— D. J. Enright or perhaps Julian Barnes, or was it Thomas Nagel? Possibly all three.
For me, death is the one appalling fact that defines life; unless you are constantly aware of it, you cannot begin to understand what life’s about. Only a couple of nights ago, there came again that alarmed and alarming moment, of being pitchforked back into consciousness, awake, alone, utterly alone, beating pillow with fist and shouting, “Oh no Oh no OH NO” in an endless wail, the horror of the moment. I say to myself, “Can’t you face down death?” Can’t you at least protest against it more interestingly than that? For God’s sake, you’re a writer; you do words. We know that extreme physical pain drives out language; it’s dispiriting to learn that mental pain does the same.
No, that’s not me talking. You should know that by now.
Any guesses? The title of this essay should give you a hint since it’s the title of a book he published about ten years ago.
OK, he’s English. Primarily known as a novelist. Winner of the Man Booker Prize and many other literary honors.
He’s Julian Barnes, and he has a dread of death.
The account above, which I’ve condensed from the original, is just one example of what Barnes, who is an avid Francophile, likes to call le réveil mortel – an awakening with a...