TitleNothing To Be Frightened Of
AuthorJulian Barnes
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Nothing To Be Frightened Of

Julian Barnes
Page 64-65

My brother does not fear extinction. 'I say that confidently, and not just because it would be irrational to have such a fear' (sorry – interruption – irrational? IRRATIONAL? It's the most rational thing in the world – how can reason not reasonably detest and fear the end of reason?). 'Three times in my life I've been convinced I was on the point of dying (the last time I came to in a reanimation ward); I did, on each occasion, have an emotional response (once a burning rage, at myself who had put myself into such a situation, once shame mixed with vexation at the thought that I was leaving my affairs in a mess) but never once fear.' He even had a dry run on a deathbed utterance. 'The last time I nearly died, my almost last words were, "Make sure that Ben gets my copy of Bekker's Aristotle".' He adds that his wife found him 'insufficiently affectionate'.

He admits that nowadays he thinks about death more than he used to, 'in part because old friends and colleagues are dying off'. He regards it calmly once a week; whereas I've put in the years and the slog, done the hard yards and the heavy lifting, without acquiring any mellowness or philosophy. I could try and scare up a few arguments in favour of death-awareness but I'm not sure they'd convince. I can't claim that confronting death (no, that sounds too active, too pretend-heroic – the passive mode is better: I can't claim that being confronted by death) has given me any greater accommodation with it, let alone made me wiser, or more serious, or more... anything, really. I could try arguing that we cannot truly savour life without a regular awareness of extinction: it's the squeeze of the lemon, the pinch of salt that intensifies the flavour. But do I really think that my death-denying (or religious) friends appreciate that bunch of flowers/work of art/glass of wine less than I do? No.