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Famous Author Revolted Against Death

In his recent book, Matthew Levering writes:

The famous American writer Susan Sontag died of cancer in 2004 at the age of 71. When her cancer returned after a long remission, Sontag was struggling desperately against it. She refused to hear that she was dying, even in the midst of her treatments. She dreamt and spoke continually “of what she could do when she got out of the hospital” and once more took up the reins of her life.

The future was everything. Living was everything. Getting back to work was everything. She insisted that she would make a completely fresh start and would write in a new way. She would do the things that she had always wanted to do, rather than wasting her time doing things that she had previously done out of mere duty. Her son claimed that she concentrated her limited energy in undertaking a “revolt against death,” and she died “unreconciled to her own extinction.”

Sontag, of course, did not believe in God or in life after death. Her sole hope consisted in medical and scientific data and in the treatment plans of her physicians. Her son said, “she thought the world a charnel house … and couldn’t get enough of it. She thought herself unhappy … And wanted to live, unhappy, for as long as she possibly could.” Weeping and panicked as she neared her death, she told the nurse she was dying, with the implication that the whole thing was horrific and absurd.

Reflecting on his mother's body in a Paris graveyard beside other famous writers he concludes that “unless you believe in spirits or the Christian fairy tale of resurrection,” those who have died simply “no longer exist” and never will exist again.


Matthew Levering, Dying and the Virtues (Eerdmans, 2018), Chapter 2

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