March 16, 2012

Roger Ebert on going gently

The memoir which came out at the end of last year from Roger Ebert, the American film critic who was half of the classic Siskel-Ebert "Two thumbs up!" TV duo, and which I've just recently read, is full of humourous (but never simplistic) and intelligent (but always just discursive enough) stories about his life and, you know, about Life itself. I wouldn't have expected less; no one could not be fond of Roger Ebert, either back when he was "the fat one" of the famous duo, or now, when he pours his gift for communication into his blog, having lost his ability to speak after a series of operations for cancer of the thyroid, and then of the salivary glands.

If you're not interested in movies, or American life of the last half-century or so, or don't like memoirs, it might not be the book you want to pick up. But there are a number of passages which would speak to any human heart, and none more directly or wondrously than the one I am about to let you read.

It comes in a chapter at the end of the book called "Going gently". Ebert is sixty-nine and has had cancer; as he says, he doesn't expect to die anytime soon, but knowing that he could, and in fact is more likely to than most of the readers of his book, has led him to the contemplation of death, "the distinguished thing", as he quotes Henry James calling it on his deathbed.

What follows is one of the most affecting takes on death, and early death in particular, I've ever encountered. I've read it several times now, including once out loud to someone close to me who was recently brought by illness to a contemplation of death, as Ebert was, and the mix of feelings is as electrifying every time.

Ebert writes:


... I correspond with a dear friend, the wise and gentle Australian director Paul Cox. Our subject sometimes turns to death. in 2010 he came very close to dying before receiving a liver transplant. In 1988 he made a documentary named "Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent van Gogh". Paul wrote me that in his Arles days, van Gogh called himself "a simple worshiper of the external Buddha." Paul told me that in those days, Vincent wrote:

     Why, I ask myself, shouldn't the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France? Just as we take a train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star. We cannot get to a star while we are alive any more than we can take the train when we are dead. So to me it seems possible that cholera, tuberculosis and cancer are the celestial means of locomotion. Just as steamboats, buses and railways are the terrestrial means.     To die quietly of old age would be to go there on foot.

That is a lovely thing to read, and a relief to find I will probably take the celestial locomotive. Or, as his little dog, Milou, says whenever Tintin proposes a journey, "Not by foot, I hope!"

Life itself: a memoir by Roger Ebert

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 04:00


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