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Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Posthumous Homage

All were alienated Jews and all died young: Eric Michaels of AIDS, Gillian Rose, cancer, and Maryse Holder, murder. They left behind the kind of writing that makes you shiver.

"Little circlets of morbidity," Michaels called his lesions. All day, as he died, "I drift in and out of sleep; there's really nothing else to do. As a result, I dream excessively, and the membrane between sleep and wakefulness is very porous, nearly translucent. Most dreams appear wholly trivial, as if I've used up the store of significata and only have random images now to assemble erratically."

"How unutterably sad," wrote Holder; "to be born only in order to decay and depart forever from places one has mastered, that have belonged to one, or even from a life one hasn't yet had a chance to deserve inheriting because of laziness and fear."

"I find it impossible not to see that apartment," wrote Rose, remembering the New York flat of a friend whose life had collapsed, "which is branded into my mind, as the emblem of the postmodern city. With its garish half-light provided day and night by a green and yellow Tiffany lamp, it was the veritable philosopher's cave. Crammed with the phantasmagoria of Western culture, everything, by the time we got to it, was in a more or less advanced state of decreation. The most mighty art books, multivolume sets of the major philosophers in the original languages, Greek, German, and French, a unique music collection comprising thousands of records, tapes, and CDs, hundreds of American paperbacks of literature and philosophy - all were scored with dirt, infested with cockroaches, stale with dust and debris."

Unknown to one another, these three seem to me compatriots, a visionary cohort compelled into their best writing by their dissolution. Professors of anthropology, philosophy, and comparative literature, Michaels, Rose, and Holder realized as they declined certain surviving truths. For instance, "However satisfying writing is," Rose wrote, " - that mix of discipline and miracle, which leaves you in control, even when what appears on the page has emerged from regions beyond your control - it is a very poor substitute indeed for the joy and the agony of loving."