“Arthur Koestler expressed ‘some timid hopes for a depersonalized afterlife.’ Such a wish is unsurprising — Koestler had devoted many of his last years to parapsychology — but to me distinctly unalluring. Just as there seems little point in a religion which is merely a weekly social event (apart, of course, from the normal pleasures of a weekly social event), as opposed to one which tells you how to live, which colors and stains everything, which is serious, so I would want my afterlife, if one’s on offer, to be an improvement — preferably a substantial one — on its terrestrial predecessor. I can just about imagine slopping around half-unawares in some gooey molecular remix, but I can’t see that this has any advantage over complete extinction. Why have hopes, even timid ones, for such a state? Ah, my boy, but it’s not about what you’d prefer, it’s about what turns out to be true. The key exchange on this subject happened between Isaac Bashevis Singer and Edmund Wilson. Singer told Wilson that he believed in survival after death. Wilson said that as far as he was concerned, he didn’t want to survive, thank you very much. Singer replied, ‘If survival has been arranged, you will have no choice in the matter.’
The fury of the resurrected atheist: that would be something worth seeing. And while we’re on the subject, I think the company of saints might be distinctly interesting. Many of them led exciting lives — dodging assassins, confronting tyrants, preaching at medieval street corners, being tortured — and even the quieter ones could tell you about beekeeping, lavender-growing, Umbrian ornithology, and so on. Dom Perignon was a monk, after all. You might have been hoping for a broader social mix, but if it ‘has been arranged,’ then the saints would keep you going for longer than you might expect.”
From Nothing to Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes.
I stayed up most of last night reading Barnes’s highly anticipated new work Levels of Life. It’s one of the most refined, and probably the most heartbreaking book I’ve ever read. The last third is an extended essay on loss and bereavement — a meditation so heavy that the only thing keeping you from collapsing under its emotional weight is the lucidity and beauty with which it’s crafted. Barnes is an absolutely masterful writer. For my money, Ian McEwan is the only living author who can write such intricate prose.
Pick up a copy of Levels of Life.
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