Anakana Schofield – Author of Martin John and Malarky

Radio links: Reith Lecture “Hubris”

The Reith Lectures are underway on BBC Radio 4.

#3 Hubris I found most compelling:

“Dr. Gawande argues that the common reluctance of society and medical institutions to recognise the limits of what professionals can do can end up increasing the suffering of patients towards the end of life.”

I’d add to that the common reluctance more widely to face any notion of death at all (not merely at the end of life or terminal diagnosis when you’ve no choice but to face it, but in the everyday healthy population who chose not to think or dwell on it until it banjaxes them) is also inherent in refusing or refuting the limits. If you were to introduce the concept of the limits early: would you be better adjusted once they were upon you?

A curious change or shift is the lack of visible public mourning. I rarely to never see a funeral cortege in the city I live in. I am therefore never aware of anyone’s death around me unless they are personally known to me. This may be a peculiarity to this city. (You can read my LRB blog on the Final Funeral Forum to understand more about the specifics here) But if you take note of the new forms of overt social media mourning and outpourings, you cannot but notice a certain public possession towards the dead who are not known to us. Whether this is public figures or artists or people we’re vaguely familiar with or stories of people we’ve (now) been familiarized with through the channels of social media. Sometimes it can take the tone of near strident and heightened outpourings. Sometimes it’s verging on an Olympic competition. Then the rapid tributes arrive, endless anecdotes, breached correspondences, it starts to read like the semi-finals of who can now outdo the last espousal. In our confessional culture, the plate is wide and forks lose the run of themselves.

It’s likewise easy to get emotionally operatic at the end of one’s fingertips in relation to a person, actively, unknown to us as a living being but whose persona we’ve attached to. Note it’s much easier to attach to a distant, carefully shaped persona than engage with the difficulties and complexities and, one hopes, liveliness of an actual person. I would be curious about the absenting of one form of visible public mourning (the funeral cortege) versus the arrival of the invisible (self invited) funeral cortege where the stakes may not demand the same level of respect, in tandem with wider deflection on accepting death. (Becker’s Denial of Death) Case in point: you cannot hurl yourself into or at a passing funeral car or group of mourners. You must maintain some kind of decorum and respectable distance while bearing witness to what is passing, what that indicates, a life has ended. This isn’t the case at your keyboard into the vortex of social media and new media journalism, where you can bounce up and down on a trampoline of  self directed, insulated, wombling as you wish, to the extent the dead person is merely an accessory for you to womble around and tweet about.

Strange evolving disparities and disconnects that do not necessarily do much to engage with the urgent matter of thanatophobia. The limit of the final bus stop and the need to at some point get off the bus.

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