This is a transcript of the first in a series of lectures entitled Imagining the End, delivered by Jonathan Lear at the Newberry Library in Chicago as part of the David L. Wagner Distinguished Lectureship for Humanistic Inquiry. The third lecture in this series, “Exemplars and the End of the World,” will be delivered remotely on April 7th at 5 p.m., Central Time. Details can be found here.
Just before the pandemic set in, I listened to a lecture on climate change. The lecture went as one might expect. There was a warning of impending ecological catastrophe and talk of the “Anthropocene,” suggesting that our age—the age in which humans dominate the earth—is coming to an end. At the end of the talk there was a discussion period. At one point a young academic stood up and said simply, “Let me tell you something: we will not be missed!” She then sat down. There was laughter through the audience. It was over in a moment. But it was a moment dense with meaning.
The comment was experienced as a joke and the laughter was spontaneous. It was a moment of release that no one anticipated but which the audience shared—a mini-catharsis. Release from what? My guess is that in response to real threats of climate change there has also been a change in the cultural climate. If we read newspapers or participate in social media, read blogs or watch television, it would be surprising if the end of the world were not somehow on our minds. There is cultural pressure to bear anxiety about the future. Does this anxiety help us—perhaps by alerting us to the challenges we face? Or might it distract us or otherwise get in the way?
Two Senses of an End
The joke links together two different senses of what we might mean by the end of life. There is the obvious sense of the end as termination, of life coming to an end. But there is also the sense of end as the aim or purpose, the goal or telos of life; the sense of: What is life all about? In effect, the joke “says” that because we have lost a sense of our proper end—our purpose—that human life is coming to an end.
The official meaning of the statement is one of cosmic justice (rendered in comic form). We will not be missed because we do not deserve to be missed. We humans, during our tenure on earth, have been so greedy and avaricious, so thoughtless, aggressive and destructive that if the endangered species and rain forests and polluted rivers, the plastic-choked lakes and oceans could speak, they would say, “good riddance!” The rest of the world is better off without us. It was as though the human presence on earth had been a disruption, and natural harmony would be restored once we were gone.
The joke also picks up on a culturally shared anxiety about the end of democracy. Are the contemporary institutions of democratic political life able to withstand the polarizing pressures that have come to mark our time? Again, there is a fear of democracy coming to an end because of the loss of our shared sense of its purpose or end. So, there are two catastrophes we face, one ecological, one political. And, if we take Plato as a guide, the two catastrophes are linked by the phenomenon of human appetite. For Plato, our appetites are voracious and unlimited, they can undergo indefinitely many transformations in imagination. They seek to acquire and consume without any sense of proper end. Democracy, for Plato, is precisely the political form that inflames our appetites and encourages us to expand them without limit. Were Plato to observe our scene today, it would make sense to him that democracy comes to an end in a tyranny of appetite that itself brings ecological catastrophe.
Of course, culturally shared anxieties about living at the end of the world have recurred in history—they are certainly present in the Christian and Jewish traditions—and I am not competent to comment on the reality of any of the threats. But it is, I think, fascinating to pay attention to how the two senses of end are linked. Although we may well be facing catastrophe, at least a certain type of meaningfulness will be preserved: somehow—because we have sinned or overreached or lost our sense of a proper form of life—we are about to get what we deserve. Justice is imminent, in the form of punishment and destruction.
Still, one might well wonder how we are able to enjoy this imagined punishment as a joke. On the surface, the comment invites us to envisage the catastrophic destruction of human life on earth: How does that get to be funny? The humor is dark, and it depends on a double entendre in the phrase “we will not be missed.” If we confine our attention to the imagined remaining earthly creatures who survive the catastrophe, none of them will miss us because, as far as we can tell, none of them will be capable of missing us in the manner that being missed matters to us. Other animals suffer loss and grieve. Our pets may miss us. But in the joke, we are threatened with the loss of the special kind of missing characteristic of human beings—mourning. When a loved one dies, our imaginations activate, trying to make sense of it all. Often we join in cultural rituals; sometimes we withdraw. Either way, our thoughts seek the whole: Who was that person? What was our relationship? What does it all mean? It is, of course, not unusual for humans when facing the prospect of our own death to find solace in the thought that we will be remembered lovingly by our loved ones, and fondly and admiringly by those with whom we have shared our life. It is important to us to think of ourselves as participating in values and projects that we take to be good and believe will continue on after we are gone. So, it seems that the punishment we suffer in the imaginary logic of the joke is that of being deprived of this kind of being missed. If humans go out of existence we will not be missed because the very capacity to miss in this way will go out of existence at the same time. There will be nobody left to miss us. How could that thought be funny?
Where are we?
If not being missed is an imagined punishment for our misdeeds, it helps to ask from what position we might enjoy the prospect of this punishment. There are occasions in which we say, “We are…” and although we thereby officially include ourselves, through an indeterminateness of mind we at the same time unofficially leave ourselves out. Consider the self-righteous preacher standing before his congregation who declaims, “We are all sinners!” If he is put on the spot by a member of the congregation—“Really? Even you, Reverend?”—he will say, “Yes, of course! Me most of all!” But what if he is not put on the spot? It is not difficult to envisage a situation in which the preacher leaves in abeyance whether he is really included in this “we.” In a similar vein, both Kierkegaard and Heidegger have shown us that we typically use phrases such as “We are all going to die someday” or “We are all mortal” as clichés, to tranquilize us out of any real encounter with how what we are saying targets us. Although we say “we,” a stealthy I slips the noose.
The joke plays with this ambiguity in where we might locate ourselves. There is of course the we who will not be missed, the we who is the official subject of the judgment. But what about we who render the judgment? If pushed by this question, we have to admit we fall in both categories. But the joke works by allowing us a moment to leave that question in abeyance. There is room in imagination—in fantasy—for us to take up the position of we-as-judge, and leave it unemphasized that we are also the judged. In imagination we project ourselves forward to a time in which “we” can imagine getting what “we” deserve, only somehow, in the exercise of the joke itself we are on the punishing rather than on the receiving end of the punishment. There is pleasure to be had in imagining justice done, due punishment meted out to humankind—at no real cost to one’s split-off self. Note that “We will not be missed” has legislative force, tinged with omnipotence. It is like the king saying of his prisoner, “He will spend the rest of his days in prison.” So it is not simply a statement about the future; it is an enactment of an (imaginary) punishment in the present.
It also makes room for an imaginary escape hatch in which, although we deserve the punishment, somehow it is unjust that I do. By taking up the position in consciousness of judging superego, I get to tacitly separate myself from the verdict.
On the receiving end
Thus far I have been exploring the pleasures to be had in enjoying “we will not be missed” as a joke. Now I would like to consider the joke from the other side of the split, and inquire into the punishment we are to suffer. There are two uncanny features of the joke that are not yet accounted for. First, the manner of not being missed is unusual. By way of contrast, consider a familiar trope to be found in films of the “Wild West”: A bad guy comes to town and threatens the emerging but fragile system of justice. After some worries and real peril to the town, he is killed by a good guy. As a few of the citizens stand over the grave a character actor says, “He will not be missed.” The point is that civilization has been saved and the bad guy will not be part of it. But in the situation we are considering, it is not just that civilization is under threat, civilization is also the bad guy—responsible for its own undoing.
Second, in the standard case, the bad guy is not missed but the social institution of mourning continues—and that is part of why not-being-missed matters. Being remembered, mourned, honored is a persisting good. But in the case of the death of all humanity, we are confronted with the prospect of the end of the mourning itself. We the hearers of the joke are thus to be the last generation of mourners. Insofar as there is any mourning left to be done, we have the last chance. Does that come with any responsibilities? Ought we to be mourners of ourselves? If we will not be missed, should we start missing ourselves now, in anticipation? We would then become subject and object of our own mourning activity.
Here we come to a distinctive moment in the joke—one which marks it off from merely being dark humor, and which lies at the other end of the emotional spectrum from providing us with the comic relief of an imaginary escape hatch from our problems. In effect, this strand in the joke “says” that it is too late. Not just that it is too late to reverse the tide of events, but that it is too late to do anything now that would make it worth our being mourned. And so the imaginary punishment in the joke is not simply being deprived of the good of being missed by others in the future; nor is it even the punishment of having to imagine now that we will be deprived of the good of being missed. In addition, the joke enjoins us to acknowledge that even our current activity of mourning—should we exercise our capacity to mourn ourselves—would, in these circumstances, be of no value. It is an attack on the value of our current capacities. At stake is not just not-being-missed in the future but the value of missing in the present.
This strand of the joke is an expression of despair. Examining it is important because we live in an age that fosters it. In the name of drawing attention to the problems we face, there is a form of discourse that discourages creativity and hope in addressing them. Despair thrives when it is not fully conscious of what it is. It portrays itself as truthfulness: as the courage to face grim reality straight on, without the wishful illusions that keep us so complacent. It does not understand its own motivated fantasy structure.
In the joke, the we-who-will-not-be-missed deserve what is coming our way. This we as I have suggested must be a split-off we—separated in fantasy from all that is marvelous and good about us: our capacity for generosity and kindness, for stunning acts of creativity, achievements of discovery and knowledge, for art and love, for our capacity to self-consciously understand and appreciate the world in which we live. If all this human goodness were present to mind, the young academic’s comment would be an occasion for overwhelming sadness, especially if combined with the poignant recognition that in some sense we have brought this destruction on ourselves. In short, it would be an occasion for mourning: for facing up to our ambivalence about our own situation and at least beginning to work through a sense of tragic loss. This is the mourning that is foreclosed in the joke. And so there is reason to see the joke as an active refusal to mourn.
It is this refusal that marks the joke off from other attempts at humor or witty aphorisms about the limits of mourning. For example, in an episode from The Simpsons, an aging grandma chooses heroic death, killing a dragon. Young Lisa says:
“As long as Grandma lives on in our hearts, then she’s never truly gone.”
And her skeptical brother Bart responds:
“Until we die. Then it’s like she never existed.”
In this scene Bart confronts us with a blunt truth about the human condition, but there is no hint that she or they are worthless or that they are getting what they deserve. In the episode Grandma is a hero. The comedy plays with our wishful illusions about immortality—it brings out the distance between illusion and reality in comic fashion—but it works without derision or contempt or punishment. By contrast, in “We will not be missed!,” we are being punished, we deserve to be punished and nothing we could do about it now—including mourning—could possibly alter our miserable fate. So, this leads us to the question: What is it about mourning that tempts us to refuse it?
There are, I think, three overlapping sets of answers. First, there is pleasure to be had in imagining ourselves on the right side of justice, inflicting punishment on those whom we think deserve it. This pleasure fuels a tendency towards misanthropy—enjoyment of a generalized dislike of human beings and the human condition. And it is easier to enjoy misanthropy if one has a split-off conception of the human—as greedy, selfish, thoughtless animals. I also wonder whether the joke deals with our shared anxiety about the future by gratifying a wish to get it all over with. At least we then no longer have to bear the anxiety of not knowing.1
Second, there may be too much pain involved in acknowledging the loss caused by our own extinction. We need to stay away from it—and if that means diminishing our own worth by portraying us one-sidedly in diminished terms, that may be easier to bear. That said, there are levels of complexity here. There is, obviously, the difficulty, perhaps terror, in contemplating our own extinction. That alone would be enough to stay away from if we could. And then there is the difficulty, perhaps terror, in contemplating the extinction of human being as such. But what does this difficulty consist in? It seems to me that there is an element here that is difficult to admit because it goes against current cultural images: a sadness that if we were all to perish, all the goodness we create and contribute every day would disappear from the universe. And all memory of our goodness would vanish without a trace.
And this brings us to the third reason: the refusal to mourn sustains despair. Despair nourishes itself via its refusal to mourn. In this strand of the joke, “We will not be missed” is part of a self-maintaining activity of despair—a resoluteness in hopelessness. To see how this is so, we need to understand in more detail what mourning is and how, by its own activity, mourning takes the energy out of despair.
Mourning as Health
The first step is to recognize mourning as a manifestation of human health. Sigmund Freud placed the capacity to mourn at the center of human well-being. In “Mourning and Melancholia” he identified mourning as the healthy counterpart to the pathological condition of melancholia. But his focus was on pathology: he wanted to come to understand the strange phenomenon of melancholia by comparing it to what he took to be a familiar and accepted aspect of life, “the normal affect of mourning” (emphasis mine). So there is still a question of what it is about our normal life that makes mourning healthy. Why does Freud treat it as a signifier of health? He says that mourning typically involves “grave departures from the normal attitude to life” and yet “it never occurs to us to regard it as a pathological condition.” But the reason he gives is forward-looking: “We rely on its being overcome after a certain lapse of time.” On this view, mourning would be healthy only in the extended sense of being efficacious in getting us back to ordinary forms of life.
But there is also a strain in Freud’s thought that is intrigued by the inner workings of mourning itself. Consider this passage from his short essay “On Transience”:
Mourning over the loss of something that we have loved or admired seems so natural to the layman that he regards it as self-evident. But to psychologists mourning is a great riddle, one of those phenomena which cannot themselves be explained but to which other obscurities can be traced back.
This is not the place to delve into the intricacies of Freud’s theory, but in brief, he argues that we humans have a “capacity for love”—he gives it a scientific name of libido—which we exercise by forming attachments to people and things in the world. Our loved ones are of course vulnerable—and thus so are our loving attachments—and should a loved one die, we suffer loss: we linger over memories, we experience grief, we turn to rituals to help us understand and contain our sorrow.
But why it is that this detachment of libido from its objects should be such a painful process is a mystery to us and we have not hitherto been able to frame any hypothesis to account for it. We only see that libido clings to its objects and will not renounce those that are lost even when a substitute lies ready to hand. Such then is mourning.
Freud here takes the stance of a naturalist, purportedly observing us without presupposition, just as he would observe any other species. What sticks out for him as needing explanation is: Why, when we suffer a loss, do we not just move on? Why do we spend time mourning the loss, rather than just find a substitute?
The Freudian answer, implicit in his work though not explicitly spelled out by him, is that it is characteristic of us as erotic creatures to come to life when a loved one dies. We get busy emotionally, imaginatively and cognitively and at least try to make sense of what has happened by creating a meaningful account of who the other person was, what the relationship has meant and how it continues to matter. We mourners, through our suffering, transform what would otherwise be a mere change into a loss, by which I mean the special emotion-filled way we create and maintain an absence in the world. We maintain this absence by keeping emotions, memories and imagination active, by keeping the loss present to mind. Without our mourning-activity there would be mere presence.
Why should this activity constitute our flourishing? At the opening of the Metaphysics Aristotle famously says that all humans by nature desire to understand. Mourning shows that even at the extreme of suffering the death of a loved one, we try to understand and discover the meanings of our attachments. Mourning is a committed not-letting-go of striving for meaningfulness in life. This activity counts as healthy because seeking to understand via making meaning is our characteristic activity; it is how we flourish, even in times of pain and grief.
But the psychoanalytic understanding of mourning takes us far beyond the paradigm moment at the grave. Once we understand the erotic dynamics of attachment and separation and loss we are in a position to see that mourning broadly understood is pervasive in human life—indeed, it is constitutive of human development. Allow me to tell you about the day my teddy bear ate a Ritz cracker. I had left Teddy with a Ritz cracker by his side and when I came back it was gone. I wish I had the words that would convey my amazement and delight. Maybe he really did eat the cracker! I was thrilled. Of course, at some point I “outgrew” Teddy—I “left him behind,” as we say—but delightful memories of this moment have been coming back to me, from time to time, throughout my life. These are playful moments of memory, and reverie is built into them. But here is the thing: although I can delight in remembering how it seemed to me then, that remembering cannot take me back to the experience of its actually seeming that way. Internal to the memory is not just delight, but also poignancy: an awareness that this is a me that I can remember and imagine but never really get back to. That manner of experiencing the world—a manner of living that once constituted a boy who was me—is gone. The point is not just that human development consists in different stages of cognitive and emotional experience, but that such development itself consists in bidding adieu to earlier forms of experiencing.
By now it should be clear that, from a psychoanalytic point of view, mourning and play are deeply intertwined. It is D. W. Winnicott who grasped what these phenomena have in common. He spoke of the need for “an intermediate area of experiencing … which is not challenged, because no claim is made on its behalf except that it shall exist as a resting-place for the individual engaged in the perpetual human task of keeping inner and outer reality separate yet inter-related.” (He called this area “transitional,” which I do not think is the best term, but it has stuck.) In the case of childhood play—say, with a teddy bear—Winnicott says that it is a matter of tacit agreement between good-enough parents and the supporting adult world that “we will never ask the question: ‘Did you conceive of this or was it presented to you from without?’ The important point is that no decision on this point is expected. The question is not to be formulated.” He notes it “will always be important” for us that we have “a neutral area of experience which will not be challenged.” And I think that includes the mourners at the grave. We friends and supporters of the mourners do not inquire into the status of ongoing conversation with the dead loved one, for example. The question is not to be raised. Winnicott says as much himself:
It is assumed here that the task of reality-acceptance is never completed, that no human being is free from the strain of relating inner and outer reality, and that relief from this strain is provided by an intermediate area of experience which is not challenged (arts, religion, etc.) … This intermediate area is in direct continuity with the play area of the small child who is ‘lost’ in play.
I take mourning to be included in his “etc.”
Mourning and Morality
I am here talking about Morality with a capital M. “Morality,” Bernard Williams tells us in Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, “is not one determinate set of ethical thoughts. It embraces a range of ethical outlooks,” but they all circulate around a “special notion of obligation.” What does such a Morality system promote in terms of the lived experience of those who participate in it? Williams is clear that it is in the business of producing punishment and blame and guilt:
Blame is the characteristic reaction of the morality system. The remorse or self-reproach or guilt … is the characteristic first-personal reaction within the system.
It is striking how well this account fits with Freud’s dark account of the civilizing process in Civilization and Its Discontents. Freud argues that civilization is not in place to promote our happiness or well-being—but rather to sustain itself, often at our expense. Basically, civilization makes strategic use of our own capacity to form a superego. There are social institutions, in this case Morality, that facilitate a peculiar kind of blame game. Our individual capacities for hatred and aggression and discontent are directed through cultural channels onto ourselves—thus producing crippling guilt and inhibition—or are then directed outward onto fantasied images of the bad other, who is punitively punished and blamed.
Now, perhaps because the joke we’ve been discussing is layered and has many strands, it may escape our notice how easily the comment “We will not be missed!” fits into the Morality System. We will not be missed because we do not deserve to be missed; and we do not deserve to be missed because we could have done otherwise and we should have done otherwise and we were thus obligated to do otherwise. Thus we are to blame. We ought to feel guilt. But, and here comes the kicker, it is too late to do anything about this now, other, that is, than recognize the inevitable, recognize our guilt and suffer.
Mourning provides relief from all of this. Of course, many forms of behavior and emotional reaction are called mourning—including blaming the dead, feeling guilty or angry towards them, thinking they should have done otherwise and so on. I do not wish to rule any of them out as cases of mourning. But I do want to draw attention to the special manner of mourning I’ve been describing—a play-like activity of imagination and memory—in which the loved one is remembered, and there may well be a partition into lovable and unlovable qualities. It is in the manner of the experience that issues of blame, questions of what the dead person could or should have done otherwise do not arise. In this “transitional” form of mourning we the mourners tacitly understand that such questions are not germane. It is not that the issues are covered up, evaded or repressed (though in other circumstances that might well happen). Rather, there is a realm of experiencing that provides a respite from all of this. Questions of would have or should have are left in well-deserved abeyance as we adopt an attitude of loving acceptance. And yet, it is just this manner of experience that the joke forecloses with respect to our mourning ourselves.
Mourning and the Kalon
Aristotle famously thought that happiness was the highest human good. And he thought that involved developing a character and being fortunate enough in circumstance that one could live an active life that was both excellent or virtuous and thereby, as he put it, kalon. The term “kalon” is translated sometimes as noble, sometimes as beautiful, sometimes as fine. Gabriel Lear in her research shows that these are not distinct meanings of a single word, but rather aspects of a unified concept, the kalon, that when we are flourishing applies to us. I am indebted to her work. It is precisely this capacity to act in ways that are kalon that, Aristotle thinks, distinguishes our human manner of flourishing—happiness—from the manners of flourishing of other animals. I do not think we should get hung up on the trope of how we differ from other animals—a topic surrounded by ignorance and fantasy. The important point Aristotle is making is that there is something very special about our capacity to act and create in ways that are kalon. The kalon actions that constitute a happy life have an internal experiential dimension as well as an outer social manifestation. Internally, the kalon act is experienced with the satisfaction and pleasure internal to knowing that it is kalon. Socially, the kalon act shows itself as kalon—for anyone able to appreciate it as such. Thus the kalon is a crucial node of human experience: connecting the social experience of being recognized in legitimately satisfying ways, with the personal satisfaction of knowing one is acting in kalon ways, with the fact of getting it right about the activity being kalon. In the kalon, self and society and world come together in a manifest harmony.
My aim here is not to recreate the life-world in which the concept of the kalon had its home, nor to recover in detail what Aristotle meant. But it seems to me that he was getting at something important. Rather than translate it, I am going to use the term kalon in self-conscious recognition that we are using a placeholder—a signifier—for a concept we may not yet have in a fully accessible form. Let me give a modern example: a generous person living generously. There is a special sort of flourishing or well-being manifested here. First, generosity is a stable and integrated condition of a person’s psyche. Generous persons will be motivated to perform generous acts when appropriate occasions arise; and the generous acts will thus flow from and express their character. Second, generous persons need to have good judgment as to how to express their generosity. Not just any act of giving will do. Third, living generously is truly a manner of our flourishing and is experienced as such—both by generous persons themselves and by those around them. The generous life is itself satisfying: experienced as meaningful and worthwhile; and, as such, pleasurable.
The Aristotelian-spirited thought is that this generous life is kalon. It is not merely about the obvious benefit to the recipient nor the satisfying experience of those who bestow generosity. It is not just that generosity is its own reward. And it is not just that generosity is constitutive of the generous person’s flourishing (though it is). It is that this flourishing—this generous person’s living generously—shines forth. It is not only good, but wondrous and marvelous that the universe contains generosity within it.
I would like to close by suggesting that mourning is itself kalon. It is not only good, but wondrous and marvelous that there should be mourning. As we have seen, mourning is a distinctively human way of responding to loss. It is a special manner of expressing grief: an insistence that what happened was no mere change. The loss is testament to our previous attachments—love and hate, care and entanglements—and constitutes us as beings with a history, a history that continues to matter. In response to loss we get busy making meaning, recreating what we have lost and reanimating forms of life that might otherwise disappear. This seems to me a wondrous response to love and loss, a wondrous response to caring and finitude in general.
Part of what it is to mourn the kalon—in the sense of mournfully anticipating the kalon going out of existence—is to acknowledge that the universe will be impoverished in the sense that something good will have gone out of existence. I imagine the objections: “You are projecting value onto the universe!” and “It is only from the human point of view that the kalon has any value.” These are importantly different objections, and I shall consider them in order. The claim to be projecting value is in itself vague. It has been given a precise meaning in a psychological-clinical context, but it functions as a metaphor outside that context. Insofar as we can understand it, the claim in this case is false. We are not anthropomorphizing the universe, nor are we treating it as though it were a human subject. Rather, we are treating ourselves as denizens of the universe, however large and however incomprehensible it may yet remain to us. In mourning the kalon we are recognizing it as good—and our mourning itself stands witness to the fact that should mourning go out of existence, it would not be a mere change in the universe; it would be a loss. This brings me to the second claim: that it is only from the human point of view that the kalon has value. As far as we know, that is true. But if it is only from the human point of view that the kalon can be appreciated for what it is, that seems all the more responsibility for us humans to express, celebrate, honor, remember and, if need be, mourn the kalon in anticipation. The fact that judgment of the value of the kalon needs to come from the human point of view does not of itself mean it is “merely subjective” in any pejorative sense of that term. As far as we know, human beings are the only creatures capable of objective judgment. So, in that sense, objective judgment, the truth, is “only from the human point of view.”
It seems to me that part of what it is to mourn the kalon in anticipation is to stand witness to its importance—that it should be, period. Even if we do not yet know in detail what we can or should mean by kalon, we can see that the joke works by attacking it. For “We will not be missed” to gain humorous assent in the sense of we do not deserve to be missed, all that makes us kalon—our generosity, and kindness, and courage, and creativity—needs to be passed over. It cannot be funny that the kalon recognized as such should go out of existence. And when we place ourselves in the position of passing judgment, we thereby admit that our current capacity to mourn could make no difference.
It is, of course, open to the young academic to respond that this whole idea of the kalon is a fiction, an idealization that ought to be rejected. From this point of view, truthfulness demands taking a dim view of the human condition; and the best one can do is turn this truth into humor. I cannot prove that this outlook is wrong. But I have tried to provide an interpretation of how this outlook gains its grip on us, one that I hope will loosen its charm, and to appeal to our own shared experience of the importance and value, the goodness of mourning. I am sympathetic to a remark made by Bernard Williams and then reiterated by Cora Diamond: at some point you have to decide whose side you are on. I have tried to come out on the human side. I hope at the least that I have shown that I can take a joke—I can take it so seriously and interpret it at such length as to drain the humor right out of it.
Image credit: James Joel (CC / BY Flickr)