In 1996, Harold Brodkey published This Wild Darkness, a slim volume describing, in often painful detail, his physical deterioration from AIDS. Portions of his journal from this period remain online, and provide starkly honest insights into the combined pity and terror elicited by living with a terminal illness:
Being ill like this combines shock “ this time I will die “ with a pain and agony that are unfamiliar, that wrench me out of myself. It is like visiting one’s funeral, like visiting loss in its purest and most monumental form, this wild darkness, which is not only unknown but which one cannot enter as oneself. Now one belongs entirely to nature, to time: identity was a game. It isn’t cruel what happens next, it is merely a form of being caught. Memory, so complete and clear or so evasive, has to be ended, has to be put aside, as if one were leaving a chapel and bringing the prayer to an end in one’s head. It is death that goes down to the center of the earth, the great burial church the earth is, and then to the curved ends of the universe, as light is said to do.
It now appears that J.G. Ballard’s own memoir of his struggles with mortality will never see print. Ballard, who died of cancer on April 19, was in negotiations to publish a book entitled Conversations with My Physician: The Meaning, if Any, of Life. The book was to have consisted of Ballard’s recapitulations of his discussions with his oncologist.
However, the author became too ill to complete the book, and now HarperCollins has cancelled the title. From The Guardian:
“We had agreed [to] the terms but Jim became too ill last winter to start any work on it,” said his editor Clare Reihill. “He had written a wonderful, quite detailed proposal “ the book was laid out, he knew exactly what he was going to do, but sadly he became too ill to do any more, so unfortunately it won’t happen.”
Quillblog is dismayed this title will never be published: Ballard was a notoriously unsentimental writer, and his memoir, like Brodkey’s, would likely have provided an illuminating glimpse into one of life’s most troublesome rites of passage.