‘I wonder if I am not talking yet again about myself.'
April 28, 2016 4:46 AM   Subscribe

Jenny Diski, author, essayist, diarist, former MeFite, has died. The future flashed before my eyes in all its pre-ordained banality. Embarrassment, at first, to the exclusion of all other feelings. But embarrassment curled at the edges with a weariness, the sort that comes over you when you are set on a track by something outside your control, and which, although it is not your experience, is so known in all its cultural forms that you could unscrew the cap of the pen in your hand and jot down in the notebook on your lap every single thing that will happen and everything that will be felt for the foreseeable future. Including the surprises.

I got a joke in.

‘So – we’d better get cooking the meth,’ I said to the Poet, sitting to one side and slightly behind me. The Poet with an effort got his face to work and responded properly. ‘This time we quit while the going’s good.’


Since her cancer diagnosis in 2014 (previously), Jenny Diski had been writing a series of memoirs in the London Review of Books, covering her responses to her illness:

And then the weariness. A fucking cancer diary? Another fucking cancer diary. I think back to cancer diaries I have read, just because they’re there. You don’t seek cancer diaries out, they come at you as you turn the pages of magazines and newspapers or thumb through Twitter and blogs. How many have I read? I can’t remember, but they’ve spanned decades.

and her experiences of having a terminal diagnosis in public:

I have a feeling that if I describe my daily life, ‘the reader’ will react with sympathy for the blank, sedentary existence my condition causes. The thing of it is, though, that my daily life is (with obvious exceptions) very close to my idea of a perfect existence.

as well as exploring the period of her youth that she spent living with Doris Lessing (previously), or in psychiatric hospitals.

The LRB have opened their archive of her 150 contributed articles and 65 blog entries, which includes all of the memoir pieces, as well as reviews of (among many other things) Orange is the New Back and Downton Abbey, and biographies of Nina Simone, Martha Freud and Stanley Milgram. You can hear an interview with Diski that was made for a 2015 BBC radio series about dying and fear of mortality here. The Guardian have an obituary here.
posted by Joeruckus (67 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
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posted by sarcas at 4:51 AM on April 28, 2016


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posted by Fizz at 4:51 AM on April 28, 2016


I can recognize a fellow pen-nerd. "Unscrew the cap of the pen" - I have never encountered a pen that was not worth having that had a screw-on cap. It served her well, because her words flow.

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posted by Slap*Happy at 4:53 AM on April 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


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posted by drezdn at 4:55 AM on April 28, 2016


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posted by Gelatin at 4:59 AM on April 28, 2016


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posted by Mister Bijou at 5:00 AM on April 28, 2016


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posted by Halloween Jack at 5:00 AM on April 28, 2016


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posted by pearlybob at 5:01 AM on April 28, 2016


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posted by anotherpanacea at 5:02 AM on April 28, 2016


OMFG

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posted by infini at 5:13 AM on April 28, 2016


2016 is not yet halfway through but it has already robbed us deeply of our cultural capital and creatives
posted by infini at 5:13 AM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


Jenny Diski had a brief but eventful career on MetaFilter: in October 2007 she wrote about her admiration for the site, and only a month later she disabled her account. But if I remember correctly, it was this MetaTalk post that set off the whole 'boyzone' debate. Looking back, that post (and this comment in particular) feels like the stone that set the avalanche in motion: the start of a long and sometimes painful process that ultimately did a great deal to shake MetaFilter out of its complacency and change things for the better. I say 'ultimately' but really it was the start of something that's still going on.

I don't know if she ever checked back to see what she'd started, but her contribution deserves to be remembered and saluted.
posted by verstegan at 5:21 AM on April 28, 2016 [86 favorites]


I am really sorry to read this news.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:21 AM on April 28, 2016


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posted by daniel_charms at 5:22 AM on April 28, 2016


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posted by BlueHorse at 5:33 AM on April 28, 2016


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posted by honest knave at 6:00 AM on April 28, 2016


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posted by bilabial at 6:22 AM on April 28, 2016


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posted by crazy_yeti at 6:25 AM on April 28, 2016


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posted by cotton dress sock at 6:27 AM on April 28, 2016


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posted by MoonOrb at 6:38 AM on April 28, 2016


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posted by The Bellman at 6:53 AM on April 28, 2016


I hate neat endings. I have an antipathy to finishing in general. The last page, the final strains of a chord, the curtain falling on the echo of a closing speech, living happily ever after; all that grates on me. The finality is false, because there you still are, the reader, the observer, the listener, with a gaping chasm in front of you, left out of the resolution of the story that seduced you into thinking yourself inside it. Then it’s done and gone, abandoning you to a continuation, a con trick played out and you were the mark. An ending always leaves you standing in the whistling vacancy of a storyless landscape.
from Diski's Stranger on a Train, one of my all-time favorite pieces of travel writing.


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posted by dersins at 6:57 AM on April 28, 2016 [17 favorites]


Oh man, I'm sorry to hear this.
posted by cortex at 6:59 AM on April 28, 2016


Very sad to hear this. I wish her experience here had been better.
posted by TedW at 7:01 AM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


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posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 7:06 AM on April 28, 2016


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posted by From Bklyn at 7:07 AM on April 28, 2016


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posted by Smart Dalek at 7:31 AM on April 28, 2016


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posted by rocketman at 7:37 AM on April 28, 2016


Oh no! Goddamn, what shitty news to have to suck up before lunch. Goodbye, Jenny, and thanks for all the great writing and amazing attitude.
posted by languagehat at 7:52 AM on April 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


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posted by one teak forest at 8:18 AM on April 28, 2016


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posted by colie at 8:20 AM on April 28, 2016


Well, fuck. I knew it was coming, she and I have been penpals for almost a decade now, ever since the boyzone incident, but goddamn man, ya know, you just push the thought away. The end will never come, and it has, and I'm devastated. Verstegan is right about her changing the trajectory here, and elsewhere. She helped me understand some of the self defeating apologia under which I operated as a woman, and led me to the valley of No Fucks Given. I will miss her so much.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 8:28 AM on April 28, 2016 [25 favorites]


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posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:45 AM on April 28, 2016


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posted by Sheydem-tants at 8:59 AM on April 28, 2016


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posted by Iridic at 9:06 AM on April 28, 2016


Coulda used an editor recently, but never not fascinating and, as mentioned above, flowing.

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posted by grubby at 9:12 AM on April 28, 2016


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posted by Fuzzy Monster at 9:14 AM on April 28, 2016


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posted by benito.strauss at 9:17 AM on April 28, 2016


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posted by RogerB at 9:23 AM on April 28, 2016


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posted by mothershock at 9:35 AM on April 28, 2016


Been both dreading and expecting this day. Doesn't make any of it easier, and I hate the stilling of such a voice. Thank you, Jenny Diski, for all your brilliance and honesty.
posted by jokeefe at 10:16 AM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


So sad to hear this. Jenny Diski was the only other female contributor the one time back in 2013 that I wrote for LRB, which is why I remembered her. I've been following the series and am very sad she is gone. What a huge loss.
posted by tooloudinhere at 10:32 AM on April 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


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posted by Splunge at 11:08 AM on April 28, 2016


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posted by adamvasco at 11:27 AM on April 28, 2016


I would think that Metafilter's very long-term survival hinges on our efforts to not be a shitty place, and to fix those places where we are shitty. Jenny's efforts to turn us onto that road, whether intentional or not, have made a huge difference. Thank you for that; I feel like I'm a better person by extension, so thank you for that, as well.
posted by maxwelton at 11:42 AM on April 28, 2016 [9 favorites]


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posted by mordax at 12:12 PM on April 28, 2016


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posted by Duffington at 12:40 PM on April 28, 2016


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posted by en forme de poire at 12:58 PM on April 28, 2016


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I am new to the site and not very well-read; I had never heard of Jenny Diski. But now I have, and in wonder. Her voice is amazing. And that will continue to be true.
posted by epanalepsis at 1:02 PM on April 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


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posted by clavdivs at 1:06 PM on April 28, 2016


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posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 1:32 PM on April 28, 2016


Shit.

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posted by HandfulOfDust at 1:55 PM on April 28, 2016


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posted by essexjan at 2:41 PM on April 28, 2016


Feeling somewhat heartbroken to hear she has died, is not gracing the planet any more with her intelligence, her wit, her interesting, honest true self. I will miss her writing, miss knowing that she's alive.

Death is never neat. It's always an interruption in the river of life.

Her name, Jenny Diski, makes me think of a poignant tiny poem,"Jenny kissed me".

Jenny Kiss’d Me

By Leigh Hunt

Jenny kiss’d me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
Say that health and wealth have miss’d me,
Say I’m growing old, but add,
Jenny kiss’d me.

She was too young at 68! Damn! And I love that she said “Under no circumstances is anyone to say that I lost a battle with cancer. Or that I bore it bravely. I am not fighting, losing, winning or bearing”. As a fellow endurer of cancers I truly loathe those warrior cliches. Everybody else who dies gets to just die. Why do people with cancer get insulted as "losers" in "the battle"?!

Could so relate to everything she said about the radiation treatment from the opening sentences to the last syllables. The treatment’s over and done with. First from August to October, the three cycles of chemotherapy, then I graduated from the poison infusions to the death rays, with daily radiotherapy throughout November (weekends off). All done: the killing of cells in my body, the ‘good’ along with the ‘bad’, all of them just being, reproducing and doing whatever else they do.

My tender condolences to her beloved, Ian Patterson, to her daughter, Chloe, her friends and family.

Hoping her exit was not painful, in peace.
posted by nickyskye at 4:16 PM on April 28, 2016 [7 favorites]


Nobody is better at having cancer than me, in the sense that I like nothing more than sitting on the sofa doing fuck all and trying to write.

"For several days now I’ve been feeling as if I’m on a holiday, a short one coming to its end. Not an especially good one. Not sorry to be leaving, not sorry to have been here. No particular feeling one way or another. Not living in my place. Not familiar enough. As one might sit on the edge of a chair that is waiting for another occupant to take it over. It’s the strangest of strange feelings. Best travelling clothes, a ticking of a clock that will go on ticking after you leave and after the next occupant too."

As one might sit on the edge of a chair that is waiting for another occupant to take it over.


I’d wanted to be a writer since I got the idea that each book I read was actually written by someone, that there was such a thing you could do and be in life. Increasingly it seemed like the only thing in the world to be.


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posted by standardasparagus at 6:04 PM on April 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


There is of course nothing else to really think about except death. But that’s not a new realisation for me. I have always been perfectly aware that one could drop dead at any moment, and I have really tried to think myself into that idea since I was a child. Still, now it has more reality, I can’t see I will be skipping off with a hey and a ho and all that. I can, though, get behind the idea of not having to worry about anything any more. That is quite an appealing thought.

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posted by standardasparagus at 6:04 PM on April 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


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posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:39 PM on April 28, 2016


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posted by angrycat at 4:37 AM on April 29, 2016


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posted by Mitheral at 11:20 PM on April 29, 2016


On Jenny Diski, 1947–2016, by Justin E.H. Smith:
In a stunning testimony written for the Swedish Göteborgs-Posten in 2013, the year before her diagnosis, Jenny invokes the bleak wisdom of Beckett’s line, “Birth was the death of him.” She wonders with Nabokov why we do not worry about the infinite abyss a parte ante, before we were born. That wasn’t so bad, was it? Why should the one that follows this temporary interruption of nothingness be any worse? Well, the thing about it is that now we’ve wallowed in the mess of life, and only slowly, in the process of what is called “maturing,” come to feel the way death looms over all of it. Thomas Bernhard had said that death makes everything, notably all this spilling of words, “ridiculous” (Es ist alles lächerlich, wenn man an den Tod denkt), but for Jenny the death-horizon was, if not exactly something to rejoice about, at least an existential condition that had its own consolation. It demanded that one not waste one’s life in boredom, nor get too distracted by, nor place too much hope in, sex, drugs, long walks, or anything else that “palls, eventually,” but instead that one must respond to death in writing, by being a writer.
posted by languagehat at 11:45 AM on May 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


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