The Assassination Club

The Euthanasia Clinics are not the only way to buy your own death, however. There are the Assassination Clubs as well, and these have been growing in popularity. A person who wants to die, but is too afraid to go through with it himself, joins the Assassination Club in his census zone for a relatively modest fee. An assassin is then assigned to him. The customer is told nothing about the arrangements, and everything about his death remains a mystery to him: the date, the place, the identity of his assassin. In some sense, life goes on as it always has. Death remains on the horizon, an absolute certainty, and yet inscrutable as to its specific form. Instead of old age, disease, or accident, a member of an Assassination Club can look forward to a quick and violent death in the not-too-distant future: a bullet in the brain, a knife in the back, a pair of hands around his throat in the middle of the night. The effect of all this, it seems to me, is to make one more vigilant. Death is no longer an abstraction, but a real possibility that haunts each moment of life. Rather than submit passively to the inevitable, those marked for assassination tend to become more alert, more vigorous in their movements, more filled with a sense of life-as though transformed by some new understanding of things. Many of them actually recant and opt for life again. But that is a complicated business. For once you join an Assassination Club, you are not allowed to quit.

Paul Auster, “In the Country of Last Things.”

The language of ghosts.

So many of us have become like children again. It’s not that we make an effort, you understand, or that anyone is really conscious of it. But when hope disappears, when you find that you have given up hoping for the possibility of hope, you tend to fill the empty spaces with dreams, little childlike thoughts and stories to keep yourself going. Even the most hardened people have trouble stooping themselves. Without fuss or prelude they break off from what they are doing, sit down, and talk about the desires that have been welling up inside them. Food, of course, is one of the favourite subjects.(…) If the words can consume you, you will be able to forget your present hunger and enter what people call the “arena of sustaining nimbus.” There are even those who say there is nutritional value in these food talks-given the proper concentration and an equal desire to believe in the words among those taking part.

All this belongs to the language of ghosts. There are many other possible kinds of talks in this language. Most of them begin when one person says to another: I wish. What they wish for might be anything at all, as long as it is something that cannot happen. I wish the sun would never set. I wish money would grow in my pockets. I wish the city would be like it was in the old days. You get the idea. Absurd and infantile things, with no meaning and no reality. In general, people hold to the belief that however bad things were yesterday, they were better than things are today. What they were like two days ago was even better than yesterday. The farther you go back, the more beautiful and desirable the world becomes. You drag yourself from sleep each morning to face something that is always worse than what you faced the day before, but by talking of the world that existed before you went to sleep, you can delude yourself into thinking that the present day is simply an apparition, no more or less real than the memories of all the other days you carry around inside you.

Paul Auster, “In the Country of Last Things.”

Cuestiones urgentes

There is one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest-whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories- comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer. And if it is true, as Nietzsche claims, that a philosopher, to deserve our respect, must preach by example, you can appreciate the importance of that reply, for it will precede the definitive act. These are faces that the heart can feel; yet they call for careful study before the become clear to the intellect.

If I ask myself how to judge that this question is more urgent than that, I reply that one judges by the actions it entails. I have never seen anyone die for the ontological argument. Galileo, who held a scientific truth of great importance, abjured it with the greatest ease as soon as it endangered his life. In a certain sense, he did right. That truth was not worth the stake. Whether the earth or the sun revolves around the other is matter of profound indifference. To tell the truth, it is a futile question. On the other hand, I see others paradoxically getting killed for the ideas or illusions that give them a reason for living (what is called a reason for living is also an excellent reason for dying). I therefore conclude that the meaning of life is the most urgent of questions. How to answer it? (…)

Albert Camus, “The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays”.