William Boyd:

I want to start with a luminously beautiful – and luminously profound – quotation from Vladimir Nabokov’s autobiography Speak, Memory. He writes: “The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.”

“Common sense”. I believe that the knowledge of this state of affairs is the fundamental truth about our human nature: the fact that our lives simply amount to our individual occupation of this “brief crack of light” between two eternities of darkness shapes everything that makes us human and is responsible for everything good – and everything bad – about us.

I want to start with an acerbic suggestion that all this melodrama about eternal darkness is just so much overwrought adolescent angst. Where is this darkness, except in the gothic imagination of one still living? When one dies, who is there to be conscious of the experience of being dead? As wise old Epicurus said, when we exist, death is not, and when death exists, we are not. Non fui, fui, non sum, non curo. The animals whom you pity for their lack of awareness already know this. If you do your funeral arrangements right, your corpse will be just another feast for the other participants in the neverending circle of life — how narcissistic is it to think that your consciousness is the electricity that keeps the party going?