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Bacon, R. (2015). Review Essay: Murder in the Dark - Notes on The Private Life: Why We Remain in the Dark by Josh Cohen. Published by Granta Books, London, 2013; 208 pp; £20 hardback, £9.99 paperback. Brit. J. Psychother., 31(4):530-540.

(2015). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 31(4):530-540

Book Reviews

Review Essay: Murder in the Dark - Notes on The Private Life: Why We Remain in the Dark by Josh Cohen. Published by Granta Books, London, 2013; 208 pp; £20 hardback, £9.99 paperback

Review by:
Roger Bacon

On 11 January 2014, The Guardian published, on its centre pages, an article by Julie Myerson called ‘Death in hospital need not be a medicalised trauma’. In it, Myerson details her much-loved mother-in-law's decline from a vital and active elderly woman, through a series of TIAs (transient ischaemic attacks) causing gradual vascular dementia, to her final, major stroke and her dying in a room on the 11th floor of a major London hospital. The article contains a number of little lacunae through which doubts and anxieties about describing and publicizing such an intimate personal and family experience are allowed to show through. Thus, very near the end, she says, ‘The next part should stay as private as possible’, before going on to describe it. And at the end of the article she says:

I've thought often about whether or not to write about this … (But) I've always hesitated. Partly because death, any death is such an intensely intimate experience and seeking to describe it may be, for lots of reasons, a step too far. And partly, of course, because this particular death belongs at least as much to others who were present as it does to me.

But then she quickly redeems herself, saying:

It seems to me that what we all experienced … on that April evening was something that ought to be known, appreciated, celebrated even … So I hope that Helen - whose love and friendship I feel moved to have known -would forgive me.

Two things stand out, for me, in that final justification. One is the word ‘ought’ - that what she was experiencing ‘ought to be known’. And the other is the sense that because this was J.M.'s experience - as well as others' - that she had a right to do with it what she wanted. And in the combination of these two drives, she all-too perfectly exemplifies Zizek's trenchant observation that the 19th and early 20th century form and formulation of the superego - ‘I must therefore I can’ - is being supplanted by a more modern one - ‘I can therefore I must’.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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