Dying on the Toilet


Best of 2016

We’re away until January 3, but we’re reposting some of our favorite pieces from 2016. Enjoy your holiday!

Francis Bacon, Triptych May–June 1973, 1973, oil on canvas, 6’6″ x 4’10”.

Revisited is a series in which writers look back on a work of art they first encountered long ago. Here, Max Porter revisits Francis Bacon’s painting Triptych May–June 1973.


What happens to Ben Lerner, or Ben Lerner’s character in Leaving the Atocha Station, when he has a profound experience of art cannot happen to a person too many times, or it stops being profound. I do not fall in love all the time, and I distrust the cultural vocabulary that insists I should. I’ve looked at a lot of art, and thought deeply about what I’m looking at, how I’m looking at it, and I think only two or three times has it been profound. This might be a failing on my part, and I could strive, like the ecstatic saints, to prolong the jouissance, the sweet heightened encounter. But for now, here is one of those times:

I was seventeen. I was preoccupied with death, with sex and flesh. I was darkly interested, for various reasons, in people who die on the loo, who end their days alone on a cold plastic seat, mid-shit. The death on the toilet is fantastically banal. It is not humiliating because it is gloriously normal, and you are dead. Let your final act be a flinging of limbs, a spreading of waste, a painterly use of the small space, a bravado arrangement of body parts, plumbing parts, white porcelain and red blood. Someone will find you. Someone will deal with your mess. None of it matters to the dead. We are all meat.