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The idea that one can report on one’s own death is paradoxical, if not preposterous. As ­Epicurus wrote in his Letter to Menoeceus, “When we exist, death is not; and when death exists, we are not.” To which Woody Allen added the ­footnote, “I don’t mind dying . . . as long as I don’t have to be there when it happens.”

To be there when it happens can be dreadful, indeed, but also tempting insofar as man desires to use or control his death, which means mastering death’s power. Think of Ben Jonson’s comedy Volpone, in which the title character fakes his own death to deceive his enemies. Staging one’s death and funeral, and hearing the eulogy . . . is this not a power trip? To be there, beyond the grave—it is a grandiose dream of total control. But only a dream, since it requires not being dead in order to enjoy the dream fulfilled.

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