David Rakoff died. The very day that took place, I noticed some blood in my saliva. For various reasons that will become clear shortly, you will understand that I am obviously not the sort of person who would resort to an insipid, New Age, pseudo-mystical false limb here, as in “everything happens for a reason,” or “all things are connected.”
What is so stunningly stupid about truisms of this kind is their status exactly as such: they are unfalsifiable metaphysical helium of the kind that should never escape a self-respecting sentient someone. In addition, as will also become clear presently, I have good reason to infer that a great many of the shallow-pates and miscreants who pucker up and puke out this palliative palaver don’t buy it themselves. It is a masquerade, a consensual and deliberate delusion, a mask over the reality of their own mortality and fear and utter obliviousness to the truth about what just happened to David Rakoff and will inevitably happen to every single human being. Mistake me not: it might not happen by the same means. It will be the one and only end.
Reality is far more turbulent, cold and incandescent with mystery than we could ever hope to fathom. It does not care about you or me. It simply does not. Parts of its human population might, if you manage to avoid being a contemptible fuckwit frequently enough, but that will have to do. Reality is so enormous and complex that it makes us seem about as fascinating as a flake of dandruff. The ridiculous conceit that it—wait, let us dwell on “it” qua “it” for just a cough or a scratch. Could the wedding of a vowel and a consonant encompass everything that is not a rock’s dream? If any couple could, its members would have to be purely symbolic.
So, the dazzling deception that EVERYTHING, or any anthropomorphized version of the whole of it or its superintendent, is endowed with anything close to worries about your comfort and security is so gaspingly, chokingly absurd that denying it is something that only humans could do. We are so accustomed to weaving worlds out of words and ideas that we think the whole of everything must be both understanding and understandable according to the same laws that govern our pity and our anxiety and our pride. They must hold with catholic—remember that word when it did not make you wince and think of pedophilia? When it simply conjured ubiquity, rather than depravity?—scope and power. How solipsistic, how trite, how jejune it is of us to make this up. We do, though. We desperately want it to be so.
I will summon the temerity, the gall, the cheek to write it: I think I know why. It is an artful dodge. It is a way to make ourselves invulnerable to responsibility on one hand and impotent rage on the other. It is a way of saying: OK, everything will be fine, even if I am an amoral, vain sociopath who reads her own needs like a holy book, unseen forces will clean up after me. Conversely, if I sold my kidney to please said sociopath, unseen forces will conspire to harm her. It is an attempt to make the world into a gargantuan replica of your sweet and doting—or asphyxiating and ruthless—mother. We really must overcome this. We must understand and accept that there is no other way of making the world of our experience—incidentally, I think it is pornographically open to view that said world is merely a remote village on a hill compared to EVERYTHING—more human and humane unless we do it. You, me and the other clever primates, people.
We are not a stunt species. There is no leading actor preening and gloating behind the curtain while we are rolling around on fire in front of the camera. We must do it. We must do it very quickly.
David Rakoff died on Thursday. On that same filthy ruin of a day, it became clear to me that I have wasted precious time. I have been devoting embarrassing amounts of energy to meeting a woman to whom I will not wish to bid farewell. Very well, no subterfuge: the whole Dulcinea routine is involved here. Except, I dared hope she would be more flesh than figment. I have experienced all sorts of shocking, salacious, scintillating, startlingly stupid, ugly things. I had it wrong. Many do. I think we ought to be very careful to become who we ought to be before we seek out the person who is seeking that person. Become the human being worthy of the human being you seek. We do not have time to fuck around anymore. We must try to do what David Rakoff did.
He used all of the resources that he could summon to squarely confront experience—all of it—and give it back in the form of language. Uncannily gifted as a comic writer he was. No further questions need posing concerning that proposition. He was one of the more recent reasons that everyone who pays attention knows that we are mimetic mammals. He had a magical memory and an awareness of what he was doing in the fresh and zesty now that wriggled and undulated together as bodies engaged in the best kind of inappropriate touching do. He was so snugly—sometimes smugly—at home in the English language, even the most eccentric relatives at the buffet—or under it—stood at attention when he walked in. Now he has died.
He did not ask “…why me?” He smoked. I smoke. I am intimately aware of all of the dangers involved, as only a hypochondriac can be. I am not sure that you understand the dangers of just being alive for this curtain call for “…things are still basically alright.” Only an implausibly ignorant person could possibly swallow that chalky sedative now. We have really fucked things up, possibly irreparably. Absolutely savage, amoral plutocracy has all but eclipsed any trace of other possibilities, to such a degree that some of us are clumsily groping around for “post-everything” bafflegab while others are clinging to tradition and custom and atavistic superstition like melted wax on a candelabra. I have been very close to those in various kinds of retreat and quite literally inside the sort that wants this to be reducible to a charming fantasy, as if there is ever any necessary correlation between what the human likes and what the human gets. Reality is what remains despite your not liking it. It is tempting, no doubt, to vote for the less candid but more charismatic candidate. Alas, it is as bald as the moon that none of your liking or not liking touches the truth. Accept it.
David Rakoff did, with galvanizing sincerity and eloquence, writing and talking about succumbing to cancer that he contracted while being treated for cancer. You got it the first time: the radiation he got during Cancer Used to be a Stranger gave him Cancer Will Move after I Cannot. He understood that beyond the human sphere, there is no one to trust and no one to blame. There is all the stuff there is, yes. The sum of that stuff is not anyone, though. Outside the house of our being there is no dweller and no dwelling. If we cannot cajole living human beings into trying to make their collective existence more feasible in the short term (do you know how much poison and madness and death is cascading into the world that we rub and breathe and eat because of us?) and then tolerable, if not occasionally charming, it is all dissolving. I am as serious as metastasis. Visigoths and antibiotic resistant you name it. I mean to say, mutant sea creatures chewing on your aunt style.
There are as many reasons for this as there are ridiculous mirages that are mistaken for them. My point is that unless we start to change what we do and think and say in light of how it affects the other humans, we will be an explanation for the charnel house of zombie culture that so many are being dumbly masticated by at now o’clock. Do you know why that might be? It might be because we have enough sense to want to be prepared when we won’t be able to tell our buddies from their bodies. People are in danger of becoming crude, cruel cretins or gibbering, grunting ghouls with no moral imagination. What it is like to be the other human you are fucking, fighting, humiliating or hugging is not something we are attending to as carefully as we ought if we wish to have any courage to face ourselves in the morning.
You know what I have recognized as a sharp knife for the noose I have been knowingly knotting in the local lines? It is LANGUAGE, fellow fellows. Reading any complex text obliges you to make another subjectivity your object and another objectivity your subject. Schopenhauer was keen here. Incidentally, if misanthropes were cinematic heroes, he would be Batman, so do not take this as a stinking bit of flatulence like “communication is key.” He averred that reading is thinking with someone else’s head. I would extend and refine that as follows: reading is being with (In both senses, yes. We are there now: who I am and what I make of that and both of you, if you both follow, are caught up in your decoding of my encoding up to and including the hind parenthesis we’re coming to, and what’s waiting, if you will, beyond) someone else’s humanity. If we cannot understand one another, if we cannot imagine our way into as plausible a version of another self as is necessary to make us worry about her mood, then David Rakoff was the last glimpse of someone like David Rakoff we are going to get.
I will not just change channels after this. Neither should you. We do not have much time.