International Papers

Reeve, R.I.P.

The international press looks at three prominent deaths.

Christopher Reeve

“Either that wallpaper goes or I do,” Oscar Wilde allegedly said on his deathbed, in what must surely be one of the better ripostes to the onset of the grim reaper. Such buoyancy was absent from the international press on Monday, however, as papers commented on three notable deaths: of a superhero, a deconstructuralist, and a self-described “simple man.”

Actor Christopher Reeve’s death Sunday from a heart attack, at the age of 52, came, paradoxically, as a surprise, so well had Reeve put up a facade of confident defiance to his forbidding fate. Rome’s La Repubblica wished Reeve “addio,” describing him as “a ‘superman’ of courage” who had “refused to throw in the towel” after his 1995 fall from a horse that paralyzed him from the neck down. Spain’s El País headlined: “Superman’s Last Flight,” showing Reeve in a movie still flying above a grainy Metropolis.

London’s Guardian compiled agency reports to offer a hefty rundown of Reeve’s aborted career and to recall a hopeful moment two years ago: “In 2002, his doctors said he was able to move some of his fingers and toes. … [They] said the progress indicated that he might one day be able to walk again.” However, the paper also quoted the head of Britain’s Medical Research Council as saying: “It is absolutely wrong to raise false expectations about the speed with which medical research progresses, but it takes people like Reeve, with their commitment and their certainty that they will be cured, to carry it forward. … [P]robably deep in his mind he knew his efforts would be far more likely to pay off for others than for him.”

Many papers also mentioned the demise on Friday of French philosopher Jacques Derrida, the father of “deconstructivism.”* Though most laymen had never heard of him, his vulgarized concepts (most famously the notion of “deconstruction”) found their way into the everyday language of lesser sophisticates. France’s Le Figaro compared how Derrida was viewed stateside versus his home turf: “As much as he was regarded by certain people abroad, particularly in the United States, as the greatest living philosopher, it was considered good form in [France] to criticize his ‘obscurities,’ his ‘hermeticism,’ indeed that he was something of a ‘guru’ for a philosophical sect he was forming.”

London’s Daily Telegraph observed that while Derrida’s admirers saw him as “the embodiment of the philosopher-rebel, admired for his explosive critique of the authoritarian values latent in orthodox approaches to literature and philosophy,” his critics saw his work as “frivolous, obscure, bogus and even invidiously subversive.” The paper noted that his “deconstructive approach” challenged a central tenet of Western metaphysics, namely “that truth underpins everything,” by arguing that “all writing has multiple layers of meaning which even its author might not understand and which leave it open to an endless process of reinterpretation.” Away from such dense thoughts, Derrida was also a soccer aficionado. He was said to have regretted that, unlike another Algerian-born Frenchman, Albert Camus, he never played professionally. 

Newspapers also continued to look at the appalling death in Iraq of British hostage Kenneth Bigley. The story gained new impetus after the video of his final minutes made its way to the Internet. According to London’s Daily Mail, “In his last desperate moments, Mr. Bigley is seen on the video pleading ‘to live a simple life’ before being executed.” The paper cited Iraq’s foreign minister as saying it was “likely” that Bigley escaped before being recaptured: “He was free for up to 12 hours after being helped by one of his kidnappers,” other sources said. The London-based Arabic daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat also published a story on the video, showing how the kidnappers manipulated the hostage until the end to raise the heat on British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Most poignantly, Bigley apparently did not realize his time had come: “It is probable that the assassinated engineer … did not expect that three of the seven masked men behind him would push him to the ground within seconds, while another pulled out his knife to cut his throat and hold [Bigley’s head] up to the camera.”

Correction, Oct. 12, 2004: This piece originally referred to Jacques Derrida as the father of structionalism, he is the father of deconstructivism. Return to the corrected sentence.