On Death and Dying Review by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

It has become cliché to say we live in a society that denies death. From her experiences with dying patients, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross sheds insight into how we face, or not face, death. She details the famous Five Stages --denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance--through case studies of patients. The Kübler-Ross Model, for better or worse, have become the model from which academics and lay people understand the process of dying. But more than the model, the book forces us to gaze death in the eyes and confront our fears. Only then can we integrate death into life and realize that death is part of our life and indeed a vital part. If we deny it or even just neglect it, our lives become incomplete. We don’t have to obsess over death just as we don’t just focus on our health to the neglect of other parts of lives. When death becomes an integral part of our beings, our lives become more dynamic.

Great insight into the psychology toward our ultimate end. On Death and Dying is not only for those facing death and their close ones, but for everyone, to prepare our journey to the end, and thus to gain strength in living our lives and in caring for those around us.

Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle

In a world where the Axis powers won W.W.II, Germany rules Europe and Japan Asia and the Pacific and they split the United States. Then, as in the Cold War, Germany and Japan rival for world domination. But the playground is the U.S. rather than Germany. The Man in the High Castle takes place in Japan-controlled San Francisco and the neutral Rocky Mountain States between the Pacific States of America and the East Coast of America. Germany plans to subdue Japan by creating an incident in the Rocky Mountain States, but a faction within the government sends a spy to warn Japan. In this world Germany’s final solution in Africa wipes out the continent and the country continues to persecute the Jews throughout the world, the remnants fleeing to the Rocky Mountain States and the Pacific States of America. The I Ching, the oracle that has replaced Christianity and the horoscope in the Pacific State of America, guides the masses in their decisions and through the ancient Chinese scripts answers their questions about life and death and the vagaries of living. This ancient scripture consumes the people’s imagination. In The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick created a world where the power players have shifted roles but familiar brinkmanship and subterfuge remain.

The World in The Man in the High Castle

Within the novel is another book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy by Hawthorne Abendsen, the man in the high castle. This novel within a novel delineates an alternative history to the one above. What if Germany and Japan lost W.W.II? Not a Cold War between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. Not the victory of the communists in China. Rather, The Nationalist defeats the Communists in China, establishes a right-wing regime and allies with the U.S. The British retains most of its empire and continues to expand its dominance. Indeed, a Cold War develops between the U.S. and the U.K. with the latter eventually dominating the former. What is interesting is that this alternative to an alternative isn’t our history. So even with Allies victory, many scenarios can play out.

Dick’s comment on the Nazis is thought provoking.

“They want to be the agents, not the victims, of history. They identify with God's power and believe they are godlike. That is their basic madness. They are overcome by some archetype; their egos have expanded psychotically so that they cannot tell where they begin and the godhead leaves off. It is not hubris, not pride; it is inflation of the ego to its ultimate — confusion between him who worships and that which is worshiped. Man has not eaten God; God has eaten man.”

The Man in the High Castle is not just science fiction, but a thought-provoking look into the nature of humanity. Of course, as with other works of Dick, the cultural nuances and biases of the 60’s rear their heads throughout the novel. Nevertheless, a novel worth reading.

Ursula K. Le Guin's The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

Omelas's citizens have all the blessings we could imagine and they are cultured and wise but the price of having these good fortunes is one child's misery. A "scapegoat" to take on the "sins" of the city. Similar to the Biblical idea of the Savior taking on the sins of the world.

Though at first appalled at the barbarity of such a bargain, we may begin to realize that in our civilization, though not in such an extreme way, the majority benefits from those who sacrifice to make their lives better.

Ursula K. Le Guin (Photo by Eileen Gunn)

Policemen and policewomen put their lives on the line so we may live in a safer society and though we pay taxes for their services and they choose their profession, we are nevertheless benefiting from their "sacrifices."

Adults and children from Bangladesh may choose to work in garment factories but they didn't choose the poverty they were born into. And we as a society benefit from the relatively cheap clothing.

We may avoid buying clothes from Bangladesh but if we are to live in a society we cannot avoid benefiting from others' services. Ursula K. Le Guin's tale reminds us that our blessings come at a cost but also cautions us not to move toward Omelas, that "utopian dystopia." As in Omelas, some will choose to walk away from our society. But if they try to form another utopia, they will face similar dilemmas. That is not to say that we shouldn't look for solutions, but that those who walk away will bring the problem to their paradise.

Patrick Süskind's Perfume

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille has no scent but can identify the minutest one. To create a perfume that would seduce people into loving and worshiping him, he searches far and wide for the perfect ingredient. When he found that scent on a teenage girl, he intended to extract it from her even if that meant killing her.

In Perfume, Patrick Süskind has created a Gothic tale as dark as Frankenstein, but a tale of creation of the perfect perfume rather than the perfect man. Scents and fragrances dominate the book and details of the extraction processes make the book a good read. But Grenouille is a greater monster than Dr. Frankenstein’s creation. Through his misery and suffering, Grenouille learned to hate humanity and to take revenge upon it. He has no conscience and his only goal is to create the perfect perfume. If he had to kill innocent girls, so be it. He aspires to be God. He wanted the people to love and worship him. He succeeds. He becomes all-powerful, but without his own smell, he has no identity. That is his grief. In the end, he destroys himself.