Rereading Walter Benjamin’s “The Storyteller” (1936) in the midst of a global pandemic (2020) is a sobering if provocative experience. Benjamin notes there how “In the course of the nineteenth century, bourgeois society has, by means of hygienic and social, private and public institutions, realized a secondary effect which may have been its subconscious main purpose: to make it possible for people to avoid the sight of the dying” (X). We ask about that process of dying now, about death, spatial distances, and temporal distortions in the context of the current pandemic. And via the story of one COVID patient’s last days in the care of one of us, we reflect on whether, in our radically challenged late capitalist world swept by a virulently deadly pandemic, there might be stories and their tellings and listenings that can draw authority from a death ever more distanced but only too close at hand? Not only an account of our experiences on two sides of the Atlantic, but a reflection on what those experiences mean, our dialogue – from different times and spaces, in the midst of death and anxiety – seeks connection as well.

A.Joseph Layon, MD and Mary N. Layoun, Ph.D. engage in a dialogue on death and space and time from their positions as, respectively, a practicing physician with a long history of work in ‘war zones’ of various kinds and an activist and scholar of narrative and community, of citizenship and community engagement often in conflict zones.



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