The manifest incapacity of modern man
to stand alone in front of themselves,
if only for a moment.
A shrill, insistent scream brings me back around. On St. Denis, an ambulance forces its way through the sacred cows. They move away from the furious, oncoming bull that rushes towards St-Luc Hospital, a refuge for broken and defective humans. (St-Luc Hospital was demolished in 2019 to make way for a new mega-hospital: the CHUM.)
Living in the heart of the Plateau (the most densely populated place in Canada), I’m amazed at the number of ‘defective’ people collected each day: the number of ambulances, fire trucks, patrol cars and other vehicles dedicated to this human misfortune; the brutal tearing of space by electronic screams. The sickness, injury, aggression, emotional crisis, fighting the psychological disturbance and existential disgust. Whatever. A siren goes off. Fires, floods, robberies, vandalism and fighting. Whatever. A siren is activated. The same events play out in other neighbourhoods of Montreal, also filled with hospitals, police and fire stations… distant from my daily life.
Passersby startled by the sirens take notice and give way if necessary, then move on with their lives. We forget how lucky we are to be healthy. There have been many times when I’ve imagined myself in an ambulance, lying there conscious, strapped to the stretcher; reflecting on the happiness of people sitting at terraces on a sunny day, watching an ambulance go by; as I’m doing right now. Isn’t this an essential preoccupation for every writer: to want to live through the eyes of others and imagine such moments for oneself.
My death essentially belongs to my loved ones and me. Others don’t care about my death: this inner journey that moves so quickly, catching me unawares. “Don’t take it personally; » I would hear at home, “life is selfish. Just look ahead, as far ahead as possible.” The whole history of human intelligence bear witness to this. Besides, the people we care about are the ones we remember once they’ve disappeared from our daily lives. There is only the me who lives in me and for me. We become sensitive to the lives of others on the condition that we consider them as the other I’s. In such, eulogies are for the ears of the living, those who will continue to live and not forget me. No one remembers the young woman who lies in the Taj Mahal, no matter how impressive her burial is. The past fades (fades) one detail at a time.
Normal people bring children into the world;
novelists like me, books.
We’re condemned to die in their pages.
Carlos Ruiz Zafòn
There exist memorial tombstones—works of fiction (novels) whose message is sculpted by the deceased. The Czech writer Milan Kundera points out in The Art of the Novel (a collection of short essays on writing) that every text is a testament bequeathed by the author—to other solitudes. Moreover, the silence of words inscribed in an orderly fashion does not suggest a possible dialogue. The dialogue becomes apparent only when one stands motionless in front of the tombstone’s inscription.
Within this context, Brian Stoker’s Dracula becomes the ‘Chanel N°5’ of literary tombstones. Such an iconic tombstone occurs in Dracula when a ship arrives in the London harbor with its dead captain chained to the helm, clutching a crucifix. According to a local newspaper, the incidence creates legal complications, since the dead captain is the last person in possession of the object. The events that unfold within Dracula are narrated through a collection of personal journals, letters, the captains’ log and newspaper clippings.
If the author writes in the ‘now’, he exists for his readers only posthumously, being the last person to have held the book (the object) in their possession. Even if the author is still alive following their novel’s completion, their text exists—persists outside of themselves. Furthermore, the act of writing has transformed the author and his future writings. They’ll come to haunt his thoughts.
♪ As time goes by … ♫
…every author reads their texts increasingly within a posthumous context. Each text is a “little death” according to the essayist, theorist and novelist, Georges Bataille. “A contented death is the wage of art,” notes the French philosopher, Maurice Blanchot. Franz Kafka believed that the writer works to die happy and wrote in his diary: « I do not depart from men to live in peace, but to die in peace » (some of the most relevant words I’ve come across in better understanding my own life). Writing is the offering of a moment in our personal life to the memory of another moment, a shelter from oblivion.
A writer creates his memorial tombstone by inscribing their epitaph on it. For others, a mermaid may appear, bearing witness to their death. But following the event, nothing remains. It’s for this very reason; we have children, write wills or even a book, among other things—fearing the oblivion.