Thomas Disch, RIP

Jeff VanderMeer • July 6th, 2008 @ 5:31 pm • Uncategorized

Ellen Datlow reports that Thomas Disch has committed suicide. This is really sad, sad news about a very talented individual–an icon of the New Wave.

…and having thought about it some more and being both sad about this and somewhat appalled at the coverage in certain quarters dwelling on Disch’s cantankerous nature, a few additional observations.

Yes, he could be a pain in the ass. Yes, he was paranoid at times. So what? Who among us hasn’t been either of those things at various times in our lives? But he always spoke his mind, he was a true original, and I never read a novel by him that I didn’t think was deeply felt and fiercely intelligent. That includes his last, from Tachyon, out this month, which is at times by its nature self-indulgent, but has his trademark qualities: incisive wit, absurdist dark humor, stark intellectual curiosity. These are qualities you find in too few modern novels.

Disch had lost his partner of three decades, was having trouble with his apartment, and I guess it was just ultimately too much for him. Look, being a writer isn’t as tough as some jobs, but it can be lonely, it can be the equivalent of working without a safety net, and it has the ability to take a lot out of a person. On top of the blows life can deal to you.

I’m very sad at this moment, in part on a personal level and in part knowing how many of my close friends were friends of his and thus are mourning his loss right now. I never spoke to Disch–I just read his books, read his blog, and admired him for the very quality a few others didn’t like: he was himself. Sometimes I think we want writers to be sanitized, polite, get-with-the-program clones of each other in terms of their personalities. There was never any danger of that with Disch.

I didn’t actually know him in a personal sense, as I’ve said, but I already miss him very much. And I hope wherever he is now he’s at peace.

13 Responses to “Thomas Disch, RIP”

  1. Fábio says:

    I just don´t know what to say. He sent me an e-mail just a few days before, with the answers for an interview I wanted to publish with a review of The Word of God. He was very polite, considerate, funny. I´m very sad.

  2. Larry says:

    Wow. He’s someone whose works I’ve always meant to get around to buy/read, but never did. This is sad news indeed.

  3. ed says:

    I’m terribly sad and stunned too. He was a true original. I did speak with the man a few weeks ago for Segundo. And I’m now working on getting the podcast mastered and up as fast as I can.

  4. Matt Staggs says:

    He had a very good sense of humor. When I first started corresponding with him about “The Word of God,” I was extremely intimidated by his professional achievements, and was unsure as to the best way to address this accomplished man. I asked him by email what he preferred to be called: Mr. Disch, or Tom?

    His one line reply?

    “Tom is fine, but call me ‘Dad’ when we’re in public.”

    I’m still chuckling about that.

    He will be missed.

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  6. Janie Harrison says:

    It always gives me a shiver to read news of a suicide. To comtemplate his suffering. We writers aka artists aka whatever are such an self-absorbed lot. Of course, that is what it means to be human, too. What sad news. We should all remember that writing is very lonely work.

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  8. Thomas M. Disch, 1940-2008 says:

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  9. R. Schuyler Devin says:

    I originally posted this comment on Matt Staggs’s blog (http://is.gd/NS1), but since my sentiment applies to *everyone* who is affected by this loss, I am sharing it here as well.

    - – -
    Matt,

    I hope your grief passes as painlessly as possible; I hope this for everyone who knew him, or was touched by his words. After the worst of the mourning subsides, let it be replaced by sustaining memories of his achievements, and narrative genius, not of his mortal weakness.

  10. Farah says:

    somewhat appalled at the coverage in certain quarters
    Yes, he could be a pain in the ass. Yes, he was paranoid at times. So what? Who among us hasn’t been either of those things at various times in our lives?

    Somehow, I doubt many of us have used our LJs to advocate genocide.

    I am very, very sad for many of my friends who are close friends of Tom, but complaining when people draw an accurate portrait of him, serves him ill.

  11. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Farah:

    I was unaware of that. In any event, you’ve offered your corrective here. Good on you! Keep fighting the good fight.

    Jeff

  12. Lex says:

    Farah:

    Can you point to the LJ entry you are referring to? I knew Disch back in NYC in the 70s. He was pretty cantankerous back then, too. But advocating genocide? Are you sure? The only mention on his LJ Endzone in recent posts that touches on genocide is a rant against people who create gigantic lies and complete ignore reality…his example was the Armenian genocide in Turkey. This has nothing even remotely connected to advocating genocide, nor, knowing Disch from 30 years ago, would he advocate the killing of any mass of people, regardless of how much he loathed them. Loathing yes, killing no. I really want to sort this out, because I think Disch’s memory for me will be scarred if what you say is true. It runs exactly against the fabric of the giant, wriggling amazing human that I knew–you could see the fire in his eyes, sure! But his entire life was the slow burn of smoldering commentary. Never did I see him advocate genocide. Sorry, I don’t believe it.

    Lex

  13. Miggy says:

    Tom disliked all groups of people. Muslims, Boy Scouts, Daughters of the American Revolution, you name it. He only loved free thinking individuals.

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