Dying in Character: Memoirs on the End of Life

Dying in Character: Memoirs on the End of Life

by Jeffrey Berman


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In the past twenty years, an increasing number of authors have written memoirs focusing on the last stage of their lives: Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, for example, in The Wheel of Life, Harold Brodkey in This Wild Darkness, Edward Said in Out of Place, and Tony Judt in The Memory Chalet. In these and other end-of-life memoirs, writers not only confront their own mortality but in most cases struggle to "die in character"—that is, to affirm the values, beliefs, and goals that have characterized their lives.

Examining the works cited above, as well as memoirs by Mitch Albom, Roland Barthes, Jean-Dominique Bauby, Art Buchwald, Randy Pausch, David Rieff, Philip Roth, and Morrie Schwartz, Jeffrey Berman's analysis of this growing genre yields some surprising insights. While the authors have much to say about the loneliness and pain of dying, many also convey joy, fulfillment, and gratitude. Harold Brodkey is willing to die as long as his writings survive. Art Buchwald and Randy Pausch both use the word fun to describe their dying experiences. Dying was not fun for Morrie Schwartz and Tony Judt, but they reveal courage, satisfaction, and fearlessness during the final stage of their lives, when they are nearly paralyzed by their illnesses.

It is hard to imagine that these writers could feel so upbeat in their situations, but their memoirs are authentically affirmative. They see death coming, yet they remain stalwart and focused on their writing. Berman concludes that the contemporary end-of-life memoir can thus be understood as a new form of death ritual, "a secular example of the long tradition of ars moriendi, the art of dying."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781558499652
Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press
Publication date: 02/28/2013
Edition description: 1
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Jeffrey Berman is Distinguished Teaching Professor of English at the University at Albany. He is the author of thirteen books, including Companionship in Grief: Love and Loss in the Memoirs of C. S. Lewis, John Bayley, Donald Hall, Joan Didion, and Calvin Trillin (University of Massachusetts Press, 2010).

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: "It Is When Faced with Death That We Turn Most Bookish" 1

1 "I Never Saw or Heard the Car Coming" My Close Call with Death 20

2 "Death Itself Is a Wonderful and Positive Experience" Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and The Wheel of Life 38

3 "With Autobiography There's Always Another Text, a Countertext" Philip Roth and Patrimony 75

4 "Death Confers a Certain Beauty on One's Hours" Harold Brodkey and This Wild Darkness 108

5 "I Have Never Been Tempted to Write about My Own Life" Susan Sontag, David Rieff, and Swimming in a Sea of Death 135

6 "Sleeplessness for Me Is a Cherished State" Edward W. Said and Out of Place 168

7 "There Is More Than One Sort of Luck" Tony Judt and The Memory Chalet 194

8 "I Never Realized Dying Could Be So Much Fun" Art Buchwald and Too Soon to Say Goodbye 209

9 "Learn How to Live, and You'll Know How to Die" Morrie Schwartz's Letting Go and Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie 225

10 "I'm Dying and I'm Having Fun" Randy Pausch and The Last Lecture 240

11 "Now I Cultivate the Art of Simmering Memories" Jean-Dominique Bauby and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly 254

12 "I Live in My Suffering and That Makes Me Happy" Roland Barthes and Mourning Diary 265

Conclusion: Alive When They Died 284

Works Cited 299

Index 313

What People are Saying About This

James Brown

Dying in Character is a fine book, and Berman is one insightful, intelligent critic. I applaud him for his courage in tackling the sensitive subject of death and dying.

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