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May 12, 2002
12:40 PM   Subscribe

With the daily bloody death counts in the dozens and propagandists rooting for more, perhaps it's appropriate to pause and take into consideration the pain and suffering each individual death creates. Studs Terkel's interviews with a paramedic, a social worker, an undertaker, and a mother about their experiences with death and dying. (more great links on the site)
posted by semmi (6 comments total)

 
Terkel rules -- oral history is a really tricky business (it can easily become pointless), but the man is a master
And anyway, how cool was it when the Democratic candidate in Altman's Tanner 88 chose Terkel as Attorney General?
posted by matteo at 12:50 PM on May 12, 2002


I found this Terkel book disappointing, not up to his usual great stuff. In this work we learn a great deal about the lives of the elderly but we are not given much thought as to feelings on death, the "future" (heaven),the Meaning of it all, the fears and the joys etc. We get instead of what I had anticipated in the book a lot on illnesses, medicaions and what an interviewees life has been like in the past but little about what the person is at the present time.
For sure the folks interviewed are a varied and interesting lot but nothing pulls tohe work together in the sort of way that Simone DeBeauvoir (sp?) does in Coming of Age and The Second Sex.
posted by Postroad at 1:09 PM on May 12, 2002


Oh, I have to disagree with you, Postroad. How concrete and wrapped up can you expect a book on death to be? No one's yet been back to tell us exactly what happens after that, and that's the point. However, reading Will the Circle Be Unbroken? provided (I thought) an amazing variety of viewpoints and ideas on the subject, especially for someone like myself, a hardened atheist with no illusions about pie in the sky when I die, but a terrific curiosity regarding what other people think on the subject. I didn't notice a preponderance of "lives of the elderly" stories; if anything I thought that the stories of people who'd tended to AIDS patients were disproportionately represented.

"Varied and interesting" is right, though---I wonder where he finds all these people with all these amazing stories? Many of them alluded to having been interviewed for his other books; maybe the job of an oral historian is simply to cultivate friendships with people who've lived in interesting times?
posted by Sapphireblue at 4:03 PM on May 12, 2002


Studs Terkel is a personal hero of mine. I read Working when I was 15 and it blew me away. His non-condescending interview style allows the subjects essence to come thru so well, whether it's a superstar athlete or a garbage collector. Since then I've always tried to read whatever he comes out with, and while it ain't always perfect, it's always interesting. The idea at the heart of his work-that the most ordinary person's life and experiences can be as illuminating as anyones-is at the heart of this whole weblogging deal. In a way we're merely carrying on an electronic version of what Terkel did so well.

For all his fixation on death in this book, I can tell Studs that when he does go he will be missed by at least one salesman in Bridgeport. Thanks for the link semmi.
posted by jonmc at 5:31 PM on May 12, 2002


yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. i agree with all five of you. studs terkel is an absolute master of the form and will be remembered as one of this century's most important american historians. i, too, came to terkel through working (it was required reading for all students in my major at the college from which i did not graduate) and also the great depression book.

without disagreeing with sapphireblue's defense of the newest book, i, like postroad, was disappointed. and i, like postroad, had expected to be disappointed. but i think that's more a function of my age and level of interest in the topic than an indictment of the text. i was actually quite glad that it wasn't swimming with 'tales of the bright, white light', etc. about what happens when we die...and i don't think that the jacket copy was misleading. but i do remember seeing the book on the table at the bookstore and thinking, 'jesus, what's this new age crap? has studs lost his edge?'
posted by mlang at 10:14 PM on May 13, 2002


I heard Terkel interviewed last night on NPR about his book. They played excerpts from each of the interviews: the one with the man who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer who moved himself and his 3 year old daughter in with his parents to wait for the end was incredible enough--he thinks he died.

He woke up outside his own body, looking down, and could not move, make a sound or feel or move his own limbs. When he realized his own daughter, who'd already gone through the trauma of having her mother leave, would most likely be the one the find his body, he couldn't stand the idea.

Voiceless, he somehow started calling to his father, who eventually came and touched him and presto!--he was back in his body. His father said he was so cold to the touch, was he ok? And he said, "Yes, I'm fine," not wanting to spook his father with what had happened.

And this guy lived and still lives 24 years later, happily married and with his daughter in college. He'd been given less than a month to live and was waiting to die. I suppose that's verging on the "white light" sort of story, but it got to me.

Even more moving was hearing Emmett Till's mother describing how she insisted the undertaker let her see her son's body so she could identify him, be sure it was him. It was so horrific: his arms and legs had been broken, fingers were missing from his hands; almost all his teeth were knocked out; one eye was resting on his cheek, the other was gone, and when she got to the top of his head, she could see daylight through it.

She so calmly told how her son had been tortured and crucified, and how she thought then, that no matter what had happened to her son, it simply meant that Christ's crucifixion was simply that much more painful--she was a devout woman and that was her faith. I was just blown away to listen to her recitation.


Oh, look, there's m*e.e. cummings*lang, the punctuation and grammar policeman who doesn't use capitals and is prone to using the lazy man's tacky/slash/add-on/form of word and phrae construction--I will return the favor and re-write one of his sentences:

without disagreeing with sapphireblue's defense of the newest book, i, like postroad, was disappointed. and i, like postroad, had expected to be disappointed.

Without disagreeing with sapphireblue's defense of the newest book, I like Postroad, had expected to be disappointed and was disappointed.

Really, mlang, the all lower capitals is so early Bob Dylan liner notes and junior high school goth girl poetry: totally trite-o-rama. The slash/word/construction thing, on the other hand, is simply an utter abomination.

But, hey, feel free to piss on other people's comments--you're obviously not living in a glass house when it comes to rules of grammar, mr. creative critic.
posted by y2karl at 4:33 PM on June 2, 2002 [1 favorite]


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