Ramblings & ephemera

Van Gogh on death

From Roger Ebert’s “Go gentle into that good night” (Roger Ebert’s Journal: 2 May 2009): Van Gogh in Arles wrote this about death: Looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map. Why? I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots […]

Roger Ebert on death

From Roger Ebert’s “Go gentle into that good night” (Roger Ebert’s Journal: 2 May 2009): What I expect will most probably happen [when I die] is that my body will fail, my mind will cease to function, and that will be that. My genes will not live on, because I have had no children. Perhaps […]

Immortality, poetically

From Roger Ebert’s “Go gentle into that good night” (Roger Ebert’s Journal: 2 May 2009): And there is Shakespeare, who came as close as any man to immortality. In my plans for life after death, I say, again with Whitman: I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, If you […]

From Philip Larkin’s “Aubade”

From Philip Larkin’s “Aubade“: I work all day, and get half drunk at night. Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare. In time the curtain edges will grow light. Till then I see what’s really always there: Unresting death, a whole day nearer now, Making all thought impossible but how And where and when […]

Totalitarian regimes adopt the trappings of religion for themselves

From Steven Weinberg’s “Without God” (The New York Review of Books: 25 September 2008): It has often been noted that the greatest horrors of the twentieth century were perpetrated by regimes – Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China – that while rejecting some or all of the teachings of religion, copied characteristics of religion at […]

Why David Foster Wallace used footnotes

From D. T. Max’s “Notes and Errata*: A DFW Companion Guide to ‘The Unfinished’” (The Rumpus: 31 March 2009): He explained that endnotes “allow . . . me to make the primary-text an easier read while at once 1) allowing a discursive, authorial intrusive style w/o Finneganizing the story, 2) mimic the information-flood and data-triage […]

A history of the negative associations of yellow

From Allen Abel And Madeleine Czigler’s “Submarines, bananas and taxis” (National Post: 24 June 2008): Depicted in frescoes and canvases from the early Middle Ages onward in the robes of the betrayer of the Christ, “Judas yellow” devolved into an imprint of depravity, treason and exclusion. … By the 12th century, European Jews were compelled […]

How it feels to drown, get decapitated, get electrocuted, and more

From Anna Gosline’s “Death special: How does it feel to die?” (New Scientist: 13 October 2007): Death comes in many guises, but one way or another it is usually a lack of oxygen to the brain that delivers the coup de grâce. Whether as a result of a heart attack, drowning or suffocation, for example, […]

Hallucinating the presence of the dead

From Vaughan Bell’s “Ghost Stories: Visits from the Deceased” (Scientific American: 2 December 2008): The dead stay with us, that much is clear. They remain in our hearts and minds, of course, but for many people they also linger in our senses—as sights, sounds, smells, touches or presences. Grief hallucinations are a normal reaction to […]

50% of people infected with personality-changing brain parasites from cats

From Carl Zimmer’s “The Return of the Puppet Masters” (Corante: 17 January 2006): I was investigating the remarkable ability parasites have to manipulate the behavior of their hosts. The lancet fluke Dicrocoelium dendriticum, for example, forces its ant host to clamp itself to the tip of grass blades, where a grazing mammal might eat it. […]

How the settlers changed America’s ecology, radically

From Charles C. Mann’s “America, Found & Lost” (National Geographic: May 2007): It is just possible that John Rolfe was responsible for the worms—specifically the common night crawler and the red marsh worm, creatures that did not exist in the Americas before Columbus. Rolfe was a colonist in Jamestown, Virginia, the first successful English colony […]

Bush’s Manicheanism destroyed him

From Glenn Greenwald’s “A tragic legacy: How a good vs. evil mentality destroyed the Bush presidency” (Salon: 20 June 2007): One of the principal dangers of vesting power in a leader who is convinced of his own righteousness — who believes that, by virtue of his ascension to political power, he has been called to […]

An elderly Eskimo & his unusual knife

From Wade Davis’ “Wade Davis: an Inuit elder and his shit knife” (Boing Boing: 26 September 2008): The Inuit didn’t fear the cold; they took advantage of it. During the 1950s the Canadian government forced the Inuit into settlements. A family from Arctic Bay told me this fantastic story of their grandfather who refused to […]

John Berryman’s suicide note

From Steve Marsh’s “Homage to Mister Berryman” (Mpls St Paul Magazine: September 2008): Berryman’s last words to Kate came on that January morning—he told her he was going to campus to clean his office. He had never said that before, she says, but Kate, who was attending Al-Anon meetings at the time, was trying “not […]

Graveyard shifts and torpedo coffins

From Atul Gawande’s “Final Cut: Medical arrogance and the decline of the autopsy” (The New Yorker: 19 March 2001): … in the nineteenth century … [some doctors] waited until burial and then robbed the graves, either personally or through accomplices, an activity that continued into the twentieth century. To deter such autopsies, some families would […]

Earliest recorded autopsy

From Atul Gawande’s “Final Cut: Medical arrogance and the decline of the autopsy” (The New Yorker: 19 March 2001): The Roman physician Antistius performed one of the earliest forensic examinations on record, in 44 B.C., on Julius Caesar, documenting twenty-three stab wounds, including a final, fatal stab to the chest.

1 Henry VI: inhearsed

From William Shakespeare’s Henry VI, part 1 (IV: 7): BURGUNDY: Doubtless he would have made a noble knight; See, where he lies inhearsed in the arms Of the most bloody nurser of his harms! inhearsed: laid as in a coffin

Talbot describes his son’s valiant death

From William Shakespeare’s Henry VI, part 1 (IV: 7): TALBOT: Where is my other life? mine own is gone; O, where’s young Talbot? where is valiant John? Triumphant death, smear’d with captivity, Young Talbot’s valour makes me smile at thee: When he perceived me shrink and on my knee, His bloody sword he brandish’d over […]

1 Henry VI: Talbot says farewell to his son

From William Shakespeare’s Henry VI, part 1 (IV: 5): TALBOT: Then here I take my leave of thee, fair son, Born to eclipse thy life this afternoon. Come, side by side together live and die. And soul with soul from France to heaven fly. (Talbot’s son refuses to flee & leave his father, even though […]

1 Henry VI: capital punishment for fighting in the king’s palace

From William Shakespeare’s Henry VI, part 1 (III: 4): Scene: Paris – The Palace BASSET: Villain, thou know’st the law of arms is such That whoso draws a sword, ’tis present death, Or else this blow should broach thy dearest blood. Blackstone in his Commentaries (IV. 124): “By the ancient law … fighting in the […]