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No Dominion
February 2009

From Socrates and Cicero to Michel de Montaigne, it was axiomatic that to philosophise is to learn how to die. The novelist Julian Barnes situates his book about death, Nothing to be Frightened of, squarely in this tradition, except that the main thing he has learnt is that death is indeed something to be frightened of.

Where Montaigne's tone is sanguine, Barnes is relentlessly melancholy. One contributor to these pages, Joseph Epstein, waspishly suggested in the Weekly Standard that this "dolorous" book "would make a fine gift for someone one doesn't really like".

Our view of mortality depends in part on our view of immortality. Last October, Barnes suddenly lost his wife, the literary agent Pat Kavanagh, to whom he had dedicated the book. A few months earlier, I encountered Julian and Pat emerging from a Norfolk church. They were not, however, there to worship, but to see the place where Horatio Nelson had spent his boyhood.

For Barnes, there is no comfort from the thought of being reunited in the next life. Advertisements on London buses now proclaim: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." That gets it exactly the wrong way round. Barnes begins his book: "I don't believe in God, but I miss Him." Which is the greater burden: faith or its absence?

How very different from another book about death: As I lay Dying, by Richard John Neuhaus. This slim volume came out in 2002 after the author, one of the greatest American Christians of our time, unexpectedly recovered from a cancer that had been expected to kill him back in 1993.

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Anonymous
February 16th, 2009
1:02 AM
Meanwhile for most of his adult life he was a fully paid up propaganda hack for the world-wide Pentagon death machine---Eisenhowers military-industrial-"entertainment" complex

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