accident,” but that was the late nineties. Provience said he wanted to use the potential money to pay off the child-support debt that had accumulated during his time away and to help pay for his children’s education. The insurance cities rely on in incidents like this, “accidents” like this, is exactly what allowed me to afford college. Read More »
August 19, 2013 | by Adam Leith Gollner
What have we not done to live forever? My research into the endless ways we’ve tried to avoid the unavoidable is released today as The Book of Immortality: The Science, Belief, and Magic Behind Living Forever (Scribner). Every Monday for the next six weeks, this chronological crash course will examine how humankind has striven for, grappled with, and dreamed about immortality in different eras throughout history.
We’ve always had a thing for sequels. The suggestion of a second act is built into the fossil record. Tens of thousands of years ago, Neanderthals were already digging premeditated grave sites. They intentionally buried dead kin in fetal positions, indicating some hunch about posthumous rebirth. By Neolithic times, when we’d gotten the hang of agriculture, food started being placed alongside entombed bodies—presumably so they’d have snacks for their journey to the spirit realm.
Our terror and awe of mortality can be traced back to prehistoric nothingness. Every story about immortality since then has been a story about the meaning of death, an attempt at warding off our innate fear of finality. As soon as we figured out how to write, we started jotting down consolatory tales about living forever.
The cuneiform tablets of Nineveh, among the earliest written documents, tell of King Gilgamesh, whose best friend dies. He is stricken with grief. But he is the omnipotent king of Uruk, the one who gazed into the depths—the one who slayed the Bull of Heaven!—surely he’s almighty enough to bring dead loved ones back from the grave. Mute with sorrow and pride, he buries his friend beneath a river and sets out to find eternal life. The scorpion people, whose knowledge is fathomless and whose glance is death, warn him about dangers ahead. A lady of the vines tries to console him, telling him that love is the closest mortals can come to immortality. Crossing the Waters of Death, he discovers a marvelous underwater plant that contains the secret of perpetual youth—the watercress of immortality, as the clay etchings call it, or the “never-grow-old”—but, alas, a serpent promptly steals it away. History’s prototypical protagonist fails, yet his story ends the only way it can: with acceptance of reality. Of mortality. Read More »
June 20, 2013 | by Rachael Maddux
“I’ve been having a lot of anxiety about death lately,” my friend Kate said. It was early September and she and I and some others were crammed into a red leather booth in a bar that had once been a gas station. It was still warm outside but it wouldn’t be much longer. “I think it’s because my grandmother just died,” she said. “I don’t know—I’ve never really thought much about it before now.”
As she spoke, the upper half of my body slumped out and across the table, empty glasses clinking as my elbow nudged them aside. “Tell me what that’s like,” I said, eyes wide, as if imploring her to recount some illicit rendezvous. She laughed and everyone laughed and the waitress came over and we ordered another round. Read More »
May 24, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
Deeply tragic, deeply instructive. Via Dangerous Minds.
April 22, 2013 | by Anna Wiener
It was October, and I was alone. I lived in Greenpoint with a close friend from college, but we were rarely home, and never home together. We floated in and out of each other’s lives. We left ourselves reminders that we had both been there: wet towels tossed over the shower curtain, mugs face down in the sink.
I was reading or writing or worrying; I can’t remember, but it hardly matters. The curtains were open, and the head of the plastic owl strapped to the ledge outside of the living room window was swirling. In retrospect, I should say “swirling ominously,” but this was not unusual: it was loose and spun wildly in light breeze. What I mean to say is I didn’t think twice about anything, certainly not about the lights flashing blue-red-blue-red-blue-red-blue against the wall, until I did.
I went downstairs to take a look.
Around the corner, an intersection was cordoned off with orange police tape. Two cruisers blocked traffic. A small van had stopped in the middle, and as I approached I saw that it was empty and the hood was crushed against the windshield. Read More »
April 19, 2013 | by Katie Ryder
I remember sitting in red tights and buckled shoes in my childhood room as my word processor booted up. My father had taught himself DOS programming, and boxy yellow letters blinked on the gray green screen. “THIS IS KATIE RYDER’S WORD PROCESSOR. HELLO KATE.” A system-check flashed through my existing files—“/a_bad_day” (child minimalist), “/last_unicorn” (child plagiarist)—before bringing me to the composition page. My dad’s words changed slightly from week to week by mysterious means; this time, they declared: “YOU’RE READY TO WRITE KATE.”
In Scott Hutchins’s debut novel, A Working Theory of Love, Neill Bassett Jr. communicates with his dead father through a computer. Dr. Neill Bassett Sr. committed suicide while his son was in college and left behind a tome of meticulous journals. These—painstaking and only superficially personal—are used to form the base “personality” of a computer run by a small team of scientists aiming to develop the world’s first “sentient” machine, by the standards of the Turing test. Neill’s task is to “chat” with DrBas, as the program is called, and work out the kinks, training the computer in the rules of language and interaction. Soon it begins to demonstrate inclinations and preferences—something a bit like a will—and DrBas comes to closely resemble Neill’s dead father. The two talk of Neill Sr.’s best friend; his wife, Libby; Neill Jr.’s childhood and current life—a recent divorce and a new, stunted romance with a much younger woman—all the while skirting the black hole of the computer’s knowledge: that the real Dr. Bassett killed himself in 1995, that the person Dr. Bassett is dead.
Meanwhile, in the real world, inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil has stored a warehouse room full of information about his own dead father for the purpose of bringing him back to life as an electronic consciousness. The chief inventor of the flatbed scanner and the Kurzweil keyboard synthesizer, and a millionaire many times over, Kurzweil described the Internet before its existence and accurately projected the year a computer would defeat a human chess champion. He now predicts computers will reach sentience by 2029—a point at which they will “match human intelligence and go beyond it.” This moment is sometimes referred to as the singularity—a mythic, multipurpose term, borrowed from physics and mathematics. At its most basic, the singularity is the moment when “the model breaks down”: when we can no longer know what we knew before. In a 2009 documentary about Kurzweil called Transcendent Man, Ray explains that he will live forever (through transhumanistic nanotechnology: microscopic machines that will aid in “reprogramming” our “Version 1” bodies to more perfect health), and, he says, eyes into the camera, “I do plan to bring back my father.” Fred Kurzweil’s letters, sheet music, financial ledgers, and electric bills all sit in wait. Read More »