The Modern Distemper
Tony Judt delivers his own last word on his career as a public intellectual in a posthumous book
Writers who write because they must will write even when they are facing oblivion. Historian Tony Judt was such a writer.
Judt wrote in the shadow of imminent death, even though, strictly speaking, at the end of his life he could not write. In the fall of 2008, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. This fatal, incurable malady rapidly and steadily deprives its sufferers of bodily functions, all the while leaving them free of pain and in full possession of their mental faculties. By the summer of 2009, Judt could no longer use his arms and legs, he could breathe only with the help of a mechanical apparatus, his voice was failing, and he was confined to a wheelchair by day and to solitary, wakeful immobility in bed at night.
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