Monday, July 7, 2008

God is Dead

Thomas M. Disch died by his own hand in his New York City apartment on July 4.

Artistically, things were going well for him.  He has several books scheduled to be published in the coming year, and Tachyon Publications had just published The Word of God, a strange metafictional screed in which Disch assumed for himself the titular role of a humane and explicitly atheistic supreme deity.

Everything else was a mess.  Disch was in poor health.  He'd been depressed in recent years, particularly after the death of his long-time partner Charles Naylor.  He was broke.  And there were efforts afoot to evict him from his rent-controlled apartment.

So he took what seemed to him appropriate action.

I find myself thinking about his early story "Descending."  In it, a penniless and unemployed young man, lost in thought as he reflexively takes a department store escalator downward for floor after floor, suddenly realizes that the landings no longer have exits and there is no up escalator.  He tries running upward, against the current as it were, but only succeeds in exhausting himself.  Finally he surrenders to the inevitable and continues downward, toward a bottom he will never reach.

Disch, it seems to me, found himself on the down escalator and decided to do something about it.  This is a terrible end for such a brilliant man and such a fine writer.  He had a reputation for being a curmudgeon, but he could be good company when he wished.  I regret his passing -- and in such a manner! -- very greatly.

There is lamentably little we can do for the dead.  But for a writer there is one last service possible.  Go back and re-read some of Tom's work.  (Camp Concentration and 334 are, in very different ways, possibly his best novels, but much as I admire them, I believe his short stories are his very best.  Getting Into Death and Other Stories is just flat-out brilliant.)  Then, if you can, recommend what you've read to somebody who will appreciate it.

End of sermon.

And As Always . . .

The Poem du Jour and Pastor Marcia's Journal have been updated.



TN-Tanuki said...

I'm utterly shocked. And saddened. I'll be re-reading him today. Damn!

Pat J said...

This, sadly, explains the mysterious post on William Gibson's blog the other day. I've read very little of Disch's work; I'll have to rectify that.

HANNAH'S DAD said...

His stories reached me in a way the novels didn't. They were scary stuff for the most part.

'The Asian Shore' is the best thing I've ever seen on xenophobia and loss of the self.

'The Joycelyn Shrager Story' is both one of the most perveptive and the flat out meanest thing I've ever read.

And the same mind brought us the two Brave Little Toaster books as well.

Another literary hero gone....

Richard Mason said...

I remember finding most of The M.D. to be a gripping read, although, like not a few good books, it falls apart toward the end. Perhaps because the good part of the book is fantasy/horror (not set in the future), and the last part of the book has a superficially science fictional tone (e.g., set in the future) and the transition doesn't work well.

I'm very sorry to hear that Disch's life fell apart towards the end.