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Life everlasting on YouTube

November 23, 2008 |  9:20 am

In today's paper, Heller McAlpin writes about a current of death running through contemporary memoir and literature. "Is this proliferation a reflection of the bleakness of the times, mirroring the doom and gloom of war and the economy? Is it exacerbated by erosion of faith in an afterlife? Do we obsessively probe mortality because we're spoiled and can't quite believe — or accept — that science and medicine still haven't managed to conquer it?" she asks.

The article includes post-WWII novelists entering their late decades, long-dead poets and memoirs by authors of their departed loved ones. Here are some of those mentioned who are no longer with us, who continue to exist, in shadowy form, on YouTube.

A glamorous '60s-era Susan Sontag (remembered in her son's essay "Illness as More Than Metaphor"), visiting Philip Johnson at the Seagram Building for the BBC, complete with free-jazz music and be-bop narration.

Iris Murdoch, whose struggle with Alzheimer's was chronicled by husband, John Bayley, in "Elegy for Iris," was, before she got sick, both a philosopher and novelist. Here she begins a conversation comparing the two: "Literature does many things," she says. "Philosophy does one thing."

Joan Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking" was a bestselling, widely acclaimed memoir; her husband of almost 40 years, John Gregory Dunne, dies in its first pages. Six years before, he appeared on Charlie Rose, discussing his book "Monster: Living Off the Big Screen," a memoir about his experience as a screenwriter.  The segment begins at 23 minutes.

YouTube is a slightly graceless immortality — it's got advertising, and Dunne's audio and video slip disconcertingly out of sync — but it is better, in the end, than nothing.

— Carolyn Kellogg

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