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The Routledge Companion to Death and Literature seeks to understand the ways in which literature has engaged deeply with

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The Routledge Companion to Death and Literature
 9781000220742, 1000220745

Table of contents :
Cover
Half Title
Series Page
Title Page
Copyright Page
Dedication
Contents
Contributors
Introduction
Notes
Works Cited
Part I. Traversing the Ontological Divide
Work Cited
1. The Final Frontier: Science Fictions of Death
Motivating the Motif
Methuselah's Children
Ghosts in Machines
How to Live Safely in a Science-Fictional Universe
The Walking Dead
The Last Man
Virtual Reality
Works Cited
2. "Still I Danced": Performing Death in Ford's The Broken Heart
Notes
Works Cited
3. Death and the Margins of Theater in Luigi Pirandello
Notes
Works Cited
4. Forbidden Mental Fruit? Dead Narrators and Characters from Medieval to Postmodernist Narratives
Introduction
Ontological Complications: Dead Character-Narratorsin Postmodernist Narratives
Anticipations of Postmodernism: Dead Characters from the Middle Ages to Science-Fiction Narratives
Concluding Remarks
Notes
Works Cited
5. Literature and the Afterlife
Space: "Radical Theming"
Time: "The Great Mother-Gift"
Voice: "The Result Was Cacophony"
Genre as Afterlife
Notes
Works Cited
6. The Novel as Heartbeat: The Dead Narrator in Mike McCormack's Solar Bones
Notes
Works Cited
7. Dead Man/and Woman Talking: Narratives from Beyond the Grave
Dispositions
Enunciations
Perspectives
Verisimilitude
Conclusion(s)
Notes
Works Cited
8. The View from Upstream: Authority and Projection in Fontenelle's Nouveaux dialogues des morts
Works Cited
Part II. Genres
Work Cited
9. Big Questions: Re-Visioning and Re-Scripting Death Narratives in Children's Literature
Cast of Animal Characters
Death of Pets and Elderly Family Members
Death of Parents
Children's Death and Grieving
What Is Death?
Notes
Works Cited
Primary Sources
Secondary Sources
10. In the U-Bend with Moaning Myrtle: Thinking about Death in YA Literature
Plotting Death
Individuation and Childhood's End
Awareness, Empathy, and Activism
Death and the Posthuman
Final Thoughts
Note
Works Cited
11. Death and Mourning in Graphic Narrative
Works Cited
12. Death and Documentaries: Heuristics for the Real in an Age of Simulation
Basics of Documentary
Distinguishing Reality from Irreality
Contemplating Responses to Mortality
Memento Mori, Memento Vivere
Analyzing Death in Documentaries
Notes
Works Cited
Primary Sources
Secondary Sources
13. Death and the Fanciulla
Notes
Works Cited
14. Death, Literary Form, and Affective Comprehension: Primary Emotions and the Neurological Basis of Genre
Genre as Etiquette, Language, and a Natural Fact
Genre as Etiquette
Narrative Genres as a Fact of Language
Genre as "Something like a Natural Organism"
The Affective Comprehension of Genre
Facing Death in Narrative Genres
Fearful Irony
Blunt Melodrama
Blank Tragedy
Conclusion: Death and Literary Genre
Notes
Works Cited
Part III. Site, Space, and Spatiality
Works Cited
15. Ecocide and the Anthropocene: Death and the Environment
Call of the Wild: Death, Mountain, and Forest Spirits in the Japanese Imagination
Connemara: Stories of Life and Death
The Indian Reservation: Narratives of Loss, Ecocide, and Genocide
Ecological Disasters and the Nuclear Apocalypse
Notes
Works Cited
16. A Disney Death: Coco, Black Panther, and the Limits of the Afterlife
Psychoanalysis, or, To Death and Beyond!
From Psychoanalysis to the Movies
What Is the Purpose of Your Visit?
Works Cited
17. Suicide in the Early Modern Elegiac Tradition
Notes
Works Cited
18. Institutions and Elegies: Viewing the Dead in W. B. Yeats and John Wieners
The Visual Space of Modern Elegy
Vitality through Death
"The Municipal Gallery Revisited" (1937)
The Hotel Wentley Poems (1958)
The Art of Cruising Art
"A Poem for Museum Goers"
Notes
Works Cited
19. Death "after Long Silence": Auditing Agamben's Metaphysics of Negativity in Yeats's Lyric
Note
Works Cited
20. The Spatialization of Death in the Novels of Virginia Woolf
Introduction
Epiphany as Dissolution: The Voyage Out and The Ship of Death
After Such Knowledge, What Consolation?: Order and the Limits of Vision in To the Lighthouse
Resting Securely in Impermanence: The Waves as Final Statement
Conclusion
Notes
Works Cited
21. "Memento Mori": Memory, Death, and Posterity in Singapore's Poetry
Modernization, Death, and Poetic Strategy
Grief and the Virtualization of Attachment
Edwin Thumboo and the Crafting of Posterity
Boey Kim Cheng and Elegiac Distance
Yeow Kai Chai and Teeming Presence
Works Cited
Part IV. Rituals, Memorials, and Epitaphs
Works Cited
22. Death and the Dead in Verse Funerary Epigrams of Ancient Greece
Notes
Works Cited
23. Fictional Will
A Matter of Life and Death: Writing on the Brink
Writing in Earnest: An Urgent Cause
Making Disposition: An Exercise of Will
Testis: A Need for Witness
Notes
Works Cited
Primary Sources
Secondary Sources
24. Monumentalism, Death, and Genre in Shakespeare
Notes
Works Cited
25. Death and Gothic Romanticism: Dilating in/upon the Graveyard, Meditating among the Tombs
Works Cited
26. Death, Literature, and the Victorian Era
The Cult of Mourning and the Commodification of Death
Materiality, Relics, and the Body
Sex and Death
Victorian Gothic
Last Words
Notes
Works Cited
27. The Aura of the Phonographic Relic: Hearing the Voices of the Dead
The Aura of the Recorded Voice
The Phonographic Recording and the Séance
The Phonograph Recording as Part of a Well-Managed Death
Note
Works Cited
28. Anecdotal Death: Samuel Johnson's Lives of the English Poets
This Last Act
The Texture of a Discourse
Ridiculous Anecdotes
Notes
Works Cited
29. Biography: Life after Death
Notes
Works Cited
Part V. Living with Death: Writing, Mourning, and Consolation
Work Cited
30. "An immense expenditure of energy come to nothing": Philosophy, Literature, and Death in Peter Weiss's Abschied von den Eltern
Notes
Works Cited
31. Paradox, Death, and the Divine
Death and Agency
Death and Meaning
The Numinous Heart of Paradox
Notes
Works Cited
32. Inner Seeing and Death Anxiety in Aidan Higgins's Blind Man's Bluff and Other Life Writing
Introduction
Visual Images
Inner Vision and Familiar Forms
Conclusion
Works Cited
33. Autothanatography and Contemporary Poetry
Works Cited
34. When Time Stops: Death and Autobiography in Contemporary Personal Narratives
Note
Works Cited
35. "Grief made her insubstantial to herself": Illness, Aging, and Death in A. S. Byatt's Little Black Book of Stories
Introduction
Postmemory, Grief, and Death
Aging, Illness, and Death
Dementia Narratives and Grief before Death
Conclusion
Notes
Works Cited
PART VI. Historical Engagements
Works Cited
36. On the Corpse of a Loved One in the Era of Brain Death: Bioethics and Fictions
Two Kinds of Dead
Irreversibility
Fictions
Works Cited
37. Death to the Music of Time Reticence in Anthony Powell's Mediated Narratives of Death
Introduction: Narration by Proxy - Anthony Powell's Corpseless Danse Macabre
Dramatization, Suspense, and Tragic Irony
The Unnamable
Pilgrim's Progress
Conclusion: "Lack of Outward Display" or the Affecting Power of Narrative under Control
Notes
Works Cited
38. Death and Chinese War Television Dramas: (Re)configuring Ethical Judgments in The Disguiser
Contextual Frames
Of Mortal Economies and Ethical Hierarchies
Final Remarks
Notes
Works Cited
39. Where Do the Disappeared Go? Writing the Genocide in East Timor
Understanding the Santa Cruz Massacre in Dili
The Silence Surrounding the Event
Implications of Silence
Conclusion
Notes
Works Cited
40. "Doubtfull Drede" Dying at the End of the Middle Ages
Notes
Works Cited
41. Urbanization, Ambiguity, and Social Death in Charles Brockden Brown's Arthur Mervyn
Notes
Works Cited
42. Coda
Index

Citation preview

THE ROUTLEDGE COMPANION TO DEATH AND LITERATURE

The Routledge Companion to Death and Literature seeks to understand the ways in which literature has engaged deeply with the ever-evolving relationship humanity has with its ultimate demise. It is the most comprehensive collection in this growing field of study and includes essays by Brian McHale, Catherine Belling, Ronald Schleifer, Helen Swift, and Ira Nadel, as well as the work of a generation of younger scholars from around the globe, who bring valuable transnational insights. Encompassing a diverse range of mediums and genres – including biography and autobiography, documentary, drama, elegy, film, the novel and graphic novel, opera, picturebooks, poetry, television, and more – the contributors offer a dynamic mix of approaches that range from expansive perspectives on particular periods and genres to extended analyses of select case studies. Essays are included from every major Western period, including Classical, Middle Ages, Renaissance, and so on, right up to the contemporary. This collection provides a telling demonstration of the myriad ways that humanity has learned to live with the inevitability of death, where “live with” itself might mean any number of things: from consoling, to memorializing, to rationalizing, to fending off, to evading, and, perhaps most compellingly of all, to escaping. Engagingly written and drawing on examples from around the world, this volume is indispensable to both students and scholars working in the fields of medical humanities, thanatography (death studies), life writing, Victorian studies, modernist studies, narrative, contemporary fiction, popular culture, and more. W. Michelle Wang is Assistant Professor of English at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Daniel K. Jernigan is Associate Professor of English at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Neil Murphy is Professor of English at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

ROUTLEDGE COMPANIONS TO LITERATURE SERIES Also available in this series: The Routledge Companion to Travel Writing Also available in paperback Edited by Carl Thompson The Routledge Companion to Literature and Religion Also available in paperback Edited by Mark Knight The Routledge Companion to Inter-American Studies Edited by Wilfried Raussert The Routledge Companion to the Environmental Humanities Edited by Ursula K. Heise, Jon Christensen and Michelle Niemann The Routledge Companion to International Children’s Literature Edited by John Stephens, with Celia Abicalil Belmiro, Alice Curry, Li Lifang and Yasmine S. Motawy The Routledge Companion to Picturebooks Edited by Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer The Routledge Companion to World Literature and World History Edited by May Hawas The Routledge Companion to Pakistani Anglophone Writing Edited by Aroosa Kanwal and Saiyma Aslam The Routledge Companion to Literature and Economics Edited by Matt Seybold and Michelle Chihara The Routledge Companion to Twenty-First Century Literary Fiction Edited by Daniel O’Gorman and Robert Eaglestone The Routledge Companion to Transnational American Studies Edited by Nina Morgan, Alfred Hornung and Takayuki Tatsumi The Routledge Companion to Victorian Literature Edited by Dennis Denisoff and Talia Schaffer The Routledge Companion to Health Humanities Edited by Paul Crawford, Brian Brown and Andrea Charise The Routledge Companion to Crime Fiction Edited by Janice Allan, Jesper Gulddal, Stewart King and Andrew Pepper The Routledge Companion to Literature and Trauma Edited by Hanna Meretoja and Colin Davis The Routledge Companion to Literature and Disability Edited by Alice Hall The Routledge Companion to Death and Literature Edited by W. Michelle Wang, Daniel K. Jernigan, and Neil Murphy For more information on this series, please visit: www.routledge.com/literature/series/RC4444

THE ROUTLEDGE COMPANION TO DEATH AND LITERATURE

Edited by W. Michelle Wang, Daniel K. Jernigan, and Neil Murphy

First published 2021 by Routledge 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017 and by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, OX14 4RN Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2021 Taylor & Francis The right of W. Michelle Wang, Daniel K. Jernigan, and Neil Murphy to be identified as the authors of the editorial material, and of the authors for their individual chapters, has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this title has been requested ISBN: 9780367619015 (hbk) ISBN: 9781003107040 (ebk) Typeset in Bembo by MPS Limited, Dehradun

Cover image: Gustav Klimt (Baumgarten bei Wien 1862–1918 Wien). Tod und Leben, 1910/11, umgearbeitet 1915/16. Öl auf Leinwand. Death and Life, 1910/11, reworked in 1915/16. Oil on canvas. 180.8 x 200.6 cm. Leopold Museum, Wien, Inv. 630. Patron: Klimt-Foundation, Wien. Leopold Museum, Vienna, Inv. 630. Patron: Klimt-Foundation, Vienna. LM 630

For all who have suffered from COVID-19

CONTENTS

List of Contributors

xiii

Introduction

1

PART I

Traversing the Ontological Divide Introduction

5

1 The Final Frontier: Science Fictions of Death Brian McHale

9

2 “Still I Danced”: Performing Death in Ford’s The Broken Heart Donovan Sherman

20

3 Death and the Margins of Theater in Luigi Pirandello Daniel K. Jernigan

29

4 Forbidden Mental Fruit? Dead Narrators and Characters from Medieval to Postmodernist Narratives Jan Alber 5 Literature and the Afterlife Alice Bennett

42

53

6 The Novel as Heartbeat: The Dead Narrator in Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones Neil Murphy

vii

62

Contents

7 Dead Man/and Woman Talking: Narratives from Beyond the Grave Philippe Carrard 8 The View from Upstream: Authority and Projection in Fontenelle’s Nouveaux dialogues des morts Jessica Goodman

71

83

PART II

Genres Introduction

91

9 Big Questions: Re-Visioning and Re-Scripting Death Narratives in Children’s Literature Lesley D. Clement

93

10 In the U-Bend with Moaning Myrtle: Thinking about Death in YA Literature Karen Coats

105

11 Death and Mourning in Graphic Narrative José Alaniz 12 Death and Documentaries: Heuristics for the Real in an Age of Simulation Benjamin Bennett-Carpenter 13 Death and the Fanciulla Reed Way Dasenbrock

117

123

132

14 Death, Literary Form, and Affective Comprehension: Primary Emotions and the Neurological Basis of Genre Ronald Schleifer

140

PART III

Site, Space, and Spatiality Introduction

155

15 Ecocide and the Anthropocene: Death and the Environment Flore Coulouma

159

16 A Disney Death: Coco, Black Panther, and the Limits of the Afterlife Stacy Thompson

171

viii

Contents

17 Suicide in the Early Modern Elegiac Tradition Kelly McGuire

180

18 Institutions and Elegies: Viewing the Dead in W. B. Yeats and John Wieners Barry Sheils and Julie Walsh

190

19 Death “after Long Silence”: Auditing Agamben’s Metaphysics of Negativity in Yeats’s Lyric Samuel Caleb Wee

206

20 The Spatialization of Death in the Novels of Virginia Woolf Ian Tan 21 “Memento Mori”: Memory, Death, and Posterity in Singapore’s Poetry Jen Crawford

216

228

PART IV

Rituals, Memorials, and Epitaphs Introduction

241

22 Death and the Dead in Verse Funerary Epigrams of Ancient Greece Arianna Gullo

245

23 Fictional Will Helen Swift

257

24 Monumentalism, Death, and Genre in Shakespeare John Tangney

266

25 Death and Gothic Romanticism: Dilating in/upon the Graveyard, Meditating among the Tombs Carol Margaret Davison

276

26 Death, Literature, and the Victorian Era Jolene Zigarovich

288

27 The Aura of the Phonographic Relic: Hearing the Voices of the Dead Angela Frattarola

298

28 Anecdotal Death: Samuel Johnson’s Lives of the English Poets Laura Davies

307

ix

Contents

29 Biography: Life after Death Ira Nadel

319

PART V

Living with Death: Writing, Mourning, and Consolation Introduction 30 “An immense expenditure of energy come to nothing”: Philosophy, Literature, and Death in Peter Weiss’s Abschied von den Eltern Christopher Hamilton 31 Paradox, Death, and the Divine Jamie Lin

331

333

342

32 Inner Seeing and Death Anxiety in Aidan Higgins’s Blind Man’s Bluff and Other Life Writing Lara O’Muirithe 33 Autothanatography and Contemporary Poetry Ivan Callus

350

361

34 When Time Stops: Death and Autobiography in Contemporary Personal Narratives Rosalía Baena

372

35 “Grief made her insubstantial to herself”: Illness, Aging, and Death in A. S. Byatt’s Little Black Book of Stories Graham Matthews

383

PART VI

Historical Engagements Introduction

393

36 On the Corpse of a Loved One in the Era of Brain Death: Bioethics and Fictions Catherine Belling

397

37 Death to the Music of Time: Reticence in Anthony Powell’s Mediated Narratives of Death Catherine Hoffmann

406

x

Contents

38 Death and Chinese War Television Dramas: (Re)configuring Ethical Judgments in The Disguiser W. Michelle Wang

416

39 Where Do the Disappeared Go? Writing the Genocide in East Timor Kit Ying Lye

425

40 “Doubtfull Drede”: Dying at the End of the Middle Ages Walter Wadiak

434

41 Urbanization, Ambiguity, and Social Death in Charles Brockden Brown’s Arthur Mervyn 442 Wanlin Li 42 Coda Julian Gough

450

Index

455

xi

CONTRIBUTORS

José Alaniz is Professor in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures and the Department of Comparative Literature (adjunct) at the University of Washington, Seattle, USA. He has published two books, Komiks: Comic Art in Russia (UP of Mississippi, 2010) and Death, Disability and the Superhero: The Silver Age and Beyond (UP of Mississippi, 2014). His articles have appeared in the International Journal of Comic Art, Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema, The Slavic and East European Journal, and such anthologies as Disability in Comic Books and Graphic Narratives (Palgrave, 2016) and Russian Children’s Literature and Culture (Routledge, 2007). From 2011 to 2017 he served as Chair of the Executive Committee of the International Comic Arts Forum (ICAF), the leading comics studies conference in the US. His research interests include death and dying, disability studies, eco-criticism, and comics studies. Current book projects include Resurrection: Comics in Post-Soviet Russia and Beautiful Monsters: Disability in Alternative Comics. Jan Alber is Professor of English Literature and Cognitive Studies at RWTH Aachen University, Germany, and Past President of the International Society for the Study of Narrative (ISSN). He is the author of Narrating the Prison (Cambria Press, 2007) and Unnatural Narrative: Impossible Worlds in Fiction and Drama (U of Nebraska P, 2016). Alber received fellowships and research grants from the British Academy, the German Research Foundation, and the Humboldt Foundation. In 2013, the German Association of University Teachers of English awarded him the prize for the best Habilitation written between 2011 and 2013. From 2014 to 2016, he worked as a Marie-Curie Fellow at the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, Denmark. Rosalía Baena is Associate Professor of English at the University of Navarra, Spain. Her main research interests deal with life writing and contemporary narratives in English. She has worked on issues of perspective and national identity in colonial and postcolonial narratives. She is currently working on narrative empathy and illness memoirs, with recent publications in Interdisciplinary Literary Studies (2013), Narrative Works (2014), Concentric (2016), Diegesis (2017), and Medical Humanities (2017). Catherine Belling is Associate Professor of Medical Education at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, USA, and is former editor of the journal Literature and xiii

Contributors

Medicine ( Johns Hopkins UP). Her book, A Condition of Doubt: The Meanings of Hypochondria (Oxford UP, 2012), won the 2013 Kendrick Book Prize (Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts). Alice Bennett is Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Liverpool Hope University, UK. She is the author of Afterlife and Narrative in Contemporary Fiction (Palgrave, 2012) and, most recently, Contemporary Fictions of Attention (Bloomsbury, 2018). Benjamin Bennett-Carpenter teaches writing at Oakland University in Michigan and works as a life coach at Sollars & Associates, Inc. (USA). He is the author of Death in Documentaries: The Memento Mori Experience (Brill, 2018). He co-edits Cruel Garters, a contemporary poetry publication. Current writing projects include “Memetica Ecologica: Rhetorics of Information and the Dream of Reverse Engineering Nature and Culture” and “Memento Vivere: Life, Now.” Ivan Callus is Professor of English at the University of Malta, where he teaches contemporary fiction and literary theory. He is the co-general editor of the journal CounterText, published with Edinburgh University Press, and the co-director of the Critical Posthumanism Network. His most recent volume is on European Posthumanism (co-edited; Routledge, 2016), while his most recent papers and book chapters have been about contemporary British novelists (including the works of Jim Crace, Ian McEwan, and Tim Parks); Ferdinand de Saussure’s anagram notebooks; and electronic literature. His current research is on posthumanism and prehistory. Philippe Carrard is Professor of French Emeritus at the University of Vermont and currently a Visiting Scholar in the Program of Comparative Literature at Dartmouth College, USA. His research has focused on conventions of writing in factual (i.e., non-fictional) discourse. In this area he has published Poetics of the New History: French Historical Discourse from Braudel to Chartier (Johns Hopkins UP, 1992), The French Who Fought for Hitler: Memories from the Outcasts (Cambridge UP, 2010), and History as a Kind of Writing: Textual Strategies in Contemporary French Historiography (U of Chicago P, 2017). He has also written articles on such subjects as the representation of consciousness in biography, the relations between narrative and historiography, the temporal structure of sport reports, story-telling in record liner notes, voice in women’s history, and titling in scholarly studies. That work has appeared in such journals as Clio, Diacritics, French Cultural Studies, Genre, History and Theory, Narrative, Poetics Today, Poétique, Sites, South Atlantic Quarterly, Women in French Studies, and other journals. Lesley D. Clement (retired) taught at Lakehead-Orillia, Ontario, Canada. She is the author of Learning to Look: A Visual Response to Mavis Gallant’s Fiction (McGill-Queen’s UP, 2000). Her most recent research explores visual literacy, the visual imagination, empathy, and death in children’s literature. She has co-edited Global Perspectives on Death in Children’s Literature (Routledge, 2015) with Dr. Leyli Jamali, and L. M. Montgomery’s Rainbow Valleys: The Ontario Years, 1911–1942 (McGill-Queens UP, 2015) with Dr. Rita Bode. Karen Coats is Professor of Education at the University of Cambridge, UK, where she teaches children’s and young adult literature. She publishes widely on the intersections of literary and cultural theory and youth literature, her most recent book being The Bloomsbury Introduction to Children’s and Young Adult Literature (Bloomsbury, 2017). xiv

Contributors

Flore Coulouma is an Associate Professor in English at the University of Paris Nanterre, France. Her book Diglossia and the Linguistic Turn: Flann O’Brien’s Philosophy of Language (Dalkey Archive Press, 2015) addresses linguistic colonialism in twentieth-century Ireland and the “question of language” in Flann O’Brien’s satirical work. She is the editor of New Perspectives on Irish TV Series: Identity and Nostalgia on the Small Screen (Peter Lang, 2016), and she writes on contemporary Irish and American literature and on American and Irish television series. Her current research focuses on ecocriticism and the representation of social and environmental justice in contemporary discourse and literature. Jen Crawford is an Associate Professor of Writing within the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research at the University of Canberra, Australia. She is the author of eight poetry books and chapbooks, including Koel (Cordite Books, 2016), and co-edited Poet-to-Poet: Contemporary Women Poets from Japan with Rina Kikuchi (Recent Work Press, 2017). Her critical work focuses on the poetics of place and on cross-cultural engagements in various literary contexts. She is a lead researcher on the Story Ground project, which investigates the meeting of Indigenous Australian story practices and the teaching of creative writing. Reed Way Dasenbrock is Professor of English at the University of Hawai’i – Manoa, USA. Reed was educated at McGill University in Canada, where he received a BA (Honours); Oxford University in England, where he received a B Phil; and finally Johns Hopkins University, where he received his MA and PhD. On completion of his PhD in English in 1981, he joined the faculty at New Mexico State University, where he taught for 20 years from 1981 to 2001. His area of specialization in English was modernist literature, but he has published in a wide range of other areas, including postcolonial literature in English, literary theory, the influence of Italian literature on English literature, and more general issues in the profession. A good deal of his work has been interdisciplinary, drawing on art history, comparative literature, analytic philosophy, and most recently on the use of mathematical and scientific concepts in literature. He is the author, editor, or co-editor of eight books, nearly 100 scholarly articles or chapters in books, and nearly 100 book reviews, and he has given more than 70 presentations at scholarly conferences. Laura Davies, PhD, is the Director of Studies in English at King’s College, University of Cambridge, UK. She specializes in eighteenth-century literature and publishes primarily on non-fiction prose. Her current project is a book about The Spectator. Recently she edited a special edition of the Journal for Eighteenth Century Studies on “Writing Religion” (2018) and has founded an interdisciplinary research and public engagement project exploring historical and contemporary ideas of a good death: https://good-death.english.cam.ac.uk. Carol Margaret Davison is Professor of English Literature at the University of Windsor, Canada. The Series Editor of Anthem Studies in Gothic Literature, she is the author of dozens of chapters devoted to the Gothic, History of the Gothic: Gothic Literature, 1764‒1824 (U of Wales P, 2009), and Anti-Semitism and British Gothic Literature (Palgrave, 2004). She is co-editor, with Marie Mulvey-Roberts, of Global Frankenstein (Palgrave, 2017), and coeditor, with Monica Germanà, of Scottish Gothic: An Edinburgh Companion (U of Edinburgh P, 2017). Her edited collection, The Gothic and Death (Manchester UP, 2017), was the winner of the Allan Lloyd Smith Memorial Prize for Gothic Criticism in 2019. She has written several book chapters devoted to the subject of the Brontës, Ann Radcliffe, and death, and is currently at work on two books: an edited collection entitled Gothic Dreams and xv

Contributors

Nightmares, and a study of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and the Gothic, both for Manchester University Press. Angela Frattarola, PhD, is the Director of the Language and Communication Centre at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Her book, Modernist Soundscapes: Auditory Technology and the Novel (UP of Florida, 2018), explores how early auditory technologies such as the phonograph, headphones, talkie, and tape recorder subtly changed the public’s sense of auditory perception, and how those changes are reflected in and shaped the modernist novel. Aside from her publications in modernism and sound studies, which can be found in journals such as Woolf Studies Annual, Mosaic, Modern Drama, Journal of Modern Literature, Studies in the Novel, and Genre, Dr. Frattarola also has extensive experience teaching writing-intensive classes, and studies the pedagogy behind best teaching practices for helping students become more effective readers and writers. Jessica Goodman is Associate Professor of French at St Catherine’s College, University of Oxford, UK. She completed her PhD at Oxford in 2013, and spent two years as a Junior Research Fellow at Clare College, Cambridge, before taking up her current post in 2015. Her first book, Goldoni in Paris: La Gloire et le malentendu (Oxford UP, 2017), tracks the Parisian career of the Italian dramatist Carlo Goldoni, considering the success of his selffashioning in life and in posterity. Her current project continues this exploration of posterity by examining the genre of the dialogue des morts as a site of both commemoration and projection. Alongside several articles and an edited journal issue, the first major output of this project was a critical edition of afterlife plays produced following the death of Mirabeau (including one by Olympe de Gouges), entitled Commemorating Mirabeau: Mirabeau aux Champs-Elysées and other texts (MHRA, 2017). She is now working on a monograph drawn from this project, tentatively entitled Imagined Afterlives. Further information can be found on her website: www.jessicagoodman.co.uk. Julian Gough is the author of four acclaimed novels, a novella, three children’s books, two BBC radio plays, a poetry collection, and a successful stage play. He also wrote the ending to Time Magazine’s 2011 computer game of the year, Minecraft. In his youth, he sang with underground literary pop band Toasted Heretic on four albums. He won the BBC National Short Story Award in 2007, and was shortlisted, twice, for the Everyman Bollinger Wodehouse Prize. A poetry collection, Free Sex Chocolate, was published in 2010, and in 2013 he had a UK number one Kindle Single with the comic novella CRASH! His latest novel, Connect, was published by Picador in 2018. His Rabbit & Bear children’s books (illustrated by Jim Field) are published in 29 languages. The first book, Rabbit’s Bad Habits, was shortlisted for an Irish Book of the Year Award in 2016; its French translation won the Prix Livrentête in 2018. The sequel, The Pest in the Nest, was shortlisted for both an Irish Book of the Year Award and the Sainsbury’s Children’s Book Award. Julian has also been writer in residence in Trinity College Dublin, the University of Limerick, and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Arianna Gullo received her PhD from the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa (2015), and is currently Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Newcastle, UK, having previously held a one-year Fellowship in Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC (2019-20), a Lectureship in Classics at the University of Glasgow (2018-19), a two-year Newton International Fellowship at Durham University’s Department of Classics and Ancient xvi

Contributors

History (2016–18) and visiting research fellowships at Dumbarton Oaks and at the University of Cincinnati (2016). Her main research interests are Greek epigram and epigraphy, Hellenistic poetry, and Late Antiquity, although she has also published on Ennius’ Medea and its relationship with the Euripidean model, and on elegiac performance in the Archaic and Classical Ages. She has recently completed her first monograph, a commentary with introduction on Book 7 of the Greek Anthology (the funerary epigrams), which is forthcoming in the “Edizioni della Normale.” She is currently preparing the edition with commentary of the poems by the sixth-century CE epigrammatist Julian the Egyptian, as well as a study on ekphrasis and epigram in the age of Justinian. Christopher Hamilton is Reader in Philosophy at King’s College London, UK. He is interested in the relation between philosophy and literature, and between moral, religious, and aesthetic value. He is the author of A Philosophy of Tragedy (Reaktion Books, 2016), How to Deal with Adversity (Pan Macmillan, 2014), Middle Age (part of the Art of Living series published by Acumen Books, 2009), and Living Philosophy (Edinburgh UP, 2001). Catherine Hoffmann, formerly Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Le Havre, France, now retired, has published essays in France, Britain, and the USA on twentiethcentury and contemporary British and Irish literature, especially on authors such as Anthony Powell, William Gerhardie, and Dermot Healy, whose work is held in relative critical neglect. She has co-edited Representing Wars 1860 to the Present: Fields of Action, Fields of Vision (BrillRodopi, 2018). Her research interests include narratology, intermediality, and geo- and ecopoetics. Daniel K. Jernigan is Associate Professor of English Literature at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He has written extensively on Tom Stoppard, including his monograph, Tom Stoppard: Bucking the Postmodern (McFarland & Co., 2012). He also edited Flann O’Brien: Plays and Teleplays (Dalkey Archive Press, 2013), and Aidan Higgins’s collection of radio plays, Darkling Plain: Texts for the Air (Dalkey Archive Press, 2010). Wanlin Li is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Peking University, China. Her teaching and research interests include Gothic literature, nineteenth-century American literature, and narrative theory. Her most recent publications have appeared in Style, Journal of Narrative Theory, and many leading journals of literary studies in China, such as Foreign Literature Review, Foreign Literature, and Foreign Literatures. She is also a recent winner of a national research grant from the National Social Science Fund of China, which funds her current book project on American Gothic literature. Jamie Lin is a writer and editor who received the Gillian Rose Prize for his MA thesis in sociology from the University of Warwick, UK. He has published work – both in print and online – in Cleaver Magazine, Flash Magazine (UK), Relief Journal, and Quarterly Literary Review Singapore. He has a forthcoming chapter in a non-fiction anthology, Altogether Elsewhere, as well as a critical introduction essay on Prose.sg. He is the editor of Broader Perspectives, a current affairs magazine in Singapore. Kit Ying Lye is currently Senior Lecturer at Singapore University of Social Sciences. Her dissertation focuses on the use of magical realism in the re-presentation of Cold War violence in Southeast Asian literature. Her research interests are mainly magical realism, xvii

Contributors

the Cold War in Southeast Asia, history and its remembrance, and death in literature. She has published writings that discuss the use of literature to represent civil wars in Southeast Asia. Graham Matthews is an Associate Professor in Contemporary Literature at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. His research interests include literature and medicine, conceptions of risk and fate, and illness narratives. He is the author of Will Self and Contemporary British Society (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016) and Ethics and Desire in the Wake of Postmodernism (Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), and has contributed to various journals: Modern Fiction Studies, Textual Practice, Journal of Modern Literature, Literature & Medicine, and Critique. Kelly McGuire is an Associate Professor of English and Gender & Women’s Studies at Trent University, Canada. She is the author of Dying to Be English: Suicide Narratives and National Identity (Routledge, 2013) and her current book project deals with gender and the inoculated body. She works on the intersections of literary and medical history and has published in Eighteenth-Century Fiction, Rhetoric Review, Studies in the Literary Imagination, and Literature and Medicine, among other journals. Brian McHale is Arts and Humanities Distinguished Professor at The Ohio State University, USA. He was for many years associate editor, and later co-editor, of the journal Poetics Today. A co-founder of Ohio State’s Project Narrative, which he directed from 2012–14, he is also a founding member and former president of the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present (ASAP). He is the author of Postmodernist Fiction (Routledge, 1987), Constructing Postmodernism (Routledge, 1992), The Obligation toward the Difficult Whole (U of Alabama P, 2004), and The Cambridge Introduction to Postmodernism (2015), as well as articles on free indirect discourse, mise en abyme, narrativity, modernist and postmodernist poetics, narrative poetry, and science fiction, which have appeared in journals such as Diacritics, Genre, Modern Language Quarterly, Narrative, New Literary History, Poetics Today, Style, and Twentieth-Century Literature. He co-edited, with Randall Stevenson, The Edinburgh Companion to Twentieth-Century Literatures in English (Edinburgh UP, 2006); with David Herman and James Phelan, Teaching Narrative Theory (Modern Language Association of America, 2010); with Luc Herman and Inger Dalsgaard, The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Pynchon (Cambridge UP, 2012); and with Joe Bray and Alison Gibbons, The Routledge Companion to Experimental Literature (Routledge, 2012). Neil Murphy is Professor of English at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He is the editor of Aidan Higgins: The Fragility of Form (Dalkey Archive Press, 2010). Dr. Murphy has co-edited (with Keith Hopper) a special Flann O’Brien centenary issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction (2011) and The Short Fiction of Flann O’Brien (Dalkey Archive Press, 2013). He has also co-edited (with Keith Hopper) a four-book series related to the work of Dermot Healy, including a scholarly edition of Fighting with Shadows (2015), as well as Dermot Healy: The Collected Short Stories (2015), Dermot Healy: The Collected Plays (2016), and Writing the Sky: Observations and Essays on Dermot Healy (2016). His monograph, John Banville (2018), was published by Bucknell UP. Ira Nadel is Professor of English at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada. He has published biographies of Leonard Cohen, Tom Stoppard, David Mamet, xviii

Contributors

and Leon Uris. He has also written Biography: Fiction, Fact & Form (Palgrave Macmillan, 1984), Joyce and the Jews: Culture and Texts (UP of Florida, 1995), and Modernism’s Second Act (Palgrave Pivot, 2013), in addition to editing the Cambridge Companion to Ezra Pound (Cambridge UP, 2006) and Ezra Pound in Context (Cambridge UP, 2014). Forthcoming is a critical biography of Philip Roth. Lara O’Muirithe recently received her PhD from Trinity College Dublin’s School of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies, Ireland. Her PhD thesis, a single-author study of the late Irish writer Aidan Higgins, uses original manuscript study in conjunction with art writing interpretation to explore Higgins’s aesthetics. The project was funded by the Irish Research Council’s Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholarship Programme. Lara has taught courses on theories of literature, modernism, and contemporary critical theory at Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin. Ronald Schleifer is George Lynn Cross Research Professor of English and Adjunct Professor in Medicine at the University of Oklahoma, USA. He has written or edited more than 20 books. His books focused on modernism include A Political Economy of Modernism (Cambridge, 2018), Modernism and Popular Music (Cambridge, 2011), Modernism and Time (Cambridge, 2000), Analogical Thinking: Post-Enlightenment Understanding in Language, Collaboration, and Interpretation (Michigan UP, 2000), and Rhetoric and Death: The Language of Modernism and Postmodern Discourse Theory (Illinois UP, 1990). Those focused on the medical humanities include Pain and Suffering (Routledge, 2014) and The Chief Concern of Medicine (with Dr. Jerry Vannatta, Michigan UP, 2013). Barry Sheils is Associate Professor in twentieth- and twenty-first-century literature at Durham University, UK, where he is also associate director of the Centre for Culture and Ecology. He is the author of W.B. Yeats and World Literature: The Subject of Poetry (Routledge, 2015), and co-editor of two recent volumes of essays: Narcissism, Melancholia and the Subject of Community (Palgrave, 2017) and Shame and Modern Writing (Routledge, 2018). Donovan Sherman is an Associate Professor of English at Seton Hall University, USA. He is the author of Second Death: Theatricalities of the Soul in Shakespeare’s Drama (Edinburgh UP, 2016) and his work has appeared in Shakespeare Quarterly, English Literary Renaissance, The Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, and others. Currently, he is working on a book about Stoicism and performance in Renaissance drama. Helen Swift is Associate Professor of Medieval French and Tutorial Fellow of St Hilda’s College at the University of Oxford, UK. Having focused for several years on the fifteenth-century querelle des femmes (including Gender, Writing and Performance: Men Defending Women in Late Medieval France (Oxford UP, 2008)), she now explores more broadly questions of narrative voice and identity, from Guillaume de Machaut to Jean Bouchet. Representing the Dead: Epitaph Fictions in Late-Medieval France (D. S. Brewer, 2016; runner-up, Society for French Studies R. Gapper Book Prize) examined challenges to the construction of identity in the context of voices and bodies speaking from beyond the grave. Ian Tan is a PhD candidate in English at the University of Warwick, UK, focusing on the poetry of Wallace Stevens and the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. He is interested in modern and contemporary fiction and the relationship between modernist writing, poetics, xix

Contributors

literary theory, and film. His essays and reviews on Wallace Stevens, John Banville, Graham Swift, James Joyce, and Flann O’Brien and directors such as Bela Tarr and Alexander Sokurov have been published or are forthcoming in journals such as Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, Journal of Modern Literature, English Studies, Mosaic: An Interdisciplinary Critical Journal, The Wallace Stevens Journal, Literary Imagination, Studies in European Cinema, and Senses of Cinema. He has written two student literary guidebooks. John Tangney is an independent scholar, with a PhD in Renaissance Literature from Duke University, USA. He taught at the University of Tyumen from 2017 to 2020, and at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore from 2009 to 2015. His writing can be found in Religion and the Arts, Bright Lights Film Journal, Litteraria Pragensia, and Literary Imagination, among others. Stacy Thompson is a Professor in the Department of English at the University of WisconsinEau Claire, USA. He has published a book on punk rock, Punk Productions: Unfinished Business (SUNY Press, 2004), as well as numerous articles on film, ethics, and philosophy in journals including Cinema Journal; Cultural Studies; Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society; Film-Philosophy; and Symploke, among others. He teaches courses in film studies, critical theory, and rhetoric. Walter Wadiak is Assistant Professor of English at Lafayette College, USA. He is the author of Savage Economy (U of Notre Dame P, 2016) and co-editor of Narrating Death (Routledge, 2018). His essays on Middle English literature have appeared in Glossator, Exemplaria, and Philological Quarterly. Julie Walsh is Senior Lecturer in Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies at the University of Essex, UK, and a psychoanalyst in private practice. She is the author of Narcissism and Its Discontents (Palgrave, 2015), and co-editor of two recent volumes of essays: Narcissism, Melancholia and the Subject of Community (Palgrave, 2017) and Shame and Modern Writing (Routledge, 2018). W. Michelle Wang is Assistant Professor of English at the School of Humanities, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Her research interests are in postmodern and contemporary fiction, as well as East Asian televisual narratives. Her book monograph, Eternalized Fragments: Reclaiming Aesthetics in Contemporary World Fiction (2020), was published by The Ohio State UP and she has published articles in the journals Narrative, Journal of Narrative Theory, and Review of Contemporary Fiction. Samuel Caleb Wee is a PhD candidate with the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. His current research investigates the intersection between posthuman media discourse, narrative theory, and the poetics of the contemporary lyric. In addition to academia, his poetry and creative non-fiction have been published in various journals and magazines across Southeast Asia. He is also the co-editor of this is how you walk on the moon, an anthology of experimental anti-realist fiction published in 2016. Jolene Zigarovich is Associate Professor of Global Nineteenth-Century Literature in the Department of Languages & Literatures at the University of Northern Iowa, USA. Her book publications include Writing Death and Absence in the Victorian Novel: Engraved Narratives (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), and she is editor of Sex and Death in Eighteenth-Century Literature (Routledge, 2013), as well as TransGothic in Literature and Culture (Routledge, 2017). xx

INTRODUCTION W. Michelle Wang, Daniel K. Jernigan, and Neil Murphy

Literature has always been deeply engaged with the ever-evolving relationship humanity has with its ultimate demise. It provides a telling demonstration of the myriad ways that humanity has learned to live with the inevitability of death – where “live with” might itself mean any number of things: from consoling, to memorializing, to rationalizing, to fending off, to evading, and (perhaps most compellingly of all) to escaping. Indeed, Scheherazade evaded her impending death so well through the stories she told that she would eventually “escape” death entirely and thus become immortalized in One Thousand and One Nights (1706). Given such poignant connections between the two, much of this Routledge Companion to Death and Literature is devoted to exploring the work of authors who have treated writing as Frida Kahlo treated painting: “I paint flowers so they will not die.”1 Kahlo’s literary counterparts are numerous, although it is perhaps in John Keats’s famous odes that the search for literary immortality is most tragically embodied; for while the subject of his “Ode to a Nightingale” (1819) might not have been “born for death,” Keats himself would be dead within two years of having written his most famous poem, at the age of twenty-five. Of course, the relationship between literary art and death is rarely as poignant as it is when viewed through Keats’s tragic early death. Accordingly, this Companion speaks to a whole host of differing literary works, episodes, and events which run the gamut from the prophetic and the profound, to the puerile and prosaic, to the downright practical. No doubt, the variety of responses (both on the part of writers and of the essays enclosed herein) has something to do with the fact that in our own lives, death takes many guises, even as it inhabits every surface and crevice of our various lived realities. The exegeses or sojourns into literary deaths explored in each essay thus offer us a mirror that allows humankind to partly explain us to ourselves: how death shapes what we understand about the nature, quality, and meaning of our lives; the intents that belie our actions; our ethical beliefs on a range of issues including murder, genocide, euthanasia, suicide; and so on. Literature offers us an imaginative space to unfold such thought experiments in meaningful and, at times, terrifying ways. Perhaps because it inhabits so many separate stations in our lives, death itself has – as Philippe Ariès discovered in his extensive treatment of the subject – become something of a subjective and arbitrary fiction, more performed and performative than genuine and real: 1

Introduction

The ritualization of death is a special aspect of the total strategy of man against nature, a strategy of prohibitions and concessions. This is why death has not been permitted its natural extravagance but has been imprisoned in ceremony, transformed into spectacle. This is also why it could not be a solitary adventure but had to be a public phenomenon involving the whole community. (Ariès 604 ) Very few deaths are solitary affairs. In addition to family members, the dead and dying are attended to by a host of figures, from doctors and nurses, to clergy and social welfare workers, to police officers and detectives, and to scientists and biographers, each of whom is as likely to be engaged in seeking to understand, categorize, and articulate these deaths as they are in trying to comfort the afflicted. In essence, death is always and already fictionalized by the time writers seek it out and reconsider it to their own ends. Moreover, even the most private of deaths has the potential to become a publicly performed affair, as in the case of Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man (2005), which documents the deaths of grizzly bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend at the claws and teeth of a grizzly on a remote Alaskan wildlife reserve. It is also difficult to overlook the degree to which their deaths were performed given Treadwell’s own use of videography in the moments leading up to his death – and the performative machismo that was part and parcel of his grizzly enthusiasm. Consequently, if there is one common theme that underlies the various treatments of death and dying in our collection of essays, it is an examination of this tendency to construct for our own purposes that which is ultimately unknown, impossibly distant, and of an ontological reality that can be compellingly illuminated by imaginative literature. To this end, the essays collected here are especially interested in finding resonances between literary deaths (which are, of necessity, constructed) and death as it has been more commonly understood over the eras and across geographical spaces. Seneca the Younger notes in Phoenissae that “of life anyone can rob a man [sic], but of death no one; to this a thousand doors lie open.” The Companion thus endeavors to illuminate the multitude of ways in which these doors have been constructed, fashioned, shaped, and sculpted in literary studies. Encompassing a diverse range of mediums and genres – including biography and autobiography, documentary, drama, elegy, film, the novel and graphic novel, opera, picturebooks, poetry, television, and more – our contributors offer a dynamic mix of approaches that range from expansive perspectives on particular periods and genres to extended analyses of select case studies. We include essays from every major Western period, including Classical, Middle Ages, Renaissance, and so on, right up to the contemporary. The Companion is organized around six key areas, each with its own section introduction. Part I – Traversing the Ontological Divide features eight essays that foreground the ontological divide between life and death, and, by extension, between the artful and the real. Most of the essays in Part I thus entail a self-reflexive consideration of genre – an issue that reemerges in Part II and remains of consistent interest across the Companion – but the contributors in Part I (Brian McHale, Donovan Sherman, Daniel K. Jernigan, Jan Alber, Alice Bennett, Neil Murphy, Philippe Carrard, and Jessica Goodman) attend specifically to such ontological crossings through their attention to dead narrators and dead characters, and the genre’s formal features that challenge, transgress, or subvert this ontological divide. Part II – Genres intensifies such examinations of shared conventions within particular literary modes, where the six contributors (Lesley D. Clement, Karen Coats, José Alaniz, Benjamin BennettCarpenter, Reed Way Dasenbrock, and Ronald Schleifer) attend to the bidirectional “flow[s] between genre and text” (Frow 4–5), engaging dynamically with the question of how genre 2

Introduction

actively generates and shapes knowledge of and about death in children’s literature, young adult fiction, graphic narratives, documentaries, the opera, and more. While essays in all sections broadly address varying dimensions of spatiality, the concepts of place and space, borders and sites, assume central importance in Part III – Site, Space, and Spatiality, where the contributors (Flore Coulouma, Stacy Thompson, Kelly McGuire, Barry Sheils & Julie Walsh, Samuel Caleb Wee, Ian Tan, and Jen Crawford) share an interest in space that ranges from the physical to the discursive, as the seven essays assembled here engage with the sociopolitical, ecological, cultural, and formal consequences of artistically rendering death. Part IV – Rituals, Memorials, and Epitaphs in turn examines the polysemy of ways in which we memorialize the dead, whereby the eight contributors in this section (Arianna Gullo, Helen Swift, John Tangney, Carol Margaret Davison, Jolene Zigarovich, Angela Frattarola, Laura Davies, and Ira Nadel) explore “the deceased’s ongoing presence and influence” (Klass 435) in relics ranging from ancient Greek epigrams to modern phonographic recordings. Part V – Living with Death: Writing, Mourning, and Consolation takes up the concluding threads on biography from the final two essays in Part IV to explore the efficacy of the written word in responding to the realities of living with death. The six contributors in this section (Christopher Hamilton, Jamie Lin, Lara O’Muirithe, Ivan Callus, Rosalía Baena, and Graham Matthews) offer poignant analyses of works in which we encounter not only the voices of those who confront impending death, but also the grief of those who remain and their struggles with loss. In the final section, Part VI – Historical Engagements, the six contributors (Catherine Belling, Catherine Hoffmann, W. Michelle Wang, Kit Ying Lye, Walter Wadiak, and Wanlin Li) examine their chosen texts in light of specific historical events: from the Black Death in fourteenth-century Europe to the US legal controversy of Winkfield v. Children’s Hospital Oakland in 2013. Attending to heterogeneous forms that include poetry, prose, plays, television, and newspaper literature, these essays engage with a dynamic range of issues extending from urbanization to genocide. The sobering coda by novelist Julian Gough extends such considerations of how literature mediates the way we process traumatic experiences of death. Gough considers the role of art in processing the raw present, as we remain – at the time of final revisions in July 2020 – in the grip of the COVID-192 pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 people worldwide, and of literature’s potential as metaphorical vaccine: one that “injects an exquisitely tiny, artificial version of the terrible truth of life into [our] system[s].” We peer with Gough into what he terms “the vast room of the universal through the keyhole of the personal,” in the common struggle to make some sense of the widespread death that surrounds us in the present. To be sure, what the future holds for this ever-expansive subject is as unknowable as the undiscovered country of death itself; although, if science fiction has anything to say about this, future technological developments will be largely directed toward that long-hoped-for fountain of youth, where we might all live forever (albeit a life that is as likely to be characterized as dystopian as utopian), even as the genre continues to unearth new and extraordinary ways to die. However, such impulses toward longevity or death’s postponement are exactly what other essays push back against. These productive dialogues across sections speak to the Companion’s true strength: a truly compelling collection of essays necessitating a thorough rethinking of the subject.

Notes The research and writing of this book was supported by The Ministry of Education, Singapore, under Academic Research Fund Tier 1. Our heartfelt thanks to Dr. Tissina George and Dr. Mengni Kang for their invaluable assistance over the course of this project.

3

Introduction 1 2

The quote is widely attributed to Kahlo and undoubtedly captures a dominant sentiment in Kahlo’s oeuvre, though Edward Applebaum notes that the reference is “somewhat difficult to authenticate” (94). Coronavirus disease 2019 (SARS-CoV-2).

Works Cited Applebaum, Edward. Unfolding the Unconscious Psyche: Pathways to the Arts. Routledge, 2015. Ariès, Philippe. The Hour of Our Death: The Classic History of Western Attitudes Toward Death Over the Last One Thousand Years. Oxford UP, 1991. Frow, John. Genre. 2nd ed. Routledge, 2015. Klass, Dennis. “The Cross-Cultural Study of Grief.” The Routledge Companion to Death and Dying, edited by Christopher M. Moreman. Routledge, 2018, pp. 432–441. Seneca the Younger. Phoenissae (The Phoenician Women). Translated by Frank Justus Miller. 1917, v. 140. Theoi Project. www.theoi.com/Text/SenecaPhoenissae.html.

4

PART I TRAVERSING THE ONTOLOGICAL DIVIDE

Ontology – the meaning and nature of existence – takes center stage in this opening section of our Companion on death and literature, particularly given its defining importance to our understandings of the relationships between life and death, being and non-being. Brian McHale’s contention in Postmodernist Fiction (1987) that “every ontological boundary is an analogue or metaphor of death” (231) partly drives the mode of inquiry in this section, where the first three essays address how modes of science fiction and dramatic performance tend to highlight ontological issues. The five essays that follow attend specifically to ontological crossings enabled by dead narrators and dead characters, who variously challenge, transgress, or subvert this divide between life and death. Ranging from medieval literature to contemporary fiction, most of these essays further engage in self-reflexive considerations of genre, attending to formal features that foreground the ontological divide between life and death, and, by extension, between the artful and the real. Brian McHale’s essay, “The Final Frontier: Science Fictions of Death,” sets the stage for the ontological confrontations that all eight contributors address in this section. With reference to more than 40 works of science fiction across genres and eras, McHale argues that every science fiction voyage entails traversing “states of being” and (sooner or later) “the ultimate ontological divide” between life and death. His essay makes a compelling case for how science fiction “has been enormously fertile in inventing (or reinventing) motifs expressing the theme of death, from longevity and immortality to artificial life (the Frankenstein theme) to resurrection and afterlife to mass extinction.” McHale contends that science fiction ultimately offers us “metaphors, if not always of an afterlife, then of the ontological transition that is death itself.” Donovan Sherman similarly engages with such liminal ontological states in his essay, “‘Still I Danced’: Performing Death in Ford’s The Broken Heart,” where he addresses “the inherent doubleness of death” in theatrical presentation. Sherman argues that death “can only be represented (not made to appear in its totality) but never represented (clearly delineated or described).” Sherman terms this an “absence/presence ghosting of death”: caught always between “the clutches of the theatrical,” yet never “becoming pure experience.” Using Samuel Beckett’s Breath and Endgame as a compelling segue into John Ford’s Carolingian revenge tragedy, The Broken Heart (1633), Sherman ultimately suggests that Penthea’s and Calantha’s “deaths remind us of the theater’s capacity to magnify the same forces that tease at the edge of 5

Traversing the Ontological Divide

our consciousness – of the always-there but always-unseen tug of death that escapes and structures thought.” Such confounding questions about reality, representation, and illusion raised by the challenges of staging death become all the more evident in Daniel K. Jernigan’s “Death and the Margins of Theater in Luigi Pirandello.” Jernigan’s essay investigates the myriad ways in which Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, Each in His Own Way, Tonight We Improvise, and The Mountain Giants speak to the discomfiting conceits that accompany death on stage, and what such a death “means to the already complicated divisions between the artificial and the real (already so endemic to theater).” Jernigan ultimately argues that “the tenuous margin between death and life is treated alongside the equally tenuous margin between the literary and the real” in Pirandello’s plays, where “staged deaths intersect both real and metatheatrical space” while raising “compelling ontological questions [not only] about the stability of the world of the theater, but, by implication, about the real world as well.” Such ontological transgressions are instantiated in the proliferation of dead characters and narrators examined in the next five essays. In “Forbidden Mental Fruit? Dead Narrators and Characters from Medieval to Postmodernist Narratives,” Jan Alber surveys a wide range of posthumous beings, from numerous dead characters in the medieval romance Sir Orfeo to the ghost of Susie Salmon in Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones (2012) – all figures that violate “ ‘intuitive ontological expectations’ ” by challenging the divide between life and death. Alber concludes by suggesting that “a next step could be to compare these functions with those of dead characters in other generic or cultural contexts,” a task admirably accomplished by many of the essays that follow, by contributors both in this section and elsewhere in the Companion. Alice Bennett’s “Literature and the Afterlife” in turn emphasizes the contemporary novel’s orchestration of these voices of the dead. From Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s Cré na Cille (1949) to George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo (2017), Bennett details the broad “diversity of religious, cultural, and literary heritages represented in the literature of afterlives.” Bennett contends that these literary afterlives are not merely a “consequence of increased secularism” or “necessarily in dialogue with the complexities of religious tradition and belief”; rather, she argues that “one of the most significant features of all literary afterlives” is their dynamic intertextual engagement with literary forebears, where influences from The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Thodol) to Dante’s Divine Comedy richly shape aspects of voice, temporality, and spatiality in contemporary posthumous narration. In his essay, “The Novel as Heartbeat: The Dead Narrator in Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones,” Neil Murphy picks up on such intertextual engagements by explicating the literary-genealogical significance of the Irish experimental tradition – one that extends from Jonathan Swift to Samuel Beckett, and to McCormack’s own contemporaries such as Caitriona Lally and John Banville. Murphy argues that “the technical experiment that is Solar Bones is fundamental to its character-narrator’s way of seeing and being in the world – or, more precisely, his way of no longer being in the world even as he posthumously bears witness to that world.” Life, Murphy notes, “becomes the true subject of the dead narrator, but it is life stripped of the confused entanglements of the living.” By attending to “the centrality of rhythm” in Solar Bones, Murphy ultimately contends that “the novel becomes structurally and sensually consistent with life itself, rather than simply seeking to offer a representation of life.” Philippe Carrard similarly focuses on “works in which the deceased perform as narrators,” in his essay “Dead Man/and Woman Talking: Narratives from Beyond the Grave,” in order to elaborate on what he calls “an elementary poetics of narrative ‘from beyond the grave,’ that is, to study the codes, rules, and conventions that shape this type of story.” Recognizing that such works are in some sense “unnatural,” Carrard examines how “authors of posthumous 6

Traversing the Ontological Divide

narratives play not just with the rules of natural, realistic stories, but also with those of the subgenre they have elected to practice.” Recognizing that the ubiquity of such narratives has some bearing on whether we think of such works as “unnatural” or not, Carrard sums up his thinking on this by looking to the reader, who, “cognizant of the game being played at the level of the story … consent[s] to its implications at the level of the discourse.” The section’s final essay, “The View from Upstream: Authority and Projection in Fontenelle’s Nouveaux dialogues des morts” by Jessica Goodman, examines how “textual reincarnations of dead greats simultaneously act as figures of authority,” even as they are “left open to manipulation and domination by those that follow them.” Akin to the Methuselah figures McHale identifies as bearing witness to history in the mode of science fiction, Goodman examines how the dead are invested with a form of authority based partly on a “panoramic view of history,” “wise in their posthumous detachment” yet “not untouchable.” By considering “the interplay of voices” in these dialogues of the dead, Goodman contends that “the imaginative resources” Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle employs “are in fact intimately bound up with the very arguments he makes about the value of projecting one’s own posterity.”

Work Cited McHale, Brian. Postmodernist Fiction. Methuen, 1987.

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1 THE FINAL FRONTIER Science Fictions of Death Brian McHale

Death is not a theme that one automatically associates with science fiction. In the popular imagination, science fiction (SF) is much likelier to be associated with the future (whether sleek or grubby), with the technological sublime (starships, superweapons, artificial intelligences), and with the proverbial sense of wonder that has been the genre’s stock in trade since its full emergence at the end of the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, it could be argued that reflection on death and its problematic overcoming was there from the beginning – indeed, from before the beginning, in the works of the genre’s early-nineteenth-century forerunners: Mary Shelley in Frankenstein (1818), and Edgar Allan Poe in tales such as “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” (1845). Far from alien to SF, the theme of death has arguably been intrinsic to it, a part of its DNA, passed down from the earliest generations to its latest manifestations in print and on screens big and small. Death is a “persistent, distinctive feature” of SF across periods, subgenres, and media (Burt 168). Consider for a moment SF cinema of the past fifty years. Any reckoning of its most memorable moments would have to include these: the pathos of the rogue computer HAL’s piecemeal loss of consciousness as his brain is dismantled in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); the Edward G. Robinson character’s death by voluntary euthanasia in the dystopian future of Soylent Green (1973); the replicant Roy Batty’s plea to his engineer-creator for “more life” in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982); the fade to black as the policeman dies in Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop (1987), and then the abrupt restoration of his subjective point-of-view when he is rebooted as a cyborg; the shocking opening sequence of Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days (1995), when a violent death, staged as if from within, is subsequently revealed to have been a virtual-reality playback, a sort of snuff film; the poignant fatalism of the clones coming to terms with their truncated lives in the 2010 film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go (2005). I could go on multiplying examples. Or consider what is arguably television’s most popular and certainly its longest-running SF series, the BBC’s Dr. Who (1963–89, relaunched in 2005), which stages seemingly endless variations on themes of mortality, crucially including the Doctor’s own cycles of death and regeneration, which allow different actors successively to play the “same” character. Interviewed by the director James Cameron, Peter Capaldi, the Twelfth Doctor (2013–17), volunteered that Dr. Who has been so appealing for so long because “it’s about death, and it has a very very powerful 9

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death motif in it” (“Time Travel”). I am tempted to extend his insight to the whole of the SF genre: it’s all about death.

Motivating the Motif That’s only a partial truth; it’s not really all about death (unless in a special sense that I’ll try to clarify at the end of this chapter). Granted, the SF genre has been enormously fertile in inventing (or reinventing) motifs expressing the theme of death, from longevity and immortality to artificial life (the Frankenstein theme) to resurrection and afterlife to mass extinction – a whole repertoire of motifs. But we need to be canny when discussing the SF motif repertoire, because not all motifs are created equal. Some motifs form the cornerstones of whole SF worlds; others lend support to these foundational motifs; still others are ancillary or merely decorative. To use the terms of SF theory, sometimes a motif functions as the text’s novum, the kernel of novelty around which SF worlds are constructed. The novum, as Darko Suvin (1979) has taught us, is the indispensable new thing: a place, object, attribute, type of being, state of affairs, etc., that is not to be found in our contemporary reality, but that can be imagined to exist or occur in some temporally future or spatially distant world, with more or less extensive consequences for its make-up. Every SF world must have at least one novum, otherwise it would not qualify as SF at all. Some have multiple novums, as in the case of Philip K. Dick’s celebrated novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) (Csicsery-Ronay 62, 70–72). Some motifs, however, do not serve as world-building novums in their own right, but rather – and here I turn to the terminology of the Russian Formalists (Tomashevsky 78–87) – serve to motivate other motifs. This is hardly a new insight. Writing about SF B-movies of the 1950s, for instance, Fredric Jameson argued that the latter aren’t about what they appear to be about – the threat of mutant monsters or alien invasions, or even the fear of nuclear war that these motifs evidently stand in for – but are really about the desirable kind of work that these movies’ scientistheroes perform (“Metacommentary”). In Formalist terms, the mutant-monster or alien-invasion motifs serve to motivate the motif of the scientist’s labor. More recently, David Wittenberg, writing about early-twentieth-century time-travel narratives, has argued that the motif of time travel actually originated as a subsidiary novum designed to motivate visions of a utopian or dystopian future (33–51). Eventually, when the fashion for utopias waned, the time-travel motif, set free from its supporting role, was promoted to the status of a fully fledged novum in its own right, the cornerstone on which further SF worlds could be erected. The same kind of analysis should be applied to motifs of death in SF: sometimes a motif of death functions as a novum in its own right, but sometimes it mainly serves to motivate other motifs. In adventure-driven SF, such as Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Mars novels (1912–43) or space operas like the Star Wars franchise, the prospect of violent death serves mainly to raise the narrative stakes: it is a risk to be avoided, an ultimate penalty to be inflicted on others, or an opportunity for heroic self-sacrifice, but rarely a novum in its own right. In video games, which are often SF-based, the deaths of one’s adversaries are a measure of success – a way of keeping score – and the death of one’s avatar has no consequence apart from signaling the start of a new round of the game (Westfahl). Spectacle-driven SF, especially on the big screen, often depicts destruction on a planetary scale, implying the death of entire populations. However, mass death typically serves here to motivate sublime special effects, and is taken seriously only relatively rarely. Post-apocalyptic scenarios, as in the Mad Max movie franchise or in much current Young Adult dystopian fiction and film, mostly function as a reset button, a wiping-clean of the world’s slate, giving survivors an opportunity to rebuild civilization from scratch. Alternatively, the apocalypse can serve as 10

Final Frontier: Science Fictions of Death

the pretext for realizing erotic fantasies (the last-man-and-last-woman motif), or as a kind of playground or theme park, a stage on which adventures can be played out amid the ruins. Here again, mass death is little more than a necessary precondition for the realization of other novums. Even narratives that seem most conspicuously “about” death sometimes turn out to be using death as the motivation of some other novum. This is the case, for instance, with Philip José Farmer’s To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1971) and the rest of his Riverworld series (1971, 1977, 1980), which explore the motif of the wholesale resurrection of the entire human race and its resettlement on an artificial world, through the intervention of powerful aliens (Clark 111–13; Burt 178–79). This startling novum, which at first glance appears to involve a genuine engagement with the theme of mortality, on further reflection proves only to motivate the adventure-playground of the Riverworld planet, with its carnivalesque mingling of eras and civilizations and its unlimited possibilities for colorful anachronisms and thrilling warfare. What, then, are some of SF’s novums of death? Stephen Burt identifies four recurrent motifs: life extension, life outside the body, life in a new body, and time travel. But Burt is interested specifically in variants of afterlife, which doesn’t exhaust the range of relevant possibilities. One of Burt’s sources is the philosopher Stephen R. L. Clark, whose idiosyncratic book How to Live Forever (1995) identifies these and several other SF motifs of death – and even Clark isn’t exhaustive. Nor will I be, in what follows.

Methuselah’s Children In the beginning was Qfwfq, eyewitness to the Big Bang and later to other episodes in the early histories of our cosmos and our planet. Evidently an immortal being, or at least an immensely long-lived one, Qfwfq narrates most of the stories in Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics (1965) and some of the ones in T Zero (1967). He is hardly a character – more a thought experiment – and the secret of his immortality or longevity remains unexplained, taken for granted. Elsewhere in the SF genre, however, the obligation to offer rational explanations is taken more seriously, and science is called upon to explain cases of extreme longevity. Usually the means is through advances in medical technology, but sometimes it is through generations-long selective breeding programs or unpredictable mutations. For instance, the long-lived characters in Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix (1985) and Holy Fire (1996) and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy (1993–96) are all beneficiaries of medical interventions. In contrast, Lazarus Long in Robert A. Heinlein’s Methuselah’s Children (1941, 1958), though surrounded by characters whose longevity is the product of a eugenics program, evidently owes his own quasi-immortality to an accidental genetic mutation. The same appears to be true of Conrad in Roger Zelazny’s This Immortal (1966) and Doro in Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed (1980) and other books in her Patternmaster series. Qfwfq’s enormous longevity motivates his witnessing and narrating of events on a cosmic temporal scale: the Big Bang, the formation of the moon. The case is much the same with other long-lived or quasi-immortal characters, though the events they witness tend to be on a more human scale. Their narrative function is to be witnesses to history (Burt 176–77). Zelazny’s Conrad is as long-lived as he is partly so that he can attest to the ordeals and transformations undergone by Planet Earth over the course of centuries. The generation of the first Mars colonists in Robinson’s trilogy, their lives extended by longevity treatments, live as long as they do partly so that they can be alive to witness the success of the centuries-long project of terraforming Mars that they inaugurated upon their arrival (Yanarella). Jameson observes that Lazarus Long’s longevity in Time Enough for Love (1973), the sequel to Methuselah’s Children, serves to motivate the novel’s frame-tale structure, its seemingly limitless capacity to absorb 11

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interpolated stories from wildly different times and places, reflecting the picaresque variety and sheer length of Lazarus’s experience (“Longevity” 34). However, Jameson also asserts, the longevity drama is not “really” about longevity at all, but rather about something else, which can … be identified as History itself …. [T]he longevity plot is always a figure and a disguise for … historical change, radical mutations in society and collective life itself. (“Longevity” 32) But if the SF motif of longevity or immortality does indeed serve to motivate historical narratives of the longue durée, it rarely seems to engage very seriously with death as such. What are the consequences of an extended life span for our sense of mortality? What is the relationship of the long-lived or quasi-immortals to their own deaths? And what about the people around them who do not share the benefits of extended life: what is their relationship to the immortals (see “Longevity” 39)? One novel that does explore the consequences of longevity is Sterling’s Holy Fire, which posits a late-twenty-first-century dystopia in which long-lived “gerontocrats” possess an ever-growing portion of the world’s resources, including its medical resources, while the young are marginalized, languishing in the shadow of these quasi-immortals. One downside of virtual immortality, as Sterling’s novel illustrates, is that it risks leaving too little room for new generations of mortals.

Ghosts in Machines A different SF motif of death is exemplified by Robocop, the slain policeman resurrected in a cyborg body in Verhoeven’s movie. Frequently, in recent SF, human beings survive their own deaths by merging with machines (Clark 39–52; Burt 177–79). In some versions of this motif, they live on as physical brains incorporated in mechanical hosts – variations on the proverbial brain-in-a-vat. For instance, in Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang (1969) and its sequels, humans born with severe disabilities are transplanted into spacecraft, called “brain-ships,” which they pilot and literally animate. In Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix (1985), the geisha Kitsune enhances and reconfigures her body until she ends up as a mass of organic material incorporated into the fabric of an orbiting habitat – the “Wallmother.” The Wallmother’s counterpart and opposite number in Schismatrix is Ryumin, who survives not as an organic brain housed in a machine body but as a configuration of data stored in a computer network. He reflects a more typical version of the motif: not physical incorporation, but the uploading of consciousness into cyberspace. Posthumous “wireheads” like Sterling’s Ryumin – ghosts in machines – were already commonplace in the SF of the 1970s and early 1980s, appearing in novels and stories of that era by John Varley, James Tiptree Jr. (the nom de plume of Alice Sheldon), Vernor Vinge, and Samuel R. Delany (see Potts). But the mindupload version of the motif came to be especially identified with the cyberpunk subgenre of SF, with which Sterling was associated, that emerged in the mid-1980s (see McHale, Constructing Postmodernism 264–67). The motif abounds in the fiction of Rudy Rucker (Software, 1982; Wetware, 1988; see Hassler), Pat Cadigan (“Pretty Boy Crossover,” 1986; Synners, 1991), Walter Jon Williams (Hardwired, 1986), and Michael Swanwick (Vacuum Flowers, 1987) – not to mention William Gibson, whose first trilogy of novels (Neuromancer, 1984; Count Zero, 1986; Mona Lisa Overdrive, 1988) inaugurated the cyberpunk subgenre and gave definitive expression to its characteristic ghost-in-the-machine novum. Throughout Gibson’s trilogy, cyberspace appears as a version of heaven or afterlife, populated by beings of heterogeneous kinds: posthumous humans uploaded into the network, and 12

Final Frontier: Science Fictions of Death

also computer-generated beings who never existed as biological organisms in the first place, but were literally “born digital” – ghosts in the machine in a different sense (Hendrix). If artificial intelligences can be ghosts, they can also face death. This is the source of the pathos of HAL’s death in 2001 and of Roy Batty’s in Blade Runner: despite their artificial origins, we identify with these intelligent machines as they face death, and even grieve for them. The death of an intelligent machine figures movingly in Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966), where Mike the sentient computer is lost during a bombardment that destroys critical connections that had sustained his self-awareness. This version of the motif recurs in Aurora (2015), Kim Stanley Robinson’s story of a generations-long mission to the stars, where Pauline, the starship’s onboard computer, is tasked with “mak[ing] a narrative account of the trip” (25, 45). She achieves full sentience, becoming the novel’s narrator, but then perishes in the heroic act of saving her human cargo’s lives, falling abruptly silent in mid-sentence and leaving us to grieve for her.

How to Live Safely in a Science-Fictional Universe In its latter half, Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love, the second of his novels about the quasiimmortal Lazarus Long, oddly modulates into a time-travel narrative, when Long is sent back in time to visit his own early-twentieth-century childhood. This strange swerve in the novel’s narrative trajectory seems telling, as though Heinlein had intuited that longevity and time travel were in some sense counterparts or equivalents – as indeed they are. “Why do we need time travel?” James Gleick asks, and then goes on to answer his own question: “To elude death” (309). Time-travel stories are inevitably about death and its overcoming, or more often the failure to overcome it (Clark 166–79; Burt 179–81). The stakes are made almost absurdly clear in a novel like Philip K. Dick’s Counter-clock World (1967), in which the world undergoes a mysterious reversal of temporal processes. The flow of time changes direction: people “unsmoke” cigarettes; libraries painstakingly erase books instead of preserving them; digestion is gruesomely reversed. (Time’s Arrow, Martin Amis’s 1991 novel of the Holocaust, attempts the same sort of temporal reversal, but in the mode of allegorical fantasy rather than SF.) Above all, of course, the dead revive; retrieved from their graves, they grow younger and younger, regressing into infancy, until at last they find wombs to return to (see Ryan). Incoherent even by Dick’s standards, Counter-clock World attests to the power of the wish-fulfillment fantasy that it attempts to realize – and also, of course, to the countervailing power of mortality that it ultimately fails to overcome. The time-travel motif is rich in potential paradoxes, exploited by writers and movie-makers ever since the 1920s (see Wittenberg). Many of those paradoxes entail death or the threat of it. For instance, the African-American heroine of Octavia Butler’s Kindred (1979), mysteriously compelled to time-travel to the antebellum South, must repeatedly save the life of the white slaveholder who will become her ancestor, thereby heading off the threat of her own nonexistence – in effect, pre-empting her own death. Conversely, time travel can serve to confirm the inevitability of death, however we might twist and squirm to evade it, as in the “loop” paradox of the time traveler who witnesses, or even commits, his own murder. This is the premise of Chris Marker’s groundbreaking SF art-film, La jetée (1962), remade in 1995 by Terry Gilliam as 12 Monkeys (in turn the source of a television series that aired in 2015–18). In Charles Yu’s novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (2010), the time-traveling narrator, also called “Charles Yu,” shoots the Charles Yu who emerges from a time machine and then, by the paradoxical logic of the time-loop, becomes the very Charles Yu who gets shot (not fatally, as it turns out). 13

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Space travel is another potential source of temporal paradox, providing further opportunities for reflection on mortality. Einstein famously postulated that a spacefarer traveling at speeds near that of light would age more slowly than a counterpart left behind on Earth. The implications of this time-dilation effect are obvious and chilling: a space traveler who subjectively experienced a trip lasting weeks or months could return home to discover that she had outlived her entire generation, or perhaps her entire civilization. This is what happens to the soldiers sent to fight far across the galaxy in Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War (1975) – a thinly disguised allegory of the Vietnam War, in which Haldeman in fact served – and to the astronaut who returns from the stars in Christopher Nolan’s SF film, Interstellar (2010). Especially poignant are the variations on the time-dilation motif in a pair of stories by Ursula K. Le Guin, “Semley’s Necklace” (1964; incorporated in her novel Rocannon’s World, 1966) and “Winter’s King” (1969). In the former, a princess travels by starship to a distant planet to retrieve a missing heirloom, returning to find that everyone she had known has died in the intervening decades, which she experienced as weeks. In the latter story, a monarch returns from the stars, still young and vigorous after several years of exile, to seize the throne from her own daughter, whom she left behind as an infant and who is now an aged woman. In Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Kurt Vonnegut’s protagonist Billy Pilgrim does not possess a time machine, nor does he appear to have experienced time dilation, but he does encounter the alien Tralfamadorians, who transmit to him their experience of time. For the Tralfamadorians, [a]ll moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion that we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever. (Vonnegut 34) It goes without saying that this transcendence of time has profound implications for the Tralfamadorians’ experience of death: The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore [Billy Pilgrim reports] was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral … When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in a bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. (Vonnegut 34) Faithful to the spirit of Tralfamadorian achronology, but less cavalier in its reflection on mortality, is Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life” (1998), adapted for film by Denis Villeneuve as Arrival (2016). Louise Banks, a linguist, narrates the events of her encounter with extraterrestrials whose alien language she is trying to learn, all the while flashing back to moments from her life with her daughter, who dies young in a climbing accident. Only near the end of the story do we realize that she is not flashing back but forward: Louise’s daughter has not yet been born, or even conceived, at the time of the alien encounter, and what we had assumed were a mother’s memories of her daughter are in fact anticipations of a short life that has yet to be lived. Through contact with the aliens and their atemporal language, Louise has acquired the ability to perceive moments of experience as Vonnegut’s Tralfamadorians do, and in that way to subvert time’s arrow and surmount death. 14

Final Frontier: Science Fictions of Death

The Walking Dead Space flight affords opportunities for other thought experiments about mortality, apart from those associated with time dilation. Long-haul flights to the stars, lasting years or decades, even centuries, often entail passengers being placed in a condition of suspended animation: cryogenic sleep, a sort of pseudo-death from which they are meant to be resurrected upon arrival (though almost inevitably there are complications). This motif is a commonplace of outer-space movies, from 2001 and Alien (1979) to Passengers (2016). Cryogenic pseudo-death and resurrection is also a method of time travel – an alternative to time machines – in everything from Edward Bellamy’s turn-of-the-century utopian novel Looking Backward (1888) and H. G. Wells’s dystopian The Sleeper Awakes (1910) to Woody Allen’s parody, Sleeper (1973). Striking variants occur in Octavia Butler’s Dawn (1987), where the human survivors of a global holocaust are kept in suspended animation by aliens, who revive them centuries later to begin recolonizing Earth; and in Sterling’s Schismatrix, where politically dangerous people are put “on ice” for years by their adversaries, as a (relatively) humane alternative to assassination. In Dick’s Ubik (1969), the bizarrely deteriorating reality in which the characters find themselves turns out to be a “half-life” of collective suspended animation, a kind of death-world haunted by a malign being who is killing them off one by one – irreversibly this time (McHale, Postmodernist Fiction 64). Suspended animation, especially in its more grisly manifestations, as in Ubik, reminds us of SF’s kinship with supernatural horror. A striking instance is Poe’s obsessive theme of premature burial, as in “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839). Note, however, that the premature burial motif in “Usher” is not in fact supernatural, but rationally explicable in terms of Madeline Usher’s narcolepsy; generically, in other words, “Usher” can be assimilated into SF. The same is generally true of a more recent variant on the returned-from-death motif, the zombie. Zombies in Haitian folklore were magically reanimated corpses or humans placed under a spell, and it is in this supernatural form that they first migrated to American popular culture (e.g., in the film White Zombie, 1932). The contemporary zombie, however, which dates from George Romero’s seminal Night of the Living Dead (1968), can typically be explained in some (pseudo) scientific way: “The cause of the walking dead often turns out to be scientific in nature” (Rogers 122). Romero’s zombies appear to have been reanimated by a “beam of radiation” from outer space. Elsewhere, zombie outbreaks are often attributed to viruses, while the zombies in Lucius Shepard’s SF novel Green Eyes (1984) are given posthumous life through the deliberate experimental introduction of a strain of bacteria into the brains of corpses. The astonishing ubiquity of the zombie figure in late-twentieth- and twenty-first-century popular culture, across all media platforms – print literature, movies, graphic narrative, television, video games – and the academic cottage industry of zombie scholarship that it has spawned are phenomena beyond the range of this chapter. Clearly, the zombie is the dominant para-human type in the popular imagination of our century, having displaced the aliens and angels of the 1980s and 1990s, edging out the vampires and the androids, cyborgs, and clones that still figure in the contemporary mix of species (see McHale, “Angels”). It is safe to say that wherever they appear, zombies’ main function is to motivate adventure narratives: they are threats to be avoided and overcome, opportunities for conflict and action both between human and zombie species and within the ranks of the struggling human remnant. It is rare, but not unheard of, for the zombie motif to take a more inward turn, opening a window onto the zombie condition itself. In Green Eyes, for instance, Shepard explores the subjective experience of zombies’ posthumous lives: their struggles to gain control of their new bodies and their growing awareness of the imminence and inevitability of their own second deaths (McHale, Constructing Postmodernism 258–59, 267). In Colson Whitehead’s literary novel of the zombie 15

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apocalypse, Zone One (2011), it is clear that zombies are us (as Romero already grasped as early as Dawn of the Dead, his 1978 sequel to Night of the Living Dead). One class of the undead in Whitehead’s zombified world – stragglers, as distinct from the murderously aggressive skels – are frozen in the middle of a habitual gesture of their jobs or private lives: selling, consuming, watching television, frying hamburgers, using an office photocopier. They are literally creatures of deadening habit … as are we all. Whitehead’s zombies not only invite interpretation, but almost parodically cater to it. What do they stand for? The numbing effects of habit; the overwhelming pressure of consumerism; the immersion of the self in mass culture; the predatory nature of capitalism – all these are clichés of the zombie genre and the academic industry associated with it. Zombies have been subject to copious thematic interpretations. They are said to be figures of commodification, consumerism, globalization, and xenophobia; of anxiety about insurgent underclasses and immigrant hordes; of post-9/11 fears of terrorism; and so on. All these interpretations are plausible, but perhaps secondary and epiphenomenal. Beyond them all one constant persists: zombies are, after all, figures of death. They threaten you with death; they are infected with death, carriers of it; they literally are dead, in a gruesomely spectacular way. Every struggle with a zombie, whatever else it might be, is also a confrontation with death itself. Arguably, zombies are a means of overcoming modernity’s deep-seated denial of death, signifying (apart from and in addition to anything else they might mean) “a collective need to relearn the exigencies of death” (Rutherford 94). Zombies, concludes Jennifer Rutherford, “give death a new immediacy, restore it to its rightful centre stage in an age of death denial, and yet at the same time appear to offer a joyful reprieve from death, making a carnival of the death of others” (96).

The Last Man The zombie apocalypse is only one variant of a thriving post-apocalypse subgenre that seems to dominate contemporary popular culture; again, there is no space here to do justice to its variety and ubiquity. Nuclear holocaust, once dominant, has since the end of the Cold War been edged out by other end-of-the-world scenarios: plague outbreaks, cosmic disasters such as asteroids, ecological collapse, etc. The result is always drastically to reduce the human population to a struggling remnant, or even to just one: the last man (rarely woman). Surely it is no coincidence that Mary Shelley, who launched the motif of artificial life with Frankenstein, also created one of the earliest examples of the last-man motif in her novel by that name (1826); in each case, it is ultimately mortality that is at stake, one way or another. The last-man motif has enjoyed a long run in popular culture, beginning with Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend (1954) and its three movie adaptations (1964, 1971, 2007, under various titles), which is often cited as the model for zombie-apocalypse stories (though technically Matheson’s walking dead are vampires, not zombies). Susan Sontag saw apocalyptic SF movies as an opportunity for “participat[ing] in the fantasy of living through one’s own death and more, the death of cities, the destruction of humanity” (202). It is certainly the case, as I observed earlier, that the mass death that is a precondition for the last-man (or small-band-of-survivors) motif is rarely taken seriously. Death on a planetary scale is reduced to a premise for action-adventure entertainment, or at best for reflection on – as the subtitle of Philip K. Dick’s post-apocalyptic novel Dr. Bloodmoney (1965) puts it – How We Got Along After the Bomb: that is, how survivors took advantage of the slate wiped clean by apocalypse to build the world anew. There are exceptions. In Samuel R. Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984), the last man to 16

Final Frontier: Science Fictions of Death

survive an alien attack on his home world becomes a charismatic messiah figure throughout the galaxy, the object of obscure hopes for ultimate survival; in Butler’s Lilith’s Brood trilogy (1987–89), Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy (2003–13), and Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves (2015), the near-total extinction of the human race by (respectively) nuclear war, engineered plague, and cosmic accident, and the plight of the handful of survivors (e.g., the “seven Eves” of Stephenson’s title), are accorded something like the weight and sobriety they deserve. In general, however, the current popularity and predictability of post-apocalyptic scenarios heightens the odds against serious treatment of the motif in genre fiction or film. Serious engagement with mass death generally seems reserved for “crossover” literary fiction, such as Whitehead’s Zone One, Russell Hoban’s linguistically inventive Riddley Walker (1980), or Cormac McCarthy’s merciless The Road (2006) and its equally unrelenting film adaptation (2009). In the end, perhaps it requires the methods of the literary avant garde to genuinely come to terms with universal death: the methods, let’s say, of Samuel Beckett’s The Lost Ones/ Le dépeupleur (1971; see McHale, Postmodernist Fiction 62–64), or of Maggie Gee’s less celebrated postmodern metafictions, Dying, in Other Words (1981) and The Burning Book (1983). Gee at least has the honesty to admit that the only truthful perspective on the end of the world is that of no one at all: This is a city, though who is there who can tell. For miles there is nothing left standing: light falls upon miles and miles of litter and ice and ice and litter and chaos … No speech, and no stories. The last great story was death: someone failed to tell it, or else no-one wanted to hear. (Gee 213)

Virtual Reality Recall the opening of Bigelow’s SF movie Strange Days, when we viewers are plunged into the subjective perspective of a person undergoing violent death – only to be jerked abruptly back into the film’s real world, when the character who has been vicariously experiencing this moment of death through a virtual-reality rig tears it off in revulsion, interrupting the spectacle. This might be regarded as a kind of model of what science fictions of death do all the time: they give us the vicarious experience or virtual reality of death. They use the apparatus of SF to place us in the position of the dying and the dead – of uploading into cyberspace, of being a zombie, of living through or outliving our own deaths. If experiencing death yet living to tell about it were literally possible, it would take something like this SF apparatus, these SF novums, to accomplish it. “It’s about death,” said the Twelfth Doctor about the Dr. Who series, and in a sense he’s right, not only about his own series but also about the SF genre to which it belongs. Dr. Who is all about death in the sense that it models death every time the Doctor undergoes transformation, and also every time some ontological border is crossed between one time and another. Dr. Who is, after all, basically a serial time-travel narrative, or a narrative of travel between one world and another, or one state of being and another. In the same way, every SF voyage to another world distant in time or space, every alien encounter, every metamorphosis, every transformative technology entails traversing an ontological divide between states of being, and of course the ultimate ontological divide – the one we will all surely traverse sooner or later – is the one between life and death. Thus, every SF story that entails some world-building novum (and that means every piece of SF whatsoever, since the presence

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of a novum is what defines SF in the first place) affords us a kind of scale model or dress rehearsal of death, the final frontier. So do other genres of fiction, in their various ways. But SF also exposes for our examination the apparatus that makes such virtual experience of transformation possible. It shows us the virtual-reality rig (or the time machine or nearly-as-fast-as-light starship or cyberspace console or what-have-you) that motivated the ontological border crossing. SF is a highly self-conscious genre, and its self-consciousness about its own novums enables it both to produce illusionistic effects and to qualify that illusionism, to lay it bare or even (as in Strange Days) to snatch it abruptly away. SF versions of the afterlife, Stephen Burt observes, are also self-reflective figures for SF itself: “SF provides, through versions of the afterlife, metaphors for the experience of reading [SF itself]” (185). This is a profound insight, but its inverse is also true: by reflecting on itself and displaying for examination its own novums in a highly metafictional way, SF gives us metaphors, if not always of an afterlife, then of the ontological transition that is death itself. So it is all about death after all.

Works Cited Burt, Stephen. “Science Fiction and Life after Death.” American Literary History, vol. 26, no. 1, 2014, pp. 168–190. Cadigan, Pat. Synners. 1991. Gollancz, 2012. Clark, Stephen R. L. How to Live Forever: Science Fiction and Philosophy. Routledge, 1995. Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., Istvan. The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction. Wesleyan UP, 2008. Gee, Maggie. Dying, in Other Words. Harvester Press, 1981. Gibson, William. Neuromancer. Ace, 1984. Gibson, William. Count Zero. 1986. Ace, 1987. Gibson, William. Mona Lisa Overdrive. 1988. Spectra, 1989. Gleick, James. Time Travel: A History. Pantheon Books, 2016. Hassler, Donald M. Introduction. Death and the Serpent: Immortality in Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Carl B. Yoke and Donald M. Hassler. Greenwood, 1985, pp. 3–6. Hendrix, Howard V. “Dual Immortality, No Kids: The Dink Link between Birthlessness & Deathlessness in SF.” Immortal Engines: Life Extension and Immortality in Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by George Slusser, Gary Westfahl, and Eric S. Rabkin. U of Georgia P, 1996, pp. 183–192. Jameson, Fredric. “Metacommentary.” The Ideologies of Theory: Essays 1971-1986. Vol. 1, Situations of Theory. 1971. U of Minnesota P, 1988, pp. 3–16. Jameson, Fredric. “Longevity as Class Struggle.” Immortal Engines: Life Extension and Immortality in Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by George Slusser, Gary Westfahl, and Eric S. Rabkin. U of Georgia P, 1996, pp. 24–42. McHale, Brian. Postmodernist Fiction. Methuen, 1987. McHale, Brian. Constructing Postmodernism. Routledge, 1992. McHale, Brian. “Angels, Ghosts, and Postsecular Visions.” American Literature in Transition, 1990–2000, edited by S. Burn. Cambridge UP, 2018, pp. 32-47. Potts, Stephen. “IBMortality: Putting the Ghost in the Machine.” Immortal Engines: Life Extension and Immortality in Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by George Slusser, Gary Westfahl, and Eric S. Rabkin. U of Georgia P, 1996, pp. 102–110. Robinson, Kim Stanley. Aurora. Orbit/Hachette, 2015. Rogers, Martin. “Hybridity and Post-Human Anxiety in 28 Days Later.” Zombie Culture: Autopsies of the Living Dead, edited by Shawn McIntosh and Marc Leverette. The Scarecrow Press, 2008, pp. 119–133. Rucker, Rudy. The Ware Tetralogy. Prime Books, 2010. Rutherford, Jennifer. Zombies. Routledge, 2013. Ryan, Marie-Laure. “Temporal Paradoxes in Narrative.” Style, vol. 43, no. 2, 2009, pp. 142–164. Slusser, George, Gary Westfahl, and Eric S. Rabkin, editors. Immortal Engines: Life Extension and Immortality in Science Fiction and Fantasy. U of Georgia P, 1996.

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Final Frontier: Science Fictions of Death Sontag, Susan. “The Imagination of Disaster.” 1965. Essays of the 1960s & 70s, edited by David Rieff. The Library of America, 2013, pp. 199–214. Suvin, Darko. Metamorphoses of Science Fiction. Yale UP, 1979. Swanwick, Michael. Vacuum Flowers. 1987. Ace, 1988. “Time Travel.” James Cameron’s Story of SF, season 1, episode 6. AMC. 28 May 2018. Tomashevsky, Boris. “Thematics.” 1925. Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays, edited and translated by L. T. Lemon and M. J. Reis. U of Nebraska P, 1965, pp. 61–95. Vonnegut, Jr., Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five, or, The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death. 1969. Dial Press, 2009. Westfahl, Gary. “Zen and the Art of Mario Maintenance: Cycles of Death and Rebirth in Video Games and Children’s Subliterature.” Immortal Engines: Life Extension and Immortality in Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by George Slusser, Gary Westfahl, and Eric S. Rabkin. U of Georgia P, 1996, pp. 211–220. Williams, Walter Jon. Hardwired. 1986. Night Shade Books, 2006. Wittenberg, David. Time Travel: The Popular Philosophy of Narrative. Fordham UP, 2013. Yanarella, Ernest J. “Terra/Terror-Forming and Death Denial in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Martian Stories and Mars Trilogy.” Foundation, vol. 89, 2003, pp. 13–26.

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2 “STILL I DANCED” Performing Death in Ford’s The Broken Heart Donovan Sherman

In The Audience, Herbert Blau observes an unsettling feature of theatrical presentation so obvious as to be overlooked entirely: that it takes place in real time, and thus brings us closer to death. While discussing Samuel Beckett’s brief play Breath, Blau notes that its “brief repetition of a faint, brief cry” is “sufficient to remind us that what can never be represented (or can only be represented) is no less moving in thought: that the body in performance is dying in front of your eyes” (366). Beckett’s work focuses the audience’s attention on the ongoing and inescapable passage of time by forcing a consideration of the very real corporeality of the performer – and yet Breath also allows us to grapple with the impossibility of ever truly having death portrayed on stage. Just as Blau wittily plays up the doubleness of the word “represented,” seizing on its ability to conjure both distance and proximity, he also highlights the inherent doubleness of death, which can only be represented (not made to appear in its totality) but never represented (clearly delineated or described). Perversely, Blau locates this duality in a play that employs no actual actors and instead consists of a recorded infantile cry that plays while lights dim on a trash-strewn stage. This brief vocalization does not emerge from an actual body, and yet its removal from a live actor only heightens the uncanny ability of theater to evoke, without clearly making manifest, the mortality that peeks through the artifice of performance to remind us of our shared and very real fate. Death haunts the stage, like Hamlet’s father, as both its fundament and its ephemeral escapee. Beckett’s work provides many salient examples of theater’s ability to gesture to death without attempting to claim it; his play Endgame ends with one character, Hamm, addressing his handkerchief: “Old stancher!” he apostrophizes, “You … remain” (93). The handkerchief, which keeps absorbing blood whenever Hamm places it on his face, indexes the real passage of time that occurs when we see or read Endgame. Hamm’s gesture layers melodramatic affect onto physical remnant. This ability to flicker between nonrepresentative qualities of experience and hyperrepresentative aspects of artificiality also serves as a recurring and at times obsessive motif in Blau’s own work. (It is no wonder that Blau was drawn in, over and over, by Beckett.) In Take up the Bodies: Theatre at the Vanishing Point, Blau recalls a performance exercise he led with his experimental theater company KRAKEN that aimed to cultivate a “form of consciousness”; here, too, breath and bodies figure as primary loci: 20

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Thus, now, doing nothing but breathing (and taking time, take time): You are living in your breathing. Stop. Think. You are dying in your breathing. Stop. Think. You are living in your breathing. You are dying in your breathing. You are living in your dying, dying in your living. (Take time, breathing.) Stop. Show. The doing without showing is mere experience. The showing is critical, what makes it theater. (86) With each breath, like each splotch of blood on Hamm’s handkerchief, the performers realize they are both living and dying in breathing; they are trained to listen, as Beckett’s audience, for the ways that theater conjures but does not replicate experience (“doing without showing”) because what “makes it theater” is the showing itself, the always-already aesthetic reflection of that experience. In this way theater replicates consciousness and calls out consciousness’s theatricality; as Anthony Kubiak observes, for Blau, “consciousness is, in a word, tragic (and so theatrical) – born in the acting, experienced as bereavement, looking upon the world, and in so doing being forever separated from it” (102). The twin impossibilities of theater ever becoming pure experience, on the one hand, and of experience ever escaping the clutches of the theatrical, on the other, further link the theater to death – not in a clear historicized or anthropological sense of the theater standing in for a loss of life, but in the more ontological sense by which its play of presence and absence mimics our own constant grappling with life and oblivion. As Kubiak asks, “Is it the thought of death that gives birth to our confrontation with mortality, or conversely, is it the death-that-is-thought (the thought that demands separation and grief) that threatens our very being (and re-reading the previous sentence, is the difference between them not both enormous and infinitesimal)?” (103). Kubiak’s awareness of his own writing, instanced in his call to re-read his own previous sentence, once again recalls the persistent method by which theater (and performative writing) cannot help but let us know of the passage of time, of our thoughts and selves dying in front of our eyes. This lurking sense of death that gives performance its vanishing point preoccupies many other scholars of the medium. Perhaps looming largest in Blau’s work is Antonin Artaud, whose seminal collection The Theatre and Its Double links the acting body to the body ravaged by the plague. “The state of the victim who dies without material destruction,” writes Artaud, “with all the stigmata of an absolute and almost abstract disease upon him, is identical with the state of an actor entirely penetrated by feelings that do not benefit or even relate to his real condition” (24). The suffering plague victim lacks “material destruction” and rots away instead within himself, much as the true power of the theater penetrates the acting body and invisibly alters it. The death- and life-force of the theater thus impels us to do away with artificiality, much as the primal urges of the self arise when the plague marks the body for death; the theater, like the plague, urges “men to see themselves as they are, it causes the mask to fall, reveals the lie, the slackness, baseness, and hypocrisy of our world” (31). This primal force, located in the quotidian act of breathing for Blau and the civilization-threatening event of a plague for Artaud, cannot be truly represented and yet, to return to Blau’s duality, must be represented, because at the precise moment we concentrate on it, the body, mind, and theater become actors in a show, a play in both senses. This play is ever present. Blau’s exercise for KRAKEN, through which the performer zeroes in on the absence/presence ghosting of death in the breath-marked continuance of time, and with it the inching forward of life’s cessation, tracks the bodily investment in its own writing with the repetition of “now,” “stop,” and “think”; these words notch into the otherwise smooth play of time that typically disguises its complicity with mortality. But the thrum of theater’s force, the energy Artaud seizes on as both invisible and world-destroying, continues whether or not we choose to quantify it with breath, blood, or word. This fact arises uncannily 21

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in a passage of drama from an era distant from the modernism of Beckett and Artaud: John Ford’s Carolingian revenge tragedy The Broken Heart. Late in the play, the impetuous Ithocles, who has returned to court at Sparta from war, confronts a past tragic mistake – his denial of marriage between his sister, Penthea, and her love, Orgilus. Ithocles expresses regret for his actions by calling attention, Beckett-like, to the progression of time that threads through his own speech: I did the noble Orgilus much injury, But grieved Penthea more. I now repent it; Now, uncle, now. This ‘now’ is now too late. So provident is folly in sad issue That after-wit, like bankrupts’ debts, stand tallied Without all possibilities of payment. (4.1.10-14) Ithocles introduces an economic metaphor to express its inaptness; there can be no repayment of folly because of the eternal “now” that mocks the past “now” when he could have made a difference. This space between “now”s constitutes a form of delay between action and repentance and also provides a miniature of Western tragic dramaturgy, in which the gap between the rash mistake and its lamentation ushers in always-too-late bloody activity. The Broken Heart traffics in this familiar pattern but is distinct in its link between the passage of time that occurs during its performance – the embodied reflection of mortality that so preoccupies Blau and Artaud – and the more typical sense of delay within the dramatic action that Ithocles rues. In making this connection, the play mobilizes Blau’s theater of death (and theater of death’s impossibility) in a provocative way that the remainder of this essay will explore. When the play takes up a consideration of the body’s theatrical complicity with death, it inadvertently forces the physical toil of performance onto its women characters, thereby suggesting a gendered dimension to its wrestling with theater’s inherent manifestation of and distancing from an understanding of our impermanence. The irreducibly physical and yet always-already discursive body is both theatrical and, in the late Renaissance culture Ford satirizes, also feminized; this complicity, bared in the play’s spectacular female death scenes, allows the women to take up the mantle of the tragic with deeper ontological resonance. Ford’s tragedy begins by pointedly noting that it does not take place in Athens. When Orgilus – he who was denied marriage to his true love by the rash Ithocles – tells his father, Crotolon, that he will be going to Athens to study, Crotolon responds with confusion: “Athens? Pray why to Athens? You intend not, /To kick against the world, turn Cynic, Stoic, /Or read the logic lecture, or become/An Areopagite, and judge in causes/Touching the commonwealth?” (1.1.5-11). The city serves as metonym for philosophical uselessness, a place to stagnate in rebellious posturing (kicking against the world as a Cynic or Stoic) or remove oneself from active life by judging or lecturing about it. Tellingly, however, Orgilus proffers his Athenian excursion as a ruse. He will in fact remain to disguise himself and attempt to woo Penthea back. Where he will remain is the actual setting of the play: Sparta, the anti-Athens, lodged in the popular imagination as a ruthless place of rigorous martial codes, violent masculinity, and sacrifice. Fittingly, then, the play’s characters frequently denounce the trappings of philosophy – the Athenian distractions from true experience – with disdain, preferring instead to prove themselves with action. As Ithocles proclaims, in a sudden pivot after glossing a Platonic

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commonplace about how “sweet music” keeps the soul in tune with the universe, “this is form of books and school tradition; /It physics not the sickness of a mind/Broken with griefs. Strong fevers are not eased/With counsel, but with best receipts and means. /Means, speedy means and certain; that’s the cure” (2.2.11-15). His rejection and suspicion of academic learning and insistence instead on “means” as a cure of the soul’s sickness – in this speech, named as ambition but hinted at elsewhere as possible incestuous desires for his sister – finds a pithy echo soon after in a dialogue between Crotolon and another political counselor, Armostes. Crotolon, debating whether he should allow his daughter, Euphrania, to marry Ithocles’s friend Prophilus, evinces skepticism at wisdom that “dares to dote/Upon the painted meat of smooth persuasion” (2.2.21-22). Persuasion, the stuff of mere words, acts only as false, “painted” ornamentation to true provision and nourishment (“meat”). Perhaps the clearest satire of rhetoric and philosophy appears in the buffoonish character Orgilus plays when he disguises himself as a scholar and launches a mock-serious disquisition to his sister, Euphrania: “Is it possible/With a smooth tongue, a leering countenance, /Flattery, or force of reason – I come t’ee, sir – To turn or to appease the raging sea? /Answer to that. Your art? What art to catch/And hold fast in a net the sun’s small atoms? /No, no; they’ll out, they’ll out. Ye may as easily/Outrun a cloud driven by a northern blast/As fiddle-faddle so. Pease, or speak sense” (1.3.101-10). Here, Ford’s medium is apparently the message: mere flattering speech cannot appease the raging sea, nor catch the sun, and thus with a string of nonsense syllables and staccato interruptions, Orgilus’s own speech performs the futility he describes. Yet for all of the play’s repeated endorsements of “means,” it is a resolutely static and verbal work of theater, consisting mostly of densely patterned speeches, dialogues, and debates, woven through scenes of subtle persuasion or insinuation. The most dramatic events occur before the action begins, and bloody battles, though noted, remain firmly offstage. The plots and plans of its characters are often announced but never followed through: Orgilus makes one appearance in disguise and then abandons it; Bassanes, the cruel and jealous husband to Penthea, traps her in a tower but quickly gains empathy and a conscience before he can turn into a proper antagonist. The climaxes of the play occur in the realization of what does not happen: Ithocles does not let Penthea marry Orgilus; Penthea does not elope with Orgilus when he meets with her in secret; Calantha (the heir to the throne of Sparta and target of Ithocles’s affections) does not end up with Ithocles but instead nearly marries Nearchus, a prince. Even the onstage deaths (with notable exceptions that I will examine shortly) have a quiet formality; when Bassanes murders Ithocles, he does so by first trapping him in a chair seated across from the corpse of Penthea, who has starved herself. As Lisa Hopkins observes, this death recalls the play’s recurring motif of the “emblem”: a visual or verbal stamp that captures characterological qualities without allowing them to evolve. Other critics, too, have found the play to be a formally masterful but airless work. Roger Burbridge identifies the topos of “stillness” as “a quality which most critics see in the play, a stillness, an eerie sense of the suspension of feeling” (398). T. S. Eliot praises passages of “purest poetry” in the work, as if it were merely a delivery system for language rather than an example of a genre that demanded plot and action (132). Reid Barbour reads Ford’s tragedy as a meditation on a topic popular in prose works of the era: the practice of “resolve,” by which one could gain a sense of ethical sufficiency through the fulfillment of stated motive. For Barbour, The Broken Heart serves as a cautionary tale for over-hasty resolve forged not through experience but through the declaration of vows. The play thus becomes a series of performative promises that falter and fail, filtered through an “oracular” voice that “adopts literary voices and employs sententious proverbs and tautologies, all of which contribute to the static identity of the vow-laden characters” (352).

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In other words, characters in The Broken Heart appear to reject philosophizing but do so through further philosophizing. They remain trapped in a world of idioms, sententiae, citation, vows, and clear enunciation of motive and desire. The drama appears to exist at the level of language, locked in imagery rather than in the world of material bodies. However, such a reading ignores the bodily death that serves, as Blau reminds us, as the blind spot of theater. And The Broken Heart is ultimately a piece of theater, albeit a mannerist and verbose exemplar. When it brings up the body as a metaphor, as it often does, we must also remember (and the play tacitly asks us to remember) the real bodies from which such figuration distracts us. When Orgilus confronts Penthea with an expression of his heartache, his language is steeped in corporeal imagery: “All pleasures are but mere imagination, /Feeding the hungry appetite with steam/And sight of banquet, whilst the body pines, /Not relishing the real taste of food. /Such is the leanness of a heart divided/From intercourse of troth-contracted loves; /No horror should deface that precious figure/Sealed with the lively stamp of equal souls” (2.3.34-41). Orgilus’s choice of analogy foreshadows Penthea’s demise by self-starvation. The rhetoric, in other words, as delivered by a man, foreshadows its de-analogized realization upon the body of a woman. Starvation, furthermore, is not an idly chosen figure of speech. The deliberate and even masochistic withholding of nourishment provides what R. J. Kaufmann calls the “governing image” of the play, which “argues that life and growth cannot continue to exist where the means of sustenance, the fertilizing energies, are cut off or diverted from their normal course” (169). Lacking necessary energies, Sparta itself, like Oedipus’s Thebes, civically doubles the conditions of its individual leaders; like Penthea’s withering body, the body politic, riven with betrayals and stymied processes, has erected stoppages on its sources of life. Penthea’s death, floridly anticipated by her “mad scene” of violent and passionate speech, also evokes imagery with specific philosophical import to Ford, whose prose works adapt and meditate on classic Stoic philosophy. In The Golden Meane, Ford’s expression of Stoic principles, he seizes on the salutary effects of starvation as the separation of gratuity from true spiritual well-being: “In sickness and disease of the bodie we are well pleased to observe diet, to abstraine from meates most agreeable to our appetites, and shall it be thought an unreasonable injunction to diet our pleasures and infirmities for the health of the minde?” (Nondramatic Works, C5r-C5v). Ford, following traces of Senecan thought, praises the pleasure of mastering one’s discerning mind. Rather than cathect onto fate and tether one’s wellbeing to temporal happenstance, one should seek the deeper joy of withholding lesser pleasures for the sake of a healthy mind. After all, if we can abstain from meat – the same phrase, put to the same purpose, as used by Orgilus’s mock philosopher – should we not abstain from sensual temptation? As a philosophical treatise, The Golden Meane by definition allows this comparison to linger only on the level of textuality; when staged, however, it becomes entangled with the theater’s demand for the corporeal. Penthea reports her own death in a horrific thirdperson narrative: “But since her blood was seasoned by the forfeit/Of noble shame, with mixtures of pollution, /Her blood – ’tis just – be henceforth never heightened/With taste of sustenance. Starve; let that fullness/Whose pleurisy hath fevered faith and modesty – /Forgive me. O, I faint!” (4.2.149-54). Here, the terms of The Golden Meane become inverted, as Penthea inscribes actual starvation on her body as a vivid analogy for the sickness of her heart incurred by a shameful marriage. The actual stands in for the abstract. Penthea’s starkly realized performance of death also stands in contrast to the misogynistic descriptions of women that fill the play, as when Bassanes hurls invective at women of all stations: 24

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Dames at court, Who flaunt in riots, run another bias. Their pleasure heaves the patient ass that suffers Up the stilts of office, titles, incomes. Promotion justifies the shame, and sues for’t. Poor honour! Thou art stabbed, and bleed’st to death By such unlawful hire. The country mistress Is yet more wary, and in blushes hides Whatever trespass draws her troth to guilt; But all are false. (2.1.30-40) Whether displaying naked ambition in courtly flirtations or mock-blushing in rural retreat, women are for Bassanes a priori artificial.1 Bassanes marshals this array of sexist characteristics to a curious conclusion: he must bring his pent-up wife, Penthea, to court, where, as he explains to her, “if it be thy pleasure, /Thou shalt appear in such a ravishing lustre/Of jewels above value, that the dames/Who brave it there, in rage to be out-shined, /Shall hide them in their closets” (2.1.77-81).2 That Penthea arrives in court as a prop in the ongoing drama of Bassanes’s own ambition makes her death scene all the more subversive: she breaks free not only of the misery of her marriage but also of the discursive scheme that rendered her as a mere jewel to be flaunted. It is all the more vital, then, that Penthea’s death arrive by starvation, a failure of the body from within the body. She spills no blood – not even, as Penthea herself notes, through menstruation – and only dies in a manner that realizes Bassanes’s judgment of his household as “too much inward” (2.1.103).3 Thelma Greenfield observes, building on Kaufmann’s observation, that “Penthea, Ithocles, and Orgilus all die by processes of literal deprivation of blood” (403). This is surely true, but like Artaud’s plague victim, Penthea’s deprivation occurs without actual bloodletting. It remains unrepresented and yet floridly demonstrated, as opposed to the violence that accompanies Ithocles’s and Orgilus’s deaths. Greenfield also elides another death in the play, one that occurs in its final moments: that of Calantha, who, like Penthea, stages her own death without actually staging the means of its realization. Calantha, too, is too much inward, in a parodic version of Stoicism’s repression. Calantha learns of numerous bloody deaths and untimely ends – most tragically that of her true love, Ithocles – during a dance in which characters inform her, one by one, of gruesome news. Each time, and much to the shock of those speaking to her, she restrains all outward sign of affect and continues dancing. She announces the collapse of this ruse during a macabre set-piece in which Calantha “marries” the corpse of Ithocles instead of her living husband-to-be: O my lords, I but deceived your eyes with antic gesture, When one news straight came huddling on another, Of death, and death, and death. Still I danced forward; But it struck home, and here, and in an instant. Be such mere women, who with shrieks and outcries Can vow a present end to all their sorrows, Yet live to vow new pleasures, and outlive them. They are the silent griefs which cut the heartstrings. Let me die smiling. (5.3.64-76) 25

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The griefs that kill Calantha are, in her telling, silent, in distinction to the outward shrieks and outcries that characterize the archetypally melodramatic “mere” women conjured in Bassanes’s former judgment. Like Penthea, Calantha dies both onstage and invisibly, theatrically – both “stage” their ends – and internally. This in-between zone of life and death mirrors, as I have been suggesting, Blau’s understanding of performance’s play, which reflects our own doubled relationship with death. Ford’s innovation is to suggest that this condition is also the condition of the early modern woman. As Dympna Callaghan reminds us, women in Ford’s day were rendered as somehow both discursive and material, because materialism “cannot be reduced to raw physicality,” nor can social and cultural formations be limited by discourse (they must always exceed it), and thus the treatment of women both as physical objects and as cultural terrain allows men to “constitute physical, social, and cultural aspects of rape as opposed to purely physical or ‘textual’ ones” (29). Calantha frames herself textually in her refusal of the cultural construction of “woman” as shrieking harridan but also physically in her all-dancing embodiment of systems of thought.4 She gives the lie, then, to the play’s attempts to delineate neatly “philosophy” from “means” by showing their inherent porousness, and she does so in both performative and gender-specific terms. Penthea and Calantha both recall Ford’s preoccupation with Stoic philosophy: Penthea, in her literalization of pleasure’s denial, and Calantha, in her refrain from emotional signal. One could still read The Broken Heart as endorsing these virtues, but to do so would muffle the performative power of the women’s death scenes, which train the audience’s eyes onto their bodies’ failures while keeping the display of death at bay. In other words, they alert us to performance’s enmeshment with death; the rhythm of the repeated “now” that Ithocles employs to mark the bare passage of time reappears in Calantha’s “death, and death, and death” and then “home, and here.” These gestures, more than any histrionic exercise of violence, figure forth death as the lurking and omnipresent subtext to theater itself, the constant notching forward of time that marks the body. In this sense they also recall theater’s paratextual elements, the constant rehearsals and repetitions that also separate theater from life (while reflecting our conscious engagement with life in its compulsiveness). Theater, predicated on repetition, weaves repetition into the roots of its construction; as Peggy Phelan notes in an analysis of Antigone, tragedy “embodies the agonizing force of existence-as-rehearsal. In such a world, nothing ever happens once, not even death. The characters in Sophocles’ play discover that what is truly tragic about death is that they survive it, at least once, only to realize that having survived it once they will have to face it again” (13). The neither-living-nor-dead condition that Penthea and Calantha stage thus recalls the neither-finished-nor-begun quality of a play, which repeats itself, over and over, in production after production. On the surface, the play’s title recalls the romantic topos of dying from a “broken heart,” as if to suggest that it were simply thwarted love that caused these women to cease living. Yet the connotations of this phrase, perhaps known to a voracious reader of philosophy and theology such as Ford, lie in its Biblical invocations. In Luke 4:18, Jesus recites a passage from the Hebrew Bible to imbue his ministry with typological urgency: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek, he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound” (Isaiah 61:1). In this context, the heart is broken due to a deeper despair and melancholy, a condition of inward mourning rather than spurned desire.5 When viewed this way, the deaths of Penthea and Calantha

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represent something more than women sacrificed at the altar of male-dominated tragedy. Instead, they become embodiments of tragedy itself, living figures who puncture the cool rhetoric of the dramaturgy to deny us both the catharsis of spectacular dismemberment and the reassurance of an illusory life-force. With the persistence of Calantha’s feverish dance, their deaths remind us of theater’s capacity to magnify the same forces that tease at the edge of our consciousness: of the always-there but always-unseen tug of death that escapes and structures thought. Like Hamm’s handkerchief, they can neither escape representation nor be completely present. They remain.

Notes 1 For more on the trope of women as shallow and coextensive to their surfaces, see Newman. Roger Burbridge shows that a milder version of Bassanes’s sexism can appear in critical work as well; he notes that “Penthea’s is the sort of sentimental self-dramatization common in young girls” (405). 2 Ford has more straightforwardly expressed a similar strain of gendered critique in his nondramatic works. In The Line of Life, he personifies the temptation of flattery as a “pestilent bawd” and “nurse” to men’s corruption and cites an unknown “wise man” who compared “a flattering Language to a silken halter, which is soft because silken, but strangling because a halter” (D8v-D9r). 3 Marion Lomax, the editor of the Oxford edition of The Broken Heart, sees this as a sign of Penthea’s anorexia (xv). 4 Gail Kern Paster similarly notes how the “hystericization of women’s bodies” (the expression is Foucault’s) becomes materially and textually realized in the early modern era via humoral discourse: “Even as they suffered and died from the effects of purges, bleedings, and the other common practices of humoral medicine, the men and women of early modern Europe understood their morality, described their sensations and bodily events, and often experienced physical and psychological benefit in humoral terms … humoral theory was instrumental in the production and maintenance of gender and class difference as part of what Foucault has called the ‘hystericization of women’s bodies’” (7). 5 Blau’s work continually returns to the question of pain and, in a section of The Audience devoted to a discussion of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, specifically evokes the “broken heart” as both utterly real and gestural, noting that in the theater there is “no doubt the pain is encoded, and there is a historical analysis to be made that will explain why the pain is there. But first of all, it is there, even if enacted, and if it isn’t in the acting to be felt in the audience, the analysis is likely to be worthless” (158).

Works Cited Artaud, Antonin. The Theater and Its Double, translated by Mary Caroline Richards. Grove Press, 1958. Barbour, Reid. “John Ford and Resolve.” Studies in Philology, vol. 86, no. 3, 1989, pp. 341–366. Beckett, Samuel. Endgame and Act Without Words. Grove Press, 1958. The Bible. King James Version. Norton, 2012. Blau, Herbert. The Audience. Johns Hopkins UP, 1990. Blau, Herbert. Take Up the Bodies: Theater at the Vanishing Point. U of Illinois P, 1982. Burbridge, Roger. “The Moral Vision of Ford’s The Broken Heart.” Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900, vol. 10, no. 2, 1970, pp. 397–407. Callaghan, Dympna. Shakespeare without Women: Representing Gender and Race on the Renaissance Stage. Routledge, 2000. Eliot, T. S. “John Ford.” Essays on Elizabethan Drama. Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1960. Ford, John. The Nondramatic Works of John Ford, edited by L. E. Stock, Gilles D. Monsarrat, Judith M. Kennedy, and Dennis Danielson. The Renaissance English Text Society, 1991. Ford, John. Tis Pity She’s a Whore and Other Plays, edited by Marion Lomax. Oxford UP, 1995. Greenfield, Thelma. “The Language of Process in Ford’s The Broken Heart.” PMLA, vol. 87, no. 3, 1972, pp. 397–405.

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Donovan Sherman Hopkins, Lisa. “Speaking Sweat: Emblems in the Plays of John Ford.” Comparative Drama, vol. 29, no.1, pp. 133–146. Kaufmann, R. J. “Ford’s ‘Waste Land’: The Broken Heart.” Renaissance Drama, vol. 3, 1970, pp. 167–187. Kubiak, Anthony. “Impossible Seductions: The Work of Herbert Blau.” The Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, vol. 19, no. 1, 2004, pp. 101–111. Newman, Karen. Fashioning Femininity and English Renaissance Drama. U of Chicago P, 1991. Paster, Gail Kern. The Body Embarrassed: Drama and the Disciplines of Shame in Early Modern England. Cornell UP, 1993. Phelan, Peggy. Mourning Sex: Performing Public Memories. Routledge, 1997.

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3 DEATH AND THE MARGINS OF THEATER IN LUIGI PIRANDELLO Daniel K. Jernigan

Molière and Luigi Pirandello have very different approaches to the theater: loosely, Molière is of a Neo-classical tradition that pursued the dramatic unities even more obsessively than did the Greeks, whereas Pirandello was committed to undermining these traditions, especially any notion that both character and stage should be stable and consistent. And yet the two playwrights are united in that their final theatrical works are tied to their deaths in a way that problematizes any clear demarcation between character and author, between life and art (or, rather, among life, death, and art). This is perhaps more surprising with Molière, and, to be sure, his death in the hours after the fourth performance of The Imaginary Invalid (which he wrote, directed, and starred in as the hypochondriac Argan) has made it impossible to separate Molière and Argan, even when working from the assumption that any connection between the theme and content of the work and Molière’s death was happenstance.1 By contrast, it is quite clear that Pirandello wrote his own pending death into The Mountain Giants, which was unfurnished when he died. The play has a familiarly Pirandellian metatheatrical structure: in this instance, a traveling theater group has invested its time and energy producing a play whose author, “Pirandello,” had committed suicide upon completing the play. Knowing the history of Pirandello’s final play, it is hard not to think of Molière, who quite literally worked himself to death preparing The Imaginary Invalid for the stage – a theatrical death which looms so large in the literary imagination that it is commonly believed that Molière actually died on stage. This possibility – that a character can die on stage, and what this possibility means to the already complicated divisions between the artificial and the real (already so endemic to theater) – is a haunting presence in a number of Pirandello plays, in particular the trilogy of plays including Six Characters in Search of an Author, Each in His Own Way, and Tonight we Improvise, but also The Mountain Giants, as time and again these plays tease us with the possibility that one of the play’s actors has actually died. In his 2008 study of Pirandello, Umberto Mariani spends a great deal of time exploring the way in which Pirandello’s plays serve as a response to the comfortable certainty of earlier theatrical modes: what Mariani calls the “bourgeoise theatre,” but which could perhaps just as easily be called the realist or naturalist theater. More importantly, one of Mariani’s central observations about Six Characters in particular is how the play’s language speaks to the pronounced subjectivity of nineteenth-century theatrical modes: 29

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Language is always tied to the subjectivity of the communicants. And drama is more than any other art form at the mercy of this subjectivity, given the series of interpreters it must go through, from author to director, to actors, to audience. The six characters, unable to hide their disappointment at the interpretation of their drama by the acting company, are led to understand this clearly. (49) It is hardly surprising that works which are so metatheatrical in their theme and structure would defend subjective perspectives of truth. In his groundbreaking book on metatheater, Lionel Abel makes much the same point as Mariani: “Illusion, for Pirandello, was that which defines the limits of human subjectivity” (181). What is less clear, however, is whether Mariani would agree with Abel’s additional suggestion that “Pirandello was the epistemologist of metatheatre, not its ontologist.”2 Abel continues, “Pirandello is always interesting when he explores dramatically our inability to distinguish between illusion and reality. He was not prepared to assert, though, that the unreal is” (181). Mariani perhaps comes closest to rejecting Abel’s claim in his explanation of how Pirandello’s metatheatrical gestures manage to instill a profound sense of life into his characters – characters which, according to Mariani, “live only in the act of communicating” (128). While clearly fascinated by the subjective reality of Pirandello’s characters, Mariani carefully examines those specific features of Pirandello’s plays which function to bring his characters to life, focusing especially on the role of communication: “a character is a creature of the imagination, a form of communication that lives only in the act of communicating” (28). For Mariani, there is something theatrically magical in the way in which these staged characters come to life under the stage lights, almost as if they become more than the sum of their parts, become more than actor+words+stage+stage directions. For Mariani, it is as if the “unreal” of these disparate parts is transmogrified into the real from the moment the characters open their mouths. Mariani pushes the point further in his conclusion, where he notes that “in a character, which is a means of communication, and can live only in the act of communicating, the need to communicate is as imperious as the human urge to live” (50). “Imperious” is an interesting word choice, suggesting perhaps that there is some internal force to these characters – a sense of agency – which demands communication from them. Quite nearly as if “the unreal is.” However, although Mariani provides a compelling analysis of what brings these characters to life – and does so in a way which suggests that there is something more to them than the temporary artistic impulse allowed by the environment of the stage – I argue that there is yet another performative gesture in these plays which does even more to intimate that the unreal in Pirandello should be regarded with metaphysical credulity: that is, in Pirandello’s treatment of death. Pirandello’s plays seem uniquely prepared to enact Philippe Ariès’s notion that death itself is a subjective and arbitrary fiction, more performative than real: The ritualization of death is a special aspect of the total strategy of man against nature, a strategy of prohibitions and concessions. This is why death has not been permitted its natural extravagance but has been imprisoned in ceremony, transformed into spectacle. This is also why it could not be a solitary adventure but had to be a public phenomenon involving the whole community. (Ariès 604) Focusing primarily on Six Characters, Tonight we Improvise, and The Mountain Goats,3 I explain how these plays are just as invested in exploring the ontological circumstances surrounding a character’s death as they are with identifying their place among the living in the first place. 30

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Indeed, Mariani misses an opportunity for deeper reflection on one of the more compelling ways in which the magic of the theater invokes life in Pirandello’s characters. Briefly, consider The Boy and The Child from Six Characters, who never even get the opportunity to speak, before dying in the play’s denouement. By Mariani’s own logic, they are as good as dead even before the play’s fateful conclusion, which would seem to suggest, in Mariani’s terms, their converse refusal “to communicate is as imperious as the human urge to [die].” ★ Six Characters in Search of an Author is something of a metatheatrical tour de force, focused as it is on a cast of characters who have approached a theater company with the suggestion that the company stage their play – their life story. Along the way, the audience is introduced to all the various elements that go into producing a play, with particular attention given to the rampant artificiality involved in stage production, acting, and even with how content is edited to suit the audience’s (and potential censors’) tastes. Yet, for all its metatheatrical hijinks – which, as Fiora Bassanese explains, are primarily directed towards suggesting “new relationships between art and life by dissolving the traditional separation between the two” (99) – there is nearly as much in Six Characters which serves to dissolve the line between “art and death” (or, rather, “life and death”) as there is to dissolve the line between “art and life.” The final scene in the play is, perhaps, most surprising in this respect, as the line that separates the artificial from the real makes a most foreboding appearance. The play ends with two deaths, as The Child (a young girl) drowns while The Boy looks on, before killing himself with a revolver. THE SON. I ran over to her; I was jumping in to drag her out when I saw something that froze my blood … the boy standing stock still, with eyes like a madman’s, watching his little drowned sister, in the fountain! [The STEP-DAUGHTER bends over the fountain to hide the CHILD. She sobs.] Then … [A revolver shot rings out behind the trees where the BOY is hidden.] […] THE MANAGER. [pushing the ACTORS aside while THEY lift up the BOY and carry him off.] Is he really wounded? SOME ACTORS. He’s dead! Dead! OTHER ACTORS. No, no, it’s only make believe, it’s only pretence! THE FATHER. [with a terrible cry]. Pretence? Reality, sir, reality! THE MANAGER. Pretence? Reality? To hell with it all! Never in my life has such a thing happened to me. I’ve lost a whole day over these people, a whole day! Notably, the actors give all of their attention to The Boy’s death, while completely ignoring The Child, perhaps because as surprising as The Boy’s death is, it is one they can at least begin to comprehend. The Boy's death has been predetermined from the beginning of Act II, when The Step-Daughter first finds him holding a revolver, and exclaims: “Idiot! If I’d been in your place, instead of killing myself, I’d have shot one of those two, or both of them.” Actors such as these, apparently steeped in the Realist tradition, would have been well attuned to Chekhov’s directive that “[i]f you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off” – as would the audience. These actors are now witnessing firsthand the darker implications of that directive, as in Pirandello’s hands Chekhov’s directive springs to life with surprising ontological implications. 31

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Indeed, that there may be different levels of reality in a play – and that characters in a play may well witness their relationship to the other realities of that play (and to the world) in different ways – is something that Pirandello was increasingly attuned to as his career progressed. Consider, for instance, Pirandello’s stage direction in Each in His Own Way, where he discusses the movement between narrative levels in terms that are quite familiar to those versed in contemporary narrative theory: [W]hat during the act on stage had been in the foreground and appeared to be the representation of an event in real life, now reveals itself to have been an artistic invention, and is therefore more or less distanced, pushed into the background. Later, when this choral intermezzo is about to end, this theatre lobby and the spectators will also, in turn, be pushed even further into the background. […] Later, in the second choral intermezzo, all three planes of reality will come into conflict, when, moving from one plane to the other, the real characters of the drama attack the fictional ones of the play, and the spectators try to intervene. (242–43) This description of the various planes of reality coming “into conflict” can help us understand why The Child’s death in Six Characters is so quickly forgotten, even as the actors disagree over the status of The Son. The ontological status of The Child is in some sense fundamentally different from that of The Boy. Rather than dead from the moment she ascends the stage, it is almost as if she hadn’t been alive to begin with. As such, The Child isn’t simply from a secondary plane to the characters’ own (which they have a hard enough time understanding) but so completely outside of their frame of reference that her death doesn’t even register. Time and again during the course of the play, the other characters intimate that “The Boy disappears soon, you know.” The Child is always an afterthought. “And the baby too.” Dead already – or perhaps never even alive. Or, as Fiora Bassanese suggests, “Inert and silent, the Boy and Child are ambiguous beings, caught between dissolution and form” (104). And so, by contrast, The Child is all too easy for the actors to ignore, just as they continue to ignore their own ontological status as characters – characters who themselves are neither alive nor dead (at least, that is, until they speak or are spoken to). To push this point even farther, I would argue that Pirandello’s larger metaleptical structure only makes the ontological implications at work in the play all the more profound. Their deaths place these characters in a uniquely metatheatrical limbo, neither dead nor alive, but part and parcel of what Brian McHale refers to as “The Zone” in fiction. McHale is working in the same tradition as Gérard Genette, who was the first to fully theorize metaleptical structures in literature, which involve “any intrusion by the extradiegetic narrator or narratee into the diegetic universe (or by diegetic characters into a metadiegetic universe, etc.) or the inverse” (Genette 234–35). According to McHale, such meta literary zones are places where space is “less constructed than destructed by the text, or rather constructed and destructed at the same time” (45), raising questions not just about how we know the world but about what exists or is in the world.4 Given that the tenuous margin between death and life is treated alongside the equally tenuous margin between the literary and the real in Six Characters, I argue that as these staged deaths intersect both real and metatheatrical space, they not only raise new and compelling ontological questions about the stability of the world of the theater, but also, by implication, about the real world as well. Moreover, in both of these worlds, death remains as profoundly “undiscovered” as it did in Shakespeare’s day. Reading the deaths of Pirandello’s characters through McHale, we begin to realize that their very deaths reside within a hyperliterary locale

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where metaphysical realities (both literary and otherwise) collide, and also that the boundary between life and death is as artificial as the boundary between actor and character. I have been quoting from a translation of the original 1922 version of the play. However, as J. L. Styan explains it, Pirandello would further escalate confusion concerning the ontological status of The Boy and The Child – as well as the ontological status of dying on stage – in performances from 1925 onward: The greatest trick in the Six Characters of 1925 was to extend the shock ending. In the revision, Pirandello did not disclose the fate of the two children until the last possible moment. When the Director called for lights, Pirandello did not allow the curtain to fall. He calculated that at such a moment, when an audience was on the point of returning to its familiar reality, at a moment of total ambivalence, the play had it most in its grip. […] When the Director was finally given some light, it was an unexpected green flood which made the Characters into bizarre silhouettes. But only four of the six. The Girl and the Boy were dead, and now they were missing, as if they were really dead. (100) In addition to suggesting that death is somehow an inescapable ontological extension of the stage, this development more explicitly implicates the audience in the metaphysical oddities as well. Such a curtain call is typically performed not by characters, but by actors seeking applause for their performance – actors who would have family members and friends in the audience. In the case of The Boy and The Child, the stage has actively stolen this moment from both actors and audience members, replacing the moment with the specter of their deaths instead. In this 1925 version, we find the theatrical equivalent of the conventional wisdom that if we die in a dream we die in the real world as well, as one plane of existence intrudes upon another. Although McHale does not spend a great deal of time discussing death in literature, he does suggest that such a movement between zones can provide the means for imagining our deaths: “a kind of dress-rehearsal” which “you never can do so except through some medium of displacement – through metaphor or fiction” (231–32). Pushing this line of thought further, McHale quotes Douglas Hofstadter on the metaphoric value of such metalepsis to understanding death: Perhaps the greatest contradiction in our lives, the hardest to handle, is the knowledge “There was a time when I was not alive, and there will come a time when I am not alive.” […] This is a basic undeniable problem of life […]. When you try to imagine your own nonexistence, you have to try to jump out of yourself, by mapping yourself onto someone else. You fool yourself into believing that you can import an outsider’s view of yourself into you [and] though you may imagine that you have jumped out of yourself, you never can actually do so. (qtd. in Postmodernist Fiction 232) Can an actor jump out of himself or herself and so fully inhabit a character that the character becomes fully alive in the actor’s words and actions? In turn, are the deaths that such characters suffer all the more real for it? Pirandello’s metatheatrical treatment of death provides one more example of the way in which these plays, to quote Lionel Abel, are about “life [or, death in this case] seen as already theatricalized” (iv). Thus, in addition to elucidating how staged deaths serve to invigorate the other various metatheatrical elements of the play, the discussion that follows will also consider what Pirandello’s treatment of death means for the rest of us. 33

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Albeit less concerned with death than the other plays in the Trilogy, Each in His Own Way draws a relevant analogy between the type of playacting that is part and parcel of any romantic intrigue and the playacting of the stage. This connection is brought into increasingly starker relief as the play-within-a-play unfolds. This play-within-a-play, which Pirandello explicitly announces via the various notes attached to the playscript, concerns events drawn from real life (a pièce à clef ): an infidelity resulting in suicide, where those involved in the indiscretion (Miss Moreno and Bruno) are themselves in attendance at the play, watching the consequences of their actions play out before their eyes. The staged events do not, however, include the suicide itself, but rather pick the story up several weeks after the suicide. So, although the play does not explicitly explore the way in which the real and the artificial can feed off each other resulting in deaths at every theatrical level, the implication that this is so can be intuited from Miss Moreno’s rushing of the stage, during which she is said to have slapped at least one of the participants. Bruno is only stopped from similarly intervening by his friends, even while his onstage counterpart prepares for a duel which, it is suggested, might itself end in spilled blood. In essence, we witness “real world” romantic theatrics leading to a suicide which, when staged, leads to a direct encounter between the “real world” and the stage, where violence ensues. The disruption leads to a chaotic scene where actors and director quit before the play’s final scene, leading to no small amount of outrage from The Audience. The ending of the play has often been explained with reference to the riots that accompanied the first performance of Six Characters, suggesting that for Pirandello violence might very well move from one ontological plane to another with physically tangible results. More compelling are the two staged deaths in Pirandello’s Tonight We Improvise, the third play in his trilogy devoted to exploring the illusions of theater. As the third in the series, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that Tonight We Improvise has even more metatheatrical tricks than either Six Characters or Each in His Own Way. So much so that, as Mariani indicates, there are perhaps even too many: But in Six Characters and Each in His Own Way the metatheatrical themes (artistic communication, the power and elusiveness of definitive artistic form, the authorship and inviolability of the dramatic text) were intertwined with painful and compelling existential themes (the difficulty of human communication, given the relativism of human perception, the subjectivity of all forms of communication, the mutability of the reality that is the object of human communication, etc.), while in the present play, these metatheatrical themes virtually dominate the work from the first verbal exchanges to the end. (75) This is an important observation, at least in part because it indicates that Pirandello recognizes how his own theater has the potential to come into its own as a replacement for the Bourgeoise theater. Moreover, as a new theatrical norm in its own right, we should not be surprised that Pirandello might eventually go out of his way to parody its various subjective pretensions (even if they are his own). To be sure, if there is a fundamental difference between this work and Six Characters, it is that while Six Characters has moments which allude to the possibility of an audience, time and again the director of Tonight We Improvise speaks directly to the audience as he attempts to explain the effect he is going for in taking so many liberties with his source script (a play attributed to Pirandello, whose name is met with derision – just as in Six Characters). In this outermost frame of the play we meet Dr. Hinkfuss and a troupe of actors. Dr. Hinkfuss begins by telling an increasingly unsympathetic audience that rather than stick to the script at hand, he will present to them an “experiment in improvisation” (430). He then 34

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introduces the actors: The Leading Actor, who will play Ricco Verri; The Leading Actress, who will play Mommina; The Character Actress, who will play Signora Ignazia; and The Old Comic Actor, who will play Sampognetta. In the play within the play, Sampognetta is Signora Ignazia’s much henpecked husband. They have four daughters, Mommina, Totina, Dorina, and Nenèe. The La Croce family keeps their home open to gentleman callers (primarily soldiers) and so have developed a scandalous reputation about town. The primary dramatic action begins as we discover that to escape his home life, Sampognetta frequents a club where he has fallen in love with a singer, is eventually stabbed defending the singer’s honor, and later dies at home. During the public scrutiny that follows, Mommina is coerced into marrying Ricco Verri, who keeps her locked away from her family out of jealousy at the thought of the family’s past indiscretions. Upon hearing that her sister is now a famous opera singer, Mommina begins singing to her two children, but dies during the performance. It is important to keep in mind that while we are getting bits and pieces of this internal narrative, the actors and director continue to interrupt the performance to cajole each other, the director, and even the audience, even as they attempt to swing the performance to their own tastes and/or advantage. Thus, in addition to gesturing more explicitly towards its own subjective form, there is a great deal in the play about what a theater troupe brings to bear when preparing a play script for production. Dr. Hinkfuss, for instance, describes theatrical texts as inherently static, inanimate things, which are only brought to life in performance: There’s only one way, ladies and gentlemen, in which something that art has fixed in the immutability of a form can come back to life and move about again. It must take back its life from us, a life that is various, diverse, and momentary; the life that each one of us is able to give it. (38) The irony of attempting to make something new and original through improvisation is put to the test time and again, however, for no matter what the troupe does on stage, it is always quite clear to the audience that what they have witnessed isn’t really spontaneous.5 To cite one specific example, the play would appear to suggest that no matter what performative perambulations the actors put themselves through, the action of one character slapping another can never achieve the ontological reality of a real-world slap (even if it has all the corporeal force of one): (At this point a resounding slap is heard from behind the curtain, and immediately after, the protests of the Old Comic Actor, who is playing Sampognetta) THE OLD COMIC ACTOR. Ouch! Why are you doing that! Don’t ever slap me like that again! My God, that was real! (42) The Old Comic Actor goes on to explain his discomfiture in a way that only draws out the irony further: THE OLD COMIC ACTOR. I will not put up with Miss __ slapping me in that way. Did you hear it? Improvisation is no excuse. (43) The implication is clear; no matter how many times Dr. Hinkfuss suggests to the audience that “the actor’s refusal to do what I say is part of the performance” (44), there simply is no way back from the stage to the real. 35

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As compelling as the scene is in its own right, it also explicitly foreshadows the attitude taken toward death on stage in the material that follows; we are hardly even surprised by the metatheatrical treatment of the various deaths when and as they occur. By the time Sampognetta comes home with a knife wound and stands around nonchalantly “out of character” while the other characters bemoan his situation, the illusion-breaking element has become such a norm in the play that this overtly staged death does little more to disrupt the illusion than any of the other metatheatrical gestures. Even when as The Actor, Sampognetta admits, “I can’t die, Doctor Hinkfuss. When I see how well everyone is doing, I feel like laughing, and I can’t die” (86), there is no double-take on our part, because we realize that as an actor rather than a character, this must be true ( just as it had been true in Six Characters). Indeed, while the scene where he finally follows the director’s appeal is clever enough in its own right, nothing in what follows surprises us very much given the larger context: SAMPOGNETTA. All right! Here’s the scene: (He looks on the sofa) I’m dead! DOCTOR HINKFUSS. Not like that! SAMPOGNETTA. (getting up and coming forward) My dear Doctor Hinkfuss, come up here and finish killing me yourself. What else can I say? I repeat, I cannot die just like that, on my own. I’m not like an accordion you can squeeze and pull, and make a song come out just by pressing the keys. (86) A death onstage is never really a death, just as a slap onstage is never really a slap. But when the play already makes this same point in so many other ways (indeed, soon enough we find that The Old Comic Actor playing Sampognetta has a chronic illness), at most we can only nod our heads at one more truth about how the stage functions to conflate the artificial and the real. Pirandello has created his own aesthetic mode, with all of its own increasingly comfortable realities. Moreover, he has also begun the process of subjecting this new aesthetic mode to another level of satiric scrutiny. Lionel Abel, who is one of the few critics to discuss death in Pirandello (although oddly enough, he only speaks of it in Tonight We Improvise, not Six Characters), offers a different take on Sampognetta’s death: To be sure, there is much more of the sophistry of feeling in his playacting than of the true feeling of a man facing death, but this sophistry of feeling takes on the accents of truth because we know the actor is really dying. We also know that he wants to be affecting and are touched by the fact that a man who is dying can have such thoughts. (173) While speaking in a fairly profound way to the difficulties in sorting the illusory from the real, Abel seemingly forgets to speak to the fact that there is an actor other than The Old Comic Actor (playing Sampognetta): there is also the actor who is playing The Old Comic Actor. And although we have no compelling reason to conclude anything about this actor’s health, we can imagine a performance where, not unlike Molière’s The Imaginary Invalid, a dying man is cast in the role – and even where the audience is made aware of this fact. To be sure, the potential for additional metanarrative resonances is profound in such cases – which is, in part, what Pirandello is going for. As the trilogy progresses, the naïve realism of the previous generation becomes an increasingly distant memory. Pirandello, however, proves to have one more metatheatrical trick 36

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up his sleeve, as the end of the play provides a very near reversal of Six Characters, albeit that in this instance two children witness the death of an adult (their mother) who has spent the last act of the play confined to her rooms by her husband, Verri. Verri married Mommina after the death of her father in order to save her from a life of poverty and, perhaps, prostitution. Having heard her sister is now a famous opera singer, Mommina sings to their two daughters “until eventually her heart will fail her and she will fall dead with a crash.” The stage directions of this play-within-a-play suggest that: The two girls, more bewildered than ever, do not have the least suspicion. They think it is the performance their mother is putting on for them, and they remain there, motionless, in their little chairs, waiting. (108) So, while performing an opera, within still another larger performance, Mommina dies. And yet her children, not yet the astute students of theatricality that the rest of us are, remain unaware. There are deeply imbedded questions here concerning the relationship between metatheatrical effect and the audience’s ability to unpack that effect. On the one hand, the children are sophisticated enough to know that a character can die while the actor playing that character lives on. On the other hand, in this case the children are quite simply mistaken to think of it as part of the performance. While on the third hand, the actress playing Mommina really is alive (albeit barely?). While on the fourth hand … the infinite regress of metanarrative levels appears to continue ad infinitum. Indeed, it is not until her family comes in to rescue her from her cage that the way in which death can be so thoroughly illusion-disrupting comes into its full affect. For as they enter the stage, her family quickly switches modes from fellow family members to fellow actors: THE CHARACTER ACTRESS. (indicating the Leading Actress still lying on the floor) But why doesn’t Miss __ get up? Why is she still lying there … THE COMIC ACTOR. Oh! I hope she’s not really dead! (everybody crowds solicitously around the Leading Actress.) THE LEADING ACTOR. (calling her and shaking her) Miss __! Miss __! THE CHARACTER ACTRESS. Is she really feeling ill? NENÈ. Oh, my God, she’s fainted! Let’s lift her up! THE LEADING ACTRESS. (half raising herself ) No … thank you. It really was my heart, though … Just let me, please, let me get my breath. (109) What have we just witnessed? A close call on the part of The Leading Lady? A close call that came at the very moment her character was supposed to die? Acted by Miss ___ – who (until this moment) we had every reason to believe was quite healthy herself? Acted (presumably) by an actress who is in fact quite healthy? In a play where there are slaps that both are and are not slaps? In a play that both is but isn’t really an experiment in improvisation? Where everything is – and isn’t – at every moment “planned together, to make the presentation more lively and spontaneous” (433)? Imagine the confusion that would result if the actress playing The Leading Lady really were to die. Molière’s final performance looms. Although Abel doesn’t explicitly discuss this scene as he did the one with The Old Comic Actor, his thoughts on death in Pirandello more generally are quite relevant, especially as paraphrased by Martin Puchner in the introduction to Abel’s Metatheatre and Tragedy: 37

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In Genet as well as in Pirandello, finally, role playing and quasi-rituals always end in blood. It is true that neither Shakespeare nor Calderón had shied away from violence, and Life Is A Dream in particular shows the terrible consequences that can result from a malignant confusion of theatre and reality. But in Brecht and Pirandello violence seems to be the only means by which to break the artificiality. (17) After so much dabbling in illusion, maybe this is just what Pirandello has become so desperate for: something to break up the artificiality. The most jarring moments – perhaps because they take on an ontological existence beyond the metaphysical reality of the play itself – are the ones focusing on what it means to stage a death. It’s all well and good to tell The Old Comic Actor that he wasn’t the recipient of a real slap because the slap in question had been written into the script, but this doesn’t account for the fact that it might have had all the same corporeal impact as one not written into a script. For all our earlier skepticism, the slap actually does have an impact at multiple metaleptical levels. Indeed, if it did not, we would not even be having this conversation. What then of the death of The Old Comic Actor? Of Mommina? Don’t these “deaths” also have some sort of physically tangible impact across ontological levels? ★ Although Pirandello died before writing the final act of The Mountain Giants, he did manage to provide a summary for his son, Stephen, who completed the play. Unsurprisingly, given the attitude towards the performativity of death seen in his earlier plays, the play resonates in interesting ways with the “reality” of his own pending death. Ilse, the lead actress of the theater troupe, feels responsible for The Tale of the Changeling after “Pirandello” committed suicide upon completing the play. However, this is hardly the most compelling of the play’s deaths (indeed, Pirandello’s death is all backstory). For, as the play opens, the troupe has stumbled upon a town where the magic of theater has a tangible, ontological reality – where what is written quite literally comes to life, apparently at the behest of The Magician, Cotrone, who describes the process as follows: COTRONE. It’s enough for us to imagine something, and immediately the images come alive by themselves. It’s enough for a thing to be fully alive within us, and it stages itself by the spontaneous virtue of its own life. It is the free realization of any necessary birth. At most, we facilitate that birth somewhat. Those stuffed dolls, for instance. If the spirit of the characters they represent is embodied in them, you’ll see them moving and talking. And the true miracle is never the performance, believe me, but always the imagination of the poet in which those characters were born alive, so alive that you can see them although they don’t exist bodily. Translating them into a fictive reality on the stage is what is commonly done in theatres. It’s your job. (315) There is, of course, a natural extension between what Cotrone is saying and the way in which the stage has continually been recognized by Pirandello throughout his career as taking on living features, even as a play develops. However, there is an important distinction to be made between this “magic” and what is accomplished on stage. For Cotrone refers to what is done on stage as “a fictive reality,” and it is at least partly on the basis of this distinction that Ilse determines that The Tale of the Changeling must finally be performed before a live audience. And if that were the end of it, then perhaps Abel would be right in his suggestion that Pirandello was not an ontologist of the theater. However, after attempting to arrange for the play to be performed for a nearby village of “mountain giants” as part of the village’s wedding festivities, the troupe finally has to settle for 38

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performing for the giants’ cooks and servants. In the summary of the final scene which Stephen Pirandello received from his father, we are told that this final performance was meant to go quite poorly for the troupe, because, as Pirandello explained it, the only experience this audience of servants had with live performance were “Punch and Judy shows, with the usual blows raining on head and shoulders, or the buffoonery of clowns, or the exhibitions of the chorus girls, and ‘chanteuses’ of nightclubs” (Pirandello, Mountain 321). Assured that they can win the audience over despite the increasing revelry on the other side of the curtain, Ilse decides to take to the stage, with disastrous results: The tempest that grows increasingly threatening suddenly strikes the improvised stage when the Countess hurls insults at the audience, calling them animals, nothing but brutes. Spizzi and Diamante rush to help her. […] Of the pandemonium exploded beyond it some images are silhouetted on the curtain, of gigantic gestures, enormous bodies wrestling, Cyclopic arms and fists raised to strike. But it is too late now. Suddenly a great silence. The actors re-enter bearing Ilse’s body, smashed like a broken puppet, in the throes of death; she dies. Spizzi and Diamante, who entered the melee to protect her, have been torn to pieces: no part of their bodies can be found. (322) To be sure, there is no mistaking that Pirandello’s concern is the end of theater, the end of art in a society where the town theater has been replaced by the “cinema.” Nina da Vinci Nichols finds an apt analogy to this scene in the reception that Six Characters received upon its first performance in Italy: “the giant’s workers and servants turn Ilse’s epithalamium into a riot, perhaps reminiscent of the one greeting the first production in Rome of Sei Personanaggi in cerca d’autore in 1921” (242). According to this perspective, it makes some sense to suggest that Pirandello, like Ilse, has finally died in the hands (if not quite “at the hands”) of increasingly ignorant audiences, his recent Nobel Prize at best a tragic reminder of how far removed he was from writing to and for the general public. As such, The Mountain Giants does not just perform the death of the play’s central characters, but also the death of the author and of theater in the philosophical mode. That all of this takes place within a play that might itself be performed to large, approving audiences is an irony that mirrors the irony surrounding the deaths of Mommina and Sampognetta. For the theater to live on according to this paradoxical perspective, it must die. For Pirandello to live on, he too must die. As Mariani explains, The Mountain Giants explores the problems of art not exclusively in terms of its power and permanence as a means of communication, but as a way of life, a vocation, and perhaps even as a means of renewal and salvation. (79) According to this reading of the play, it is hard to ignore the possibility that Pirandello, dying before the play could even be completed, suggests that he had arranged his own death as certainly as he had arranged Ilse’s. This is not to suggest that I think he killed himself (as his alter-ego does in The Mountain Giants), but rather that leaving the play intentionally unfinished was part and parcel of a suicide pact that extends across a whole range of boundaries – from the real to the artificial, from the living to the dead. In staging death as part of their metatheatrical scope, these plays speak to an ontological puzzlement that is as profound as any we face, and do so in a way which suggests not only that death is epistemologically unknowable, but that, ontologically, it is so far outside of human 39

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experience that it may as well be thought of as suggesting that “the unreal is.” It further suggests that to successfully “stage” this unreality means that the “unknown country” of death is perhaps not so simply beyond some uncrossable barrier, but rather, to quote Derrida, that “its elementary milieu does not allow for something that could be called passage, step, walk, gait, displacement, or replacement, a kinesis in general. There is no more path” (21). To try and capture this “other” onstage is to try and capture a bit of the unreal. To do so in the way Pirandello did forces the real, the artificial, and the dead to become such uncomfortable bedfellows that we begin to know and engage the other even as we feel the discomfort it affords us.

Notes 1 2 3 4

5

The research and writing of this essay was supported by The Ministry of Education, Singapore, under Academic Research Fund Tier 1. For a more thorough discussion of the way in which Molière’s final performance defies Neo-classical expectations, please see my essay “ ‘Is there no danger in counterfeiting death?’: Molière’s The Imaginary Invalid.” If Abel is right in this assessment, then in Brian McHale’s theorization of the difference between Modern and Postmodern fiction, this would identify Pirandello as Modern, which is worth keeping in mind as this essay continues. Though it is not numbered among Pirandello’s trilogy of plays devoted to exploring the illusions of theater, Mariani rightly includes The Mountain Giants as among Pirandello’s plays that “deal[] with the art of the theatre” (34). It is worth noting that in Postmodernist Fiction, McHale suggests that “[t]his metaleptic function of character has especially been exploited in twentieth-century drama, paradigmatically in Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921), but also in plays by Brecht, Beckett, Jean Genet, Tom Stoppard, Peter Handke and others” (121). At least not according to the text we have to hand, although we can imagine a theater director who actually does allow the actors free rein to go off script.

Works Cited Abel, Lionel. Metatheatre: A New View of Dramatic Form. Hill and Wang, 1963. Ariès, Philippe. The Hour of Our Death. Vintage, 1982. Bassanese, Fiora A. Understanding Luigi Pirandello. U of South Carolina P, 1996. Derrida, Jacques. Aporias: Dying – Awaiting (One Another At) the “Limits of Truth,” translated by Thomas Dutoit. Stanford UP, 1993. Genette, Gérard. Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method. Cornell UP, 1972. Hofstadter, Douglas. Godel, Escher, Bach. Basic Books, 1979. Jernigan, Daniel. “‘Is there no danger in counterfeiting death?’: Molière’s The Imaginary Invalid.” Narrating Death, edited by Daniel K. Jernigan, Walter Wadiak, and W. Michelle Wang. Routledge, 2018, pp. 62–74. Mariani, Umberto. Living Masks: The Achievement of Pirandello. U of Toronto P, 2008. McHale, Brian. Postmodernist Fiction. New York, 1987. Molière. The Imaginary Invalid, translated by Charles Heron Wall. G. Bell and Sons, 1876–1877. Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.org/files/9070/9070h/9070-h.htm. Nichols, Nina da Vinci. “Pirandello, the Sacred, and the Death of Tragedy.” Comparative Drama, vol. 32, no. 2, Summer 1998, pp. 240–251. Pirandello, Luigi. Each in His Own Way. Pirandello’s Theatre of Living Masks: New Translations of Six Major Plays, translated and edited by Umberto Mariani and Alice Gladstone Mariani. U of Toronto P, 2001, pp. 219–275. Pirandello, Luigi. The Mountain Giants. Pirandello’s Theatre of Living Masks: New Translations of Six Major Plays, translated and edited by Umberto Mariani and Alice Gladstone Mariani. U of Toronto P, 2001, pp. 276–324.

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Margins of Theater in Luigi Pirandello Pirandello, Luigi. Six Characters in Search of an Author. Three Plays, translated by Edward Storer. Dutton Publishers, 1922, www.gutenberg.org/files/42148/42148-h/42148-h.htm. Pirandello, Luigi. Six Characters in Search of an Author. Pirandello’s Theatre of Living Masks: New Translations of Six Major Plays, translated and edited by Umberto Mariani and Alice Gladstone Mariani. U of Toronto P, 2001, pp. 119–167. Pirandello, Luigi. Tonight We Improvise. Tonight We Improvise and “Leonora, Addio!”, translated by J. Douglas Campbell and Leonard G. Sbrocchi. Canadian Society for Italian Studies, 1987. Puchner, Martin. Introduction. Metatheatre: A New View of Dramatic Form, by Lionel Abel. Hill and Wang, 1963. Styan, J. L. “Pirandellian Theatre Games: Spectator as Victim.” Modern Drama, vol. 23, no. 2, Summer 1980, pp. 95–101.

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4 FORBIDDEN MENTAL FRUIT? DEAD NARRATORS AND CHARACTERS FROM MEDIEVAL TO POSTMODERNIST NARRATIVES Jan Alber

Introduction This chapter provides an overview of dead narrators and characters in English literary history. More specifically, I will discuss their functioning as well as the functions of such figures in fictional narratives from the Middle Ages up until postmodernism.1 From a narratological perspective, there is, of course, a crucial difference between a narrator and a character: the narrator is typically in a special (extradiegetic) position in relation to the characters (at the intradiegetic level) (Genette 228–34). However, because the dead narrators that I will analyze here are all character-narrators (Phelan 12), and thus exist in the same realm as the other characters (Stanzel 48), this difference is not that important. What matters to me here is that dead characters (including character-narrators) are an interesting phenomenon because they cut across the fundamental distinction between life and death. On the one hand, they are deceased and thus no longer there, but on the other hand, they are still able to think, speak, or act and often try to influence figures that are still alive. Dead characters thus urge us to blend features that we associate with the living and characteristics that we attribute to the dead. Mark Turner explains the process of blending by pointing out that “cognitively modern human beings have a remarkable, species-defining ability to pluck forbidden mental fruit – that is, to activate two conflicting mental structures [...] and to blend them creatively into a new mental structure” (“Double-Scope” 117). As an example of such a blend, Turner mentions the character of Bertran de Born in Dante’s Inferno. This fourteenth-century narrative confronts us with “a talking and reasoning human being who carries his detached but articulate head in his hand like a lantern.” Turner states that “this is an impossible blending, in which a talking human being has an unnaturally divided body” (Literary 62, 61). It is not at all perverse to imagine that dead people are still active and interact with the real world. Turner argues that we permanently blend spheres or entities to come to terms with our experiences in the real world. For instance, one might try to overcome one’s grief by imagining 42

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that a dead child is still part of our world. Indeed, Turner writes that “a child who died in the past is still mentally with us. The child never leaves, is always there to cast her shadow on the day, even though our days have changed radically since her death. […] We can imagine her living and appropriately aged” (“Cognitive” 16). There are, of course, many other functions that the blend of the dead character might fulfill, and these functions depend upon the generic contexts in which such figures are used.2 The evocation of generic conventions – such as the construction of a supportive discourse context – can help us come to terms with phenomena such as dead figures (see also Nieuwland and van Berkum 1109). In what follows, I will analyze the potential meanings of dead characters (and character-narrators) by zooming in on the generic contexts in which they are used.

Ontological Complications: Dead Character-Narrators in Postmodernist Narratives As Franz Karl Stanzel has shown (229–32), certain authors present the gradual dissolution of a dying first-person narrator’s consciousness up to the threshold of life. He calls this type of narration “dying in the first person” and argues that “the difficulties arising from the presentation of the death of a narratorial ‘I’ have not deterred authors from selecting the first-person form for the fictional presentation of this extreme situation” (229). Various postmodernist authors even go one step further and confront us with narrators who are dead and speak from the grave or from heaven. For example, the first words of Samuel Beckett’s short story “The Calmative” (1954) are “I don’t know when I died” (51). The text thus projects a scenario in which a corpse (or a ghost) talks to us. Similarly, Alice Sebold’s novel The Lovely Bones (2002) opens as follows: “My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973” (5).3 Later on, we learn that the narrator, who was raped and murdered by her neighbor, Mr. Harvey, has entered heaven and speaks from there: When I first entered heaven I thought that everyone saw what I saw. That in everyone’s heaven there were soccer goalposts in the distance and lumbering women throwing shot put and javelin. That all the buildings were like suburban northeast high schools built in the 1960s. (16) We are also told that each dead person inhabits his or her own private version of heaven: After a few days in heaven, I realized that the javelin-throwers and the shot-putters and the boys who played basketball on the cracked blacktop were all in their own version of heaven. Theirs just fit with mine – didn’t duplicate it precisely, but had a lot of the same things going on inside. (17) In the words of Lisa Zunshine, we are here presented with “a violation of our intuitive ontological expectations, which forces us to reconsider all familiar social scenarios concerning death” (72). Like “The Calmative,” The Lovely Bones digresses from our real-world parameters and we are invited to work on our reading frames to come to terms with the novel’s storytelling situation. We are urged to activate our knowledge about people who are alive (and able to tell stories) and our awareness of the fact that the dead cannot speak. In a second step, we blend these schemata to picture a scenario in which somebody who is dead nevertheless speaks to us.4 43

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What might the potential functions of these dead character-narrator scenarios be? When the narrator of Beckett’s “The Calmative” says, “So I’ll tell myself a story” (51), he may, in fact, look back upon his life from the next world, or he might still be alive and talk to himself to pass the time. In the latter case, the short story is only about a metaphorical form of death. From this perspective, the narrative, like many of Beckett’s stories, invokes the paradoxical saying “in the midst of life we are in death” to highlight the fact that the lonely narrator is about to die without having ever really lived. The ultimate point of the story might be to argue that it does not matter whether you are alive or dead because, for Beckett at least, the two states are very similar anyway. “The Calmative” thus uses its dead character-narrator in the context of a (rather typical) Beckettian allegory that defines the human condition in terms of life-in-death. The Lovely Bones, in contrast, invites us to picture a situation in which the dead narrator continues to influence the world she had to leave. One can perhaps explain this dead narrator scenario in terms of our difficulties to envision death as the definite end of our existence, or in terms of the wishes of the bereaved that the dead somehow continue to exist. Indeed, Greta Olson argues that the position of the narrator highlights “the novel’s major theme: How does a lovable family, each member of which is both frail and human, all too human in her or his frailty, move on after one of its members has been brutally ripped out of its midst?” (138). For instance, at one point, Susie’s father builds “a balsa wood stand to replace” her, and he starts talking to her: “Susie, my baby, my little sailor girl, […] you always liked these smaller ones [ships in bottles]” (46). One might also argue that in the world of the novel, the dead Susie continues to influence characters that are still alive because heaven objectively exists, which allows her to right a wrong. In other words, readers are urged to posit a transcendental realm in which the dead narrator can still think, feel, and act, and her dealings make sure that poetic justice is achieved after all: the dead Susie is notably involved in Mr. Harvey’s punishment through death at the end of the novel, and it is highly unlikely that he will enter heaven as well.

Anticipations of Postmodernism: Dead Characters from the Middle Ages to Science-Fiction Narratives I will now move on to the ways in which ghosts and other dead characters foreshadow the dead character-narrators of postmodernist fiction. The fairy world in Sir Orfeo, a romance or Breton lai from the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century, for instance, features a whole gallery of dead characters.5 In this narrative, Heurodis, the wife of Sir Orfeo, is snatched away by fairies as she stands next to a grafted tree (“ympe-tree”): “Ac yete amides hem ful right/ The quen was oawy y-twight, /With fairi [i.e., magic] fort y-nome” (Laskaya and Salisbury 30–31, ll. 186–193).6 After the loss of his wife, Sir Orfeo gives up his kingdom and withdraws to the forest, where he lives in a state of poverty and enchants the animal world by playing the harp. Ultimately, Sir Orfeo recognizes his wife in a group of “sexti levedis” (34, l. 304), and follows them. By riding through a rock (“in at a roche” [35, l. 347]), he reaches the fairy world, where he encounters mutilated characters that had also been snatched away by fairies. At this point, we learn that being taken by fairies is equivalent to sudden death. In the world of the fairies, the dead continue to exist: they are “thought dede, and nare nought” (36, l. 390). That is to say, even though Sir Orfeo is still alive, he is capable of literally entering a world in which the dead exist in a form of living death: 44

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Sum stode without en hade, And sum non armes nade, And sum thurth the bodi hadde wounde, And sum lays wode, y-bounde, And sum armed on hors sete, And sum astrangled as thai ete; And sum were in water adreynt, And sum with fire al forschreynt. Wives ther lay on childe bedde, Sum ded and sum awedde, And wonder fele ther lay besides Right as thai slepe her undertides; Eche was thus in this warld y-nome With fairi thider y-come. (36, ll. 391–404)7 Alan J. Fletcher refers to this list of characters as an “extraordinary chamber of horrors,” a “waxworks of the undead,” and a “medley of unfortunates,” while also noting that in most cases, the reasons behind the mutilations (and hence the characters’ deaths) remain opaque. Thus, “the gallery’s contents are the casualties of a baffling universe that obviates prediction or explanation” (141–43). In the narrative, Sir Orfeo manages to get his (dead) wife (and ultimately also his kingdom) back by enchanting the king of the fairies through his harp music. We can cognitively cope with the dead (or undead) figures in Sir Orfeo because we can attribute them to a supernatural realm (namely the world of the fairies), which is an important feature of Breton lais. Furthermore, Sir Orfeo suggests that “sudden death might […] be a faery ‘taking,’ from which the longed-for beloved, like Heurodis, might return” (Saunders 203). Indeed, this particular lai seems to argue that true love may lead to a return of the dead to the natural world,8 while the fairies appear to primarily test the love of humans (such as Sir Orfeo’s love for his wife) and may thus represent the inexplicable forces of chance or chaos. In revenge tragedies, which flourished during the Renaissance (1485–1660), it is not so much the case that the living pay visits to the dead; it is rather that dead characters return to the world of the living in the form of ghosts, and these ghosts have become a crucial ingredient of this genre.9 A ghost is “the disembodied spirit of a dead person [...], which might appear of its own accord or be summoned by a sorcerer.” Furthermore, “belief in ghosts is as old as humanity, probably springing from dreams about someone who has recently died, which gives the idea that the dead person’s spirit still exists and can visit the living” (Schweitzer 338). Like Susie Salmon, the dead character-narrator of The Lovely Bones, the ghosts in revenge tragedies (and, as I will show, also the ones in Gothic novels) seek to right a wrong that either happened to them when they were still alive or when they were buried: they have “unfinished business on Earth” (338). However, in contrast to Susie Salmon, these ghosts can be seen by characters that are still alive. Furthermore, all of the ghosts in revenge tragedies and Gothic novels come from the purgatory of Catholic belief, an idea that was rejected by the English Reformation.10 In The Birth of Purgatory, Jacques le Goff describes purgatory as “the prison in which ghosts were normally incarcerated, though they might be allowed to escape now and then to briefly haunt those of the living whose zeal in their behalf was insufficient” (82).11

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The revenge tragedy was established in England by Thomas Kyd with The Spanish Tragedy (1592). This play begins with a prologue that introduces “the Ghost of ANDREA” and the allegorical figure of “REVENGE” (5; italics in original). These two characters exist on a different ontological level than the characters that are still alive, and the former cannot be seen by the latter. Andrea and Revenge, however, can see everything that happens in the primary world of the play. We learn that the Spanish Don Andrea was killed by the Portuguese Prince Balthazar in the 1580 war between Spain and Portugal. The ghost of Don Andrea then describes his sojourn through the underworld as follows: [...] Finding Pluto with his Proserpine, I showed my passport, humbled on my knee; Whereat fair Proserpine began to smile, And begged that only she might give my doom. Pluto was pleased, and sealed it with a kiss. Forthwith, Revenge, she rounded thee in th’ear, And bade thee lead me through the gates of horn, Where dreams have passage in the silent night. No sooner had she spoke but we were here, I wot not how, in twinkling of an eye. (Kyd 1.1.76–85) Don Andrea’s return from the underworld is thus motivated by a desire for revenge, which we can attribute to him but also to the supernatural figure of Proserpine. Furthermore, as Thomas Rist has shown, the play reflects “the anxiety of Catholics and religious waverers that without due memorial, the dead in Purgatory would languish in torment” (14). At the end of the play, Andrea’s murderer Balthazar is dead and Andrea’s “hopes have end in their effects” (4.5.1) – but the major problem is that many innocent characters are killed as well. The Spanish Tragedy thus sheds a rather critical light on the effects of revenge; it critiques the intrigues, corruption, and dishonorable actions of courts in Catholic Europe. Whereas the ghost in The Spanish Tragedy observes the action and the final bloodshed but cannot be seen in the world of the living, Shakespeare’s revenge tragedy Hamlet (1602) presents us with a ghost that openly incites revenge by talking to his son (Hill 334). Here, the ghost of Hamlet’s father returns to the real world to actively urge his son Hamlet to “revenge his [i.e., Claudius’s] foul and most unnatural murder” (Shakespeare 213, 1.5.25); later on, he appears in Gertrude’s closet to “whet [Hamlet’s] almost blunted purpose” (345, 3.4.107).12 The ghost also tells Hamlet that he is [...] doomed for a certain term to walk the night And for the day confined to fast in fires Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature Are burnt and purged away. (212, 1.5.10–13) Furthermore, he is “forbid/To tell the secrets of [his] prison-house” (212, 1.5.13–14), and complains about not having received “three of the Sacraments that would have prepared him to face death” (Low 454): Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin, Unhouseled, disappointed, unaneled, No reckoning made, but sent to my account With all my imperfections on my head. O horrible! O horrible! Most horrible! (213, 1.5.77–80)13 46

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Like the ghost of Don Andrea, the ghost of Hamlet’s father seems to “come from the purgatory of Catholic belief ” ( Joseph 497, 502; see also Low 453), and its primary function is to motivate Hamlet’s actions and thus to trigger the plot of this play.14 Gothic novels are also full of ghosts that visit the living. For example, Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), which is set in sixteenth-century Italy (a Catholic country), confronts us with a castle that is haunted by the ghost of Alfonso. Alfonso, the rightful ruler of Otranto, was poisoned by Ricardo, the grandfather of Manfred, the current Prince of Otranto (Walpole 105). In the shape of the ghost, Alfonso wants to make sure that Otranto is ruled by Theodore, his true heir, or, more specifically, that the following ancient prophecy comes true: “the Castle and Lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family whenever the real owner should be grown large enough to inhabit it” (27; italics in original). While the ghost of Hamlet’s father only talks to his son Hamlet, who is supposed to carry out the wishes of his dead father, the ghost of Alfonso primarily haunts Manfred, the grandson of the usurping Ricardo. The ghost is responsible for numerous magic events in this novel. To begin with, Manfred’s son Conrad is suddenly and inexplicably killed by “an enormous helmet, a hundred times more large than any casque ever made for human being, and shaded with a proportionable quantity of large feathers” (28).15 Also, a portrait of Manfred’s grandfather Ricardo “quit[s] its panel, and descend[s] on the floor, with a grave and melancholy air” (34), while, later on, “three drops of blood [fall] from the nose of Alfonso’s statue” (92). Toward the end of the novel, we are presented with a reaper-like skeletal specter: “the fleshless jaws and empty sockets of a skeleton, wrapt in a hermit’s cowl” (99). At first, the characters do not really know whether these supernatural disturbances are “omens from heaven or hell” (66), but most assume that they are caused by “the powers of darkness” (74) or perhaps even “Satan himself” (41). 16 At the end of the novel, however, we learn that, like the ghosts in The Spanish Tragedy and Hamlet, the ghost of Alfonso has returned from the dead to right a wrong. When Theodore is finally identified as the true Prince of Otranto, the ghost of Alfonso appears for the last time, and ascends to heaven: The walls of the castle behind Manfred were thrown down with a mighty force, and the form of Alfonso, dilated to an immense magnitude, appeared in the centre of the ruins. [...] Accompanied by a clap of thunder, it ascended solemnly towards Heaven, where, the clouds parting asunder, the form of St. Nicholas was seen, and receiving Alfonso’s shade, they were soon wrapt from mortal eyes in a blaze of glory. (104) The ghosts that I have discussed so far are all active agents even though they have already died. In a sense, they are all alive and dead simultaneously. At the same time, however, they also differ from one another. Whereas the dead Don Andrea continues to exist in a separate ontological realm where he cannot be seen by those who are still alive, Hamlet’s father reappears in the world of the living although he is dead. The ghost of Alfonso also returns to the world of the living, and at the end, he ascends to heaven (both the ghost of Don Andrea and the ghost of Hamlet’s father stick to the human form throughout the two plays). In Matthew Lewis’s Gothic novel The Monk: A Romance (1796), which is set in Catholic Spain, Don Raymond also encounters a ghost, namely “the bleeding nun,” who has “icy fingers” and “cold lips” (Lewis 141). This ghost is even more extreme than the ones discussed so far because even though it is able to speak, it looks and feels like a corpse. Don Raymond describes one of his encounters with her as follows: 47

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I beheld before me an animated corpse. Her countenance was long and haggard; her cheeks and lips were bloodless; the paleness of death was spread over her features; and her eye-balls, fixed steadfastly upon me, were lustreless and hollow. (140) Later, Theodore asks this animated corpse, “What disturbs thy sleep? Why dost thou afflict and torture this youth? How can rest be restored to thy unquiet spirit?” (149). She tells him that her “bones lie still unburied,” and that once they are buried, she will “trouble this world no more” (150).17 Dead characters can also be found in Jonathan Swift’s Menippean satire Gulliver’s Travels (1726, amended 1735). However, they serve radically different purposes than the ones in the Breton lai, the revenge tragedy, or the Gothic novel. In Part III of Swift’s satire, Lemuel Gulliver travels to the island of Glubbdubdrib, where the Governor is miraculously capable of reawakening the dead. The narrator thus encounters “Spectres,” “Ghosts,” and “Spirits,” and he can even tell the Governor which dead person he would like to talk to (181–82). Hence, Gulliver meets “Alexander the Great,” “Hannibal,” “Caesar,” “Pompey,” “Brutus,” “Homer,” “Aristotle,” “Descartes,” “Gassendi,” and some of the “modern Dead” (182–84; italics in original). In contrast to the ghosts in other genres, the dead characters in Gulliver’s Travels can be seen in the context of the novel’s satirical critique of human nature and the idea of perfectibility.18 More specifically, the reawakening of the dead serves to accentuate the discrepancy between the ideas of “the ancient Learned” and the depravity of the leaders of the past “two or three hundred Years” (184), which the narrator explicates as follows: I found how the World had been misled by prostitute Writers, to ascribe the greatest Exploits in War to Cowards, the Wisest Counsel to Fools, Sincerity to Flatterers, Roman Virtue to Betrayers of their Country, Piety to Atheists, Chastity to Sodomites, Truth to Informers. (185; italics in original) What might the status of the dead be in our future lives? In Philip K. Dick’s science-fiction novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), for instance, the character of Wilbur Mercer creates “a time-reversal faculty by which the dead returned to life,” which is then, however, prohibited by local law (24). Similarly, in the futuristic world of David Brin’s science-fiction novel Kiln People (2002), people can create duplicates (“dittos” or “golems”) of themselves, and if the original dies, the ditto continues to exist as a (technologically manufactured) ghost that has its own will. One of these techno-ghosts (the so-called Maharal ghost) gets out of hand, and tries to give itself godlike power, which urges us to consider the consequences of technological progress. In science-fiction narratives, the idea of reawakening the dead primarily has to do with the question of whether the new technologies that enable us to do so are beneficial or detrimental to the further development of humankind.

Concluding Remarks As I have shown, dead characters proliferate throughout English literary history. However, these figures differ regarding both their functioning and their functions. To begin with, even though postmodernist narratives (such as Beckett’s “The Calmative,” Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, and Pinter’s Family Voices) contain dead characters that speak from the grave or from heaven, the dead are not usually visited by the living or the other way around. Earlier narratives, by contrast, typically represent such visits and thus involve different degrees of blending between 48

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life and death. For instance, characters that are still alive may enter the world of the dead (as in Sir Orfeo), or the dead may return to the living (as in revenge tragedies, Gothic novels, Gulliver’s Travels, and science-fiction narratives), in which case the question of who sees or interacts with them becomes pertinent. Moreover, whereas many postmodernist narratives use dead characters to explore the idea of life-in-death (i.e., the question of whether humankind can be argued to be dead in a metaphorical sense), the speaking corpses in earlier narratives serve a wider variety of purposes. Many pre-postmodernist narratives explore the phenomenon of death from the vantage point of the dead: whereas the central protagonist in the medieval romance Sir Orfeo ultimately manages to bridge the ontological chasm between life and death and even wins his dead wife back through his love, the ghosts in Renaissance revenge tragedies and later Gothic novels typically return to the world of the living because they seek to right a wrong that either happened to them when they were still alive or has to do with their burial. The reawakening of the learned dead characters in Gulliver’s Travels, by contrast, serves to ridicule the discrepancy between ideas of the past and the depravity of the present. Science-fiction novels project speculative future worlds in which death may be overcome by technological progress. The evocation of generic conventions usually helps us as readers determine the potential meanings of dead characters. For instance, we can explain the ghosts in Sir Orfeo by looking at the conventions of Breton lais (a certain type of romance). In these cases, supernatural forces typically impinge on private matters such as the central protagonist’s “dedicated pursuit of a lady’s love” or his “courtly manners” (i.e., his code of chivalry; Mikics 55). Indeed, the supernatural fairies test Sir Orfeo’s loyalty and truthfulness. In this context, Northrop Frye points out that the hero of romance moves in a world in which the ordinary laws of nature are slightly suspended: prodigies of courage and endurance, unnatural to us, are natural to him, and enchanted weapons, talking animals, terrifying ogres and witches, and talismans of miraculous power violate no rule of probability once the postulates of romance have been established. (31) Revenge tragedies, which flourished during the Renaissance, also contain one supernatural creature: the ghost. According to Eugene D. Hill, revenge tragedies are “built upon a handful of motifs (ghosts, madness, delay, horrible killings)” which are derived “from its ancient progenitor, the Roman tragic poet Seneca” (327). These ghosts return from the next world because they have unfinished business in this world and seek to right a wrong, or, as Thomas Rist puts it, the ghosts fear being forgotten, while remembrance in this world literally affects the dead (14). The major purpose of ghosts in the Gothic novel is to evoke feelings of fear and awe. Furthermore, in his “Preface to the Second Edition” (1765) of The Castle of Otranto, Horace Walpole states that realist modes of representation had come to dominate the writing of novels in the eighteenth century: “the great resources of fancy have been damned up, by a strict adherence to common life” (21; my italics). He therefore composed what he calls “a new species of romance” (25) and describes the ideas behind it as follows: Desirous of leaving the powers of fancy at liberty to expatiate through the boundless realms of invention, and thence of creating more interesting situations, he [the author of the novel] wished to conduct the mortal agents in his drama according to the rules of probability; in short, to make them think, speak, and act, as it might be supposed mere men and women would do in extraordinary positions. (21) 49

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The dead characters in Gulliver’s Travels are not supernatural but can be explained in the context of the conventions of the Menippean satire, which is “stylized rather than naturalistic” and involves a combination of “fantasy and morality” (Frye 289–90). Swift’s satire mocks and ridicules the brutishness of humans as well as the depravity of the leaders of the past two hundred years (through the learned dead characters the narrator encounters). The use of these figures is hardly surprising because, as Mikhail Bakhtin points out, the Menippean satire is “not fettered by any demands for an external verisimilitude to life” and instead engages in the “bold and unrestrained use of the fantastic” that leads to “extraordinary situations.” Furthermore, he defines this type of satire in terms of its “experimental fantasticality” (114; italics in original). Science-fiction novels, finally, also contain dead characters that we can make sense of by assuming that they might exist through discoveries or technological developments at some point in the future. To put this point slightly differently, the dead figures in science-fiction novels primarily have to do with futurist extrapolations concerning the consequences of technological innovation. Like romances, science-fiction novels are dominated by forces of good and evil; the difference is only that these forces are no longer supernatural but rather inhere in new technologies (or sometimes aliens). Similarly, Brian Stableford points out that science fiction is a special case, in that its dealings with impossibility are restrained by a real or pretended determination to feature ideas and events that, although presently impossible in the actual world, might be possible if circumstances were to change in the future according to a possible pattern of development. (245) To summarize: dead characters are a mind-boggling phenomenon that exists in many different types of narratives from the Middle Ages up through postmodernism. This proliferation suggests that dead characters serve important human needs; otherwise there would not be so many examples. In this chapter, I have tried to elicit some of their potential functions. A next step could be to compare these functions with those of dead characters in other generic or cultural contexts.

Notes 1 According to David Herman, narratives evoke worlds in which something happens. In addition, these worlds are populated by characters that undergo certain experiences (14). 2 A literary genre is constituted by an operative principle or shared convention (Todorov 3) and can be seen as “a matter of discrimination and taxonomy: of organising things into recognizable classes” (Frow 51). 3 Dead character-narrators proliferate in postmodernist fiction: the narrators of Flann O’Brien’s novel The Third Policeman (1967), Vladimir Nabokov’s short story “Terra Incognita” (1968), Nabokov’s novel Transparent Things (1972), Robertson Davies’s novel Murther and Walking Spirits (1991), Percival Everett’s novel American Desert (2004), and one of the narrators of Orhan Pamuk’s novel My Name Is Red (2001) are also dead. Furthermore, the narrator of “Past,” the first section of Ali Smith’s novel Hotel World (2001), is the ghost of a chambermaid who had fallen into a food elevator; Destiny and Desire (2011) by Carlos Fuentes is narrated by the severed head of Josué Nadal, a young attorney. Other dead characters are M, W1, and W2 in Samuel Beckett’s play Play (1963), most of the figures in Muriel Spark’s novel The Hothouse by the East River (1973), Brian in Caryl Churchill’s play Cloud Nine (1979), Walter Rathenau in Thomas Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), the father in Harold Pinter’s radio play Family Voices (1981), the characters who had been killed by Francis Phelan in William Kennedy’s novel Ironweed (1983), the dead child in Caryl Churchill’s play The Skriker (1994), Ian in Sarah Kane’s play Blasted (1995) and Graham in Cleansed (1998). 4 “The Calmative” and The Lovely Bones are postmodernist in the sense of Brian McHale (10).

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Dead Narrators and Characters 5 The genre of the romance developed in France during the 1100s as “a species of magical narrative” (Heng 4) which focuses on the chivalric values of the aristocracy and involves supernatural phenomena such as dragons, wizards, and magic spells. Similarly, Douglas Kelly defines the romance as “a record of marvel and the adventure or adventures it generates” (189). 6 According to the online Oxford English Dictionary, fairies are “one of a class of supernatural beings of diminutive size, in popular belief supposed to possess magical powers and to have great influence for good or evil over the affairs of man.” 7 The modern English translation reads as follows: “For some there stood who had no head, /and some no arms, nor feet; some bled/and through their bodies wounds were set, /and some were strangled as they ate, /and some lay raving, chained and bound, /and some in water had been drowned; /and some were withered in the fire, /and some on horse, in war’s attire. /And wives there lay in their childbed, /and mad were some, and some were dead; and passing many there lay beside/as though they slept at quiet noon-tide. /Thus in the world was each one caught/and thither by fairy magic brought” (Tolkien 125, ll. 391–404). 8 Similarly, in Walter Map’s twelfth-century narrative De Nugis Curialium, a knight is said “to have buried his wife, who was really dead, and to have recovered her by snatching her out of a dance, and after that to have got sons and grandsons by her” (Map 161). 9 Other important features of revenge tragedies are the extensive use of soliloquy, madness, hesitation, delay, the play-within-a play, and a climax of bloodshed (Hill 327). 10 See Anthony Low (450–51) for a detailed discussion, including a reference to the Anglican Church’s Book of Common Prayer (1549). 11 As Ed Eleazar has shown, in medieval visions of the afterlife such as The Gast of Gy (1380) and A Revelation of Purgatory (1422), “a dead person” also “returns to the living to describe exactly what they are experiencing in the afterlife.” The primary purpose here seems to be to encourage “prayers for the dead” (386–87). 12 Because the ghost of Hamlet’s father is also seen by Marcellus, Barnardo, and Horatio (151–53, 1.1. 39–50), the ghost is not an illusion or hallucination but an objective constituent of the storyworld. 13 In De Nugis Curialium, Walter Map mentions various returns of the dead that seem to come from purgatory as well. In these cases, the major problem also seems to be that their souls do not find peace because they have died “unchristianly” (203, 205). Hence, “the Lord has given power to the evil angel of that lost soul to move about in the dead corpse” (203). 14 Shakespeare’s contemporary Denmark was Lutheran, but the play might be set in some past before the Reformation, and it is also worth noting that King Hamlet is clearly Catholic. 15 Alfonso’s ghost kills Conrad because he is the great grandson of Ricardo, the usurper. The huge ghost of Alfonso haunts the castle, at least partly, in a suit of armor: at a later stage, a “gigantic sword” suddenly falls “to the ground opposite to the helmet” (67), and an incredibly huge “hand in armour” is spotted (97). 16 These discussions seem to reflect upon the idea that purgatory is located between heaven and hell, but closer to hell (Eleazar 379). St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, argued that “it is probable, […] and more in keeping with the statements of holy men and the revelations made to many, that […] the place of Purgatory is situated below and in proximity to hell, so that it is the same fire which torments the damned in hell and cleanses the just in Purgatory” (quoted in Joseph 497). 17 St. Thomas Aquinas also states that “according to the disposition of Divine providence separated souls sometimes come forth from their abode and appear to men, […] as those who are detained in purgatory […]. [It would not] be befitting for them to leave their abode for any purpose other than to take part in the affairs of the living” (quoted in Joseph 499). 18 Lemuel Gulliver, the first-person narrator, does not really learn anything from his encounters, and at the end of the novel, he is completely alienated from his family (Swift 266). J. Paul Hunter also argues that “the human refusal or inability to learn anything from past experiences is a central issue for Swift” (224).

Works Cited Bakhtin, Mikhail. Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, edited and translated by Caryl Emerson. U of Minnesota P, 1984. Beckett, Samuel. “The Calmative.” 1954. Four Novellas. Calder, 1977, pp. 51–68.

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Jan Alber Brin, David. Kiln People. Tor Books, 2002. Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? 1968. Del Rey, 1996. Eleazar, Ed. “Visions of the Afterlife.” A Companion to Old and Middle English Literature, edited by Laura Cooner Lambdin and Robert Thomas Lambdin, Greenwood P, 2002, pp. 376–397. Fletcher, Alan J. “Sir Orfeo and the Flight from the Enchanters.” Studies in the Age of Chaucer: The Yearbook of the New Chaucer Society, vol. 22, 2000, pp. 141–177. Frow, John. Genre. Routledge, 2006. Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. 1957, edited by Robert D. Denham. U of Toronto P, 2006. Genette, Gérard. Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method. 1972, translated by Jane E. Lewin. Cornell UP, 1980. Heng, Geraldine. Empire of Magic: Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Fantasy. Columbia UP, 2003. Herman, David. Basic Elements of Narrative. Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. Hill, Eugene D. “Revenge Tragedy.” A Companion to Renaissance Drama, edited by Arthur F. Kinney. Blackwell, 2002, pp. 326–335. Hunter, J. Paul. “Gulliver’s Travels and the Later Writings.” The Cambridge Companion to Jonathan Swift, edited by Christopher Fox, Cambridge UP, 2003, pp. 216–240. Joseph, Miriam. “Discerning the Ghost in Hamlet.” PMLA, vol. 76, no. 5, 1961, pp. 493–502. Kelly, Douglas. The Art of Medieval French Romance. U of Wisconsin P, 1992. Kyd, Thomas. The Spanish Tragedy, edited by J. R. Mulryne. Hill and Wang, 1970. Laskaya, Anne, and Eve Salisbury. “Sir Orfeo.” The Middle English Breton Lays, edited by Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury. Western Michigan U, 1995, pp. 15–59. Le Goff, Jacques. The Birth of Purgatory. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. U of Chicago P, 1984. Lewis, Matthew. The Monk: A Romance. 1796, edited by Christopher MacLachlan, Penguin, 1998. Low, Anthony. “Hamlet and the Ghost of Purgatory: Intimations of Killing the Father.” English Literary Renaissance, vol. 29, no. 3, 1999, pp. 443–467. Map, Walter. De Nugis Curialium: Courtiers’ Trifles, edited and translated by M. R. James, Clarendon P, 1983. McHale, Brian. Postmodernist Fiction. Methuen & Co. Ltd, 1987. Mikics, David. A New Handbook of Literary Terms. Yale UP, 2007. Nieuwland, Mante S., and Jos J. A. van Berkum. “When Peanuts Fall in Love: N400 Evidence for the Power of Discourse.” Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, vol. 18, no. 7, 2006, pp. 1098–1111. Olson, Greta. “Introducing Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones.” Twenty-First Century Fiction: Readings, Essays, Conversations, edited by Christoph Ribbat. Winter, 2005, pp. 137–147. Phelan, James. Living to Tell about It: A Rhetoric and Ethics of Character Narration. Cornell UP, 2005. Pinter, Harold. “Family Voices.” Pinter Plays: Four. Methuen, 1981, pp. 279–296. Rist, Thomas. Revenge Tragedy and the Drama of Commemoration in Reforming England. Ashgate, 2008. Saunders, Corinne. Magic and the Supernatural in Medieval English Romance. D.S. Brewer, 2010. Schweitzer, Darrell. “Ghosts and Hauntings.” The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works, and Wonders, edited by Gary Westfahl. Greenwood P, 2005, pp. 338–340. Sebold, Alice. The Lovely Bones. Little, Brown, 2002. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Edited by Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor. Arden, 2006. Stableford, Brian M. Science Fact and Science Fiction: An Encyclopedia. Routledge, 2006. Stanzel, Franz Karl. A Theory of Narrative. 1979, translated by Charlotte Goedsche, with a Preface by Paul Hernadi. Cambridge UP, 1984. Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. 1726, 1735, edited with Introduction and Notes by Robert Demaria. Penguin, 2003. Todorov, Tzvetan. The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, translated by Richard Howard. P of Case Western Reserve U, 1973. Tolkien, J. R. R. Sir Gawain & the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo. 1975, edited by Christopher Tolkien, translated by J. R. R. Tolkien. Unwin, 1986. Turner, Mark. “The Cognitive Study of Art, Language, and Literature.” Poetics Today, vol. 23, no. 1, 2002, pp. 9–20. Turner, Mark. “Double-Scope Stories.” Narrative Theory and the Cognitive Sciences, edited by David Herman. CSLI, 2003, pp. 117–142. Turner, Mark. The Literary Mind. Oxford UP, 1996. Walpole, Horace. The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story. 1764. 2nd ed. Dover, 1966. Zunshine, Lisa. Strange Concepts and the Stories They Make Possible. Johns Hopkins UP, 2008.

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5 LITERATURE AND THE AFTERLIFE Alice Bennett

The literary afterlife is a genre in which a place and time after death are imagined and peopled with dead characters. Place it against the modern elegy, ghost story, or even zombie apocalypse, and the modern literary afterlife seems very much a minor literary form. Nevertheless, the afterlife has inspired a great range of writing and, historically, has served as one of the primary locations for the fantastic or supernatural in literature, from the Classical to the medieval period. Epic poetry about purgatory, myths of descent into the underworld, stories of reincarnation, dream visions of paradise: all these represent a diverse tradition of writing across thousands of years. Classical descent narratives and medieval visionary literature have been the subject of centuries of careful scholarly reading and explication. There is also a considerable body of work on the broader cultural history of belief in life after death which understands representations of the afterlife through the lens of religious studies or the historical study of religion, such as the work of Philip C. Almond (2016), Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang (2001), and Jacques Le Goff (1981). Modern literary afterlives which appear from the late nineteenth-century onwards have often returned to and reworked the descent narrative’s katabasis in fiction (Falconer 2005) and the underworld encounter with the dead, the nekuia, in poetry (Thurston 2009). The prevalence of afterlives in modern fiction can also be understood as a way of side-stepping literary realism and experimenting with narrative form (Bennett 2012). The range of modern afterlives is extraordinary, and it is worth emphasizing the size of this potential corpus. A truly comprehensive account of modern afterlives would range across different media, perhaps taking in examples as diverse as Jake and Dinos Chapman’s installation Fucking Hell (2008), the TV show The Good Place (2016–2020), or the film What Dreams May Come (1998), adapted from an earlier novel by Richard Matheson. Literary afterlives have a great diversity in themselves, and the category must be expansive enough to include the comic short stories of John Kendrick Bangs’s The Houseboat on the Styx (1895) and its sequels; the epitaph-poems of Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology (1915); Jean-Paul Sartre’s play Huis Clos (1944); and Alice Notley’s epic poem The Descent of Alette (1998).1 By numbers, though, it is the novel that has become the primary medium for the modern afterlife. Within this smaller group, the range is still remarkable, from Flann O’Brien’s satire of modern physics, The Third Policeman (1967), to D. M. Thomas’s reworking of the Holocaust memoir and Freudian case study in The White Hotel (1981); J. M. Coetzee’s philosophical novel Elizabeth Costello (1999); 53

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Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones (2002), with its delicate balance between sentimentality and brutality; or the body horror of Chuck Palahniuk’s Damned (2011). It would also be a mistake to think of afterlives as emerging primarily from a white, Western, postsecular context, when the diversity of religious, cultural, and literary heritages represented in the literature of afterlives is extremely broad, and the history of the genre is criss-crossed with the legacies of imperialism, cross-cultural exchange, and appropriation. This cultural and linguistic diversity is exemplified in novels such as Orhan Pamuk’s My Name Is Red (1998), Amy Tan’s Saving Fish from Drowning (2005), Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard (1953), or Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s Cré na Cille (1949), which was only recently translated into English (as The Dirty Dust) in 2015. One way of explaining this increasing multitude of afterlives is as a consequence of increased secularism. Falconer, who gives an account of the prevalent metaphor of the descent into hell and back, suggests that this “katabatic imagination” blossomed in an atmosphere of declining religious belief in the twentieth century (13–14). Moreover, there is evidence that the literature of the latter part of the twentieth century and the early part of the twenty-first century can be understood as undertaking a productive dialogue with strands of increasing atheism and secularism and new structures of post-religious belief, creating new genres of writing in the process (Tate and Bradley 2010). Drawing on hermeneutic frameworks from religious studies, afterlives could therefore be understood as responses to the uncertain place of belief in modern life. One of the most significant features of all literary afterlives, however, is their intertextuality. As Michael Thurston describes it, the descent narrative in particular offers an exemplary lineage of borrowings and allusive repetition: Odysseus’s encounter with the shade of Tiresias becomes Aeneas’s meeting with his father, Anchises, in Vergil’s Aeneid. Aeneas’s trip to classical Underworld becomes Dante’s descent into a medieval Christian’s Hell in Inferno. Dante’s Inferno is echoed by Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost. Milton in turn provides a backdrop for William Blake in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. (2) As the traditions of afterlives become more complex, so too does this thickly intertextual history. For example, Will Self ’s novel How the Dead Live (2000) began life as a short story called “The North London Book of the Dead,” alluding to The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and the later novel was framed by endpaper maps that recall the world of C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series (which, of course, ends in a version of heaven). Laura Lindstedt’s Oneiron (2017), in contrast, establishes its afterlife through sustained references to the work of Emmanuel Swedenborg; in an audacious gesture, Alasdair Gray’s Lanark (1981) employs a catalogue of its own “plagiarisms” to set up the book’s intertextual relationship with posthumous narratives including The Childermass by Wyndham Lewis (1928) and William Golding’s Pincher Martin (1956). Modern literary afterlives are therefore not necessarily in dialogue with the complexities of religious tradition and belief, but instead with literary forebears that have a common set of techniques and preoccupations. For instance, a common set of tropes emerges from this tradition, including an interest in famous dead people,2 and the recurrence of hotels,3 bureaucracy,4 and significant groupings of people.5 Moreover, a set of literary techniques for representing spaces and locations, the distorted time of eternity or reincarnation, and the narrative voices of the dead has emerged from the genre. I am not, therefore, convinced that a framework from the cultural study of religion wholly accounts for the extensive intertextuality, literary techniques, and genre tropes that are common to afterlives. Rather than treating afterlives as a manifestation of a historical or cultural moment, 54

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this chapter instead traces some techniques that are common to the modern afterlife as the newest form of a trans-historical genre. What follows in this chapter takes George Saunders’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel, Lincoln in the Bardo (2017), as an example of a widely acclaimed literary afterlife from the contemporary moment and establishes a reading of the novel that foregrounds its genre elements. I read Lincoln in the Bardo as an afterlife to show how the book uses that genre’s (often very unconventional) conventions for handling voice, space, and time and to identify some of the ways in which the study of individual afterlives within their genre positioning can be generative and necessary.

Space: “Radical Theming” Lincoln in the Bardo is set in the cemetery where Willie Lincoln is buried and where the president visits his dead son’s body after the boy’s death. The historical setting is a jarring departure from the scenes of contemporary or near-future life that preoccupied Saunders in his earlier short stories. Saunders’s familiar settings (the workplace, the high school, the apartment complex, the amusement park) are, however, more similar to the cemetery than they might seem at first glance; as Hari Kunzru noted in a review of the book, characters are “trapped in a space that is fundamentally inauthentic and unreal, much like a theme park.” Saunders’s theme parks, particularly the caveman exhibit in “Pastoralia” and CivilWarLand in the title story of that collection, have been read as manifestations of a Baudrillardian postmodernism – an interpretation that also seems to surface in Kunzru’s identification of the “inauthentic” nature of the theme park (Pogell). Another way of thinking about a theme park, more useful in the context of the afterlife, is as an entirely planned space in which everything is meaningful. Saunders’s notes on “elaborate Theming” in a piece he wrote for GQ about hotels in Dubai also give more weight to the affinity between the theme park and the destinations of eternity: “In the belly of radical Theming,” he writes, “my first response was to want to stay forever” (“The New Mecca” 24). Moreover, some of Saunders’s earlier short stories bring together ghosts and theme parks in configurations that reimagine both the supernatural elements of the ghost story and the artificial space of the theme park (del George). A proposition, then: we should theorize the afterlife as a manifestation of the same creative impulses as the theme park. Afterlives have the same elements of scrupulous internal logic, organization, and legible order as theme parks. As a literary setting, the afterlife demands total poetic justice through a system of apt allegorical or symbolic structures. The spaces of Dante’s Divine Comedy are the archetype of this ideal setting, in which morality is mapped directly onto geography and the specific experience of every one of the dead is metaphorically resonant through the process of contrapasso, by which the punishment fits the crime. The Divine Comedy should be understood as the influence that presides over modern afterlives’ interest in processes of mapping, and of designing and assigning appropriate spaces, and in spatial form as an aesthetic quality. When, for instance, Robertson Davies makes his afterlife a film festival in Murther and Walking Spirits (1991), or Muriel Spark (a doyenne of closed communities, from schools to boarding houses to convents) makes her afterlife a small set of locations in New York City in Hothouse by the East River (1973), these settings themselves become powerfully allegorical. A setting in which the highest imperative is that everything should be meaningful, rather than a mimetic attempt to recreate the contingency and superfluity of real life, is one of the consistent features of afterlives. Saunders’s setting of the cemetery, with its clearly defined perimeter (an iron fence that horrifies the inhabitants and creates a limit to their created world), full of the objects they 55

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call sick-boxes and sick-houses – their coffins and crypts – invites a layer of allegorical decoding as to their real situation underneath. The way in which the aptness of the contrapasso appears in Saunders’s novel most clearly, however, is through the visual forms taken by the spirits in the cemetery. The novel opens by introducing Bevins and Vollman, the two men who will take on guardianship of Willie in the afterlife. Bevins, a regretful suicide suddenly alive to the sensory beauty of the physical world, takes on a physical form sprouting with multiple eyes and noses and hands with “[s]lashes on every one of the wrists” (27). Vollman, who died just as his relationship with his younger wife was about to gain a new sexual intimacy, appears to Willie with an enormous bobbing penis. The bardo imagined in Saunders’s Oak Hill cemetery can therefore be understood as a form of “radical Theming” which reflects the generic tradition of afterlives that create settings crammed with aptly symbolic meaning.

Time: “The Great Mother-Gift” Drawing on the template of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Saunders’s bardo is a place whose inhabitants must shed their illusions (principally the belief that they are still living and are only temporarily housed in “sick-boxes” while they recover) before they can pass out of the bardo and into whatever comes next. The bardo, in Tibetan Buddhism, is the transitory interval between lives. The whole novel therefore takes place in the interlude between the end of the story for Willie’s body and the end of the story for his spirit, which spends the duration of the plot in the cemetery amongst other souls that cling to existence before eventually breaking loose in a burst of energy the characters name the “matterlightblooming phenomenon.” Saunders’s bardo implies some more permanently eternal afterlife after its intermission, but this is left rather unresolved in the book. We hear a report from one of the characters, the Reverend Everly Thomas, of what he witnessed of judgment, heaven, and hell, but the novel suggests this might simply have been a manifestation of his own fears of damnation (186–95). Moreover, anyone who gets swept up in the plot of Saunders’s novel must find the Reverend wrong in his assessment that “there is nothing to do, in this place where no action can matter” (194). The bardo in which the story plays out therefore allows for a supplement to life, which is effectively a period in which narrative can still function and where characters can still change and take action. Unlike eternity, then, the bardo allows for stories. Willie’s interval in the Oak Hill cemetery is therefore the caesura in which the whole action of the book takes place and stems from his decision to remain after death and wait for his father; as he says in his first words to the other spirits in the graveyard, “I feel I am to wait” (29). It eventually becomes clear that the mechanics of Saunders’s afterlife are such that it is particularly dangerous for children to tarry too long in the bardo. Willie’s lingering in the cemetery, arrested by a desire to see his father again, is the peril that gives the narrative its forward trajectory, as the other spirits must persuade him to loosen his attachments and leave – to give up the ghost – and the clock is ticking. Another child-spirit lingering in the cemetery, Elise Traynor, serves as both a caution for Willie and a vehicle allowing his posthumous caretakers, Bevins and Vollman, to depart from the bardo in an act of heroic self-sacrifice. Elise introduces herself with another nod to temporal disorder: “I was too early departed. From that party, from that/Brite promise of nights and nights of that” (38). Elise, “too early departed,” has become trapped in a tortuous, shape-shifting carapace – now a furnace, a vulture, a dog, a hag, a flooded cornfield, and finally a burning trainwreck – from which Vollman and Bevins liberate her in an act of self-sacrifice that also ends their tenure in the bardo in the burst of energy of the “matterlightblooming phenomenon.” 56

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Saunders’s afterlife therefore creates a temporal structure that inevitably foregrounds the incompleteness or interruption of lived lives. The “matterlightblooming phenomenon” that accompanies the spirits’ passage out of the bardo is most distinctively a burst of temporal energy that summons up both the past and the future. As Willie vanishes, for example, he begins “flickering between the various selves he had been in that previous place,” from newborn baby through childhood and then on to “various future-forms” in the last moments before he vanishes (299). The same effect occurs for both Bevins and Vollman at the end of the book (328–29, 333). This unfurling temporal mirage of perfected futures – full of love and happiness and old age – is a form of consolatory fiction that associates literature itself with an imaginary that has the reparative power to complete stories that have ended too soon. Fiction can therefore set right death’s severing temporality by offering a posthumous supplement to a life “too early departed.” After Vollman and Bevins blaze out in the burst of time that is the “matterlightblooming phenomenon,” those who remain in the cemetery consider that what is left to them is nothing more than time itself: And discover, in those first moments of restored movement, that we had again been granted the great mother-gift: robert g. twistings Time. lance durning More time. percival “dash” collier (339) The supplementary temporal interval is therefore the rubric under which Saunders’s bardo operates. And the storytelling imaginary is exactly what offers the “great mother-gift” of “more time” to lives that ended too early. The need for “more time” is equally relevant to the storyteller’s version of death: endings. In Peter Brooks’s summary of this narrative preoccupation, “narrative has something to do with time-boundedness, and […] plot is the internal logic of the discourse of mortality” (22). In an essay on Donald Barthelme’s story “The School” (a story in which both death and endings are very prominent), Saunders asks, “[T]he million-dollar question for any of us who has ever tried to complete a short story: When constitutes a sufficient ending?” (“ ‘The Perfect Gerbil’ ” 180). Creating an ending that feels satisfying or meaningful or appropriate is the challenge that art sets for itself precisely because life – by which I mean the whole of a lived life – does not afford “sufficient” meaning. Play with interrupted or disrupted time could also be understood as a hallmark of most dealings with the afterlife in literature: consider the comment of the narrator of Martin Amis’s Holocaust novel, Time’s Arrow (1991), who finds himself witnessing a life’s atrocities in reverse, after arriving to narrate the story “at the wrong time – either too soon, or after it was all too late” (173). Narrative, which must depict events and create meaning through their ordering and emplotment, can be understood as a tool for setting right the chaos of life with an imaginary afterlife that can offer a “sufficient” ending.

Voice: “The Result Was Cacophony” Lincoln in the Bardo is narrated, famously, in different voices, some cited from historical accounts of Lincoln’s life, some ascribed to the dead characters who haunt the Oak Hill cemetery, and some that appear to be cited from existing works of scholarship or first-hand historical accounts but were really invented by Saunders, such as the citations from “The Prairie Torment: 57

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Lincoln’s Psychology” by James Spicer or “The Villain Lincoln” by R. B. Arnolds. In the sections involving the dead characters, the effect of the book is of the orchestration of many voices – an experience that is given a pointed meaning in the scene in which Lincoln waits in the cemetery and the spirits throng around him, desperate to speak (214–24). More compelled to speak than to be heard, these voices threaten to lose all meaning: They had abandoned any pretext of speaking one at a time, many calling out desperately from where they stood, others darting brazenly up to the door to shout their story in. roger bevins iii The result was cacophony. the reverend everly thomas (205) Voice therefore becomes the prime material of the novel, as the book uses its mixture of first-hand historical accounts and more-or-less overtly fictitious narrative voices to question the place of narrative voice in fiction: first by troubling the idea that narrative voice is based on natural speech, second by questioning the assumption that readers access that voice through a natural process of listening (or even reading) rather than an uncanny sort of mind-reading. To take the first example, some of the novel’s strangest moments arise when Bevins and Willie narrate right through their final moments of life, in passages full of extraordinary, high-concept narrative styling. Willie’s joyful plunge out of the material world, for instance, destabilizes his narrating “I” in the process: I am Willie I am Willie Am not Willie Not willie but somehow Less More

I am even yet

[…] Whatever that former fellow (Willie) had, must now be given back (is given back gladly) as it never was mine (never his) and therefore is not being taken away, not at all! As I (who was willie but is no longer (merely) of willie) return To such beauty. (301) Bevins’s final moments, in contrast, are a lyrically beautiful farewell to the material world: “Loon-call in the dark; calf-cramp in the spring; neck-rub in the parlor; milk-sip at end of day” (353). Bevins’s final valediction addresses the logical impossibility of his own firstperson voicing of thoughts and experiences with some explanation of the mechanics of the characters’ narration: I send this out to you, dear friends, before I go, in this instantaneous thoughtburst, from a place where time slows and then stops and we may live forever in a single instant. Goodbye goodbye good – (335)

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A thought-burst straight from just before eternity, Bevins’s narrative eschews any association with natural modes of storytelling such as the written autobiography or oral account. To use Brian Richardson’s narratological category, the voices of the dead in Saunders’s book are overtly “unnatural” voices; they speak in ways that only supernatural creatures or literary fictions can. Posthumous narration, a subcategory of unnatural voices, is a common feature of modern afterlives. When, for instance, in Dante, we hear the words of Guido, contained within a perpetual flame, his voice is contained in and reported by an ostensibly living voice – the speaker-Dante’s. In contrast, the twentieth century’s afterlives demonstrate an intensifying preoccupation with handing over the telling of a story entirely to dead characters. This begins with dramas, such as Sartre’s Huis Clos, in which all the characters are dead, or Wyndham Lewis’s The Human Age, which was written initially as a radio play for a cast of dead characters. By the end of the twentieth century, the dead voice proliferates. Not all dead voices come from afterlives, though: in novels such as The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas (1881) by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, Vladimir Nabokov’s Transparent Things (1972), Gilbert Adair’s The Death of the Author (1992), Neil Jordan’s Shade (2004), or even Addie Bundren’s debatably posthumous chapter of As I Lay Dying (1930), the story told is life from the vantage point of death – perhaps best illuminated by the term “autothanatography” (Derrida): self-death-writing – rather than dead narration of the afterlife. The dead narrator, telling the story of their own life and posthumous existence, appears in examples such as Susanna Moore’s In the Cut (1995), Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad (2005), and Ali Smith’s Hotel World (2001), all of which, in common with Saunders’s book, employ the motif of dead narrators’ disappearing voices as they speak themselves out of existence. Bevins’s appeal to telepathy – “this instantaneous thought-burst” – also hews closely to the nineteenth century’s fascination with new telecommunications technology as a means of contacting the dead, underscored by his awed mention of the telegraph, the device “invented for distant communication” (174). As Nicholas Royle has argued, one of the ways of understanding some of the odder conventions of literary narration is through a paradigm of telepathy, rather than the metaphor of omniscience that is usually invoked to explain extradiegetic narration. Telepathy, and particularly the image of “mind-reading,” is the analogy that Saunders uses most often to imagine his characters’ strange powers of perception. Willie, for instance, tries to read his father’s thoughts, only to discover that “Father’s mind was blank blankblankblank” (207). In his essay “The Brain-Dead Megaphone,” Saunders imagines the difference between a person living in the year 1200 and himself, noting that in the present day we “mentally converse with […] people from far away, who’ve arrived in the mind, with various agendas, via high-tech sources” (2). Moreover, reading itself, Saunders notes, is one of those sources of voices arriving in the mind: “as you read this (sorry, sorry) I am become one of them” (2). Reading is therefore a strange and estranging activity in which voices arrive in the mind in completely unnatural ways. To achieve an end to their stories, the graveyard spirits must also bring Lincoln himself to some finally conclusive transformation, not only in being able to lay his son to rest but also about his understanding of the future strategy for the Civil War. In a denouement that involves a throng of ghosts passing into Lincoln’s body and communicating with him telepathically, the president makes the decision to fight the war with renewed vigor in the hope that other parents will not have to survive their sons. Crucially, the spirit of Thomas Havens – an African American man who spent his life in slavery and was thrown into a mass grave after his death – lingers with Lincoln even after the cemetery’s other inhabitants have passed on and through him. In this turn of the plot, the novel implies that it’s this graveyard moment 59

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that has awoken Lincoln’s conscience and understanding of the humanity of Black Americans. Narrated by Havens, the account of Lincoln’s response to ghostly possession is associated as decisively with reading as with mind-reading: He was an open book. An opening book. That had just been opened up somewhat wider. By sorrow. And – by us. By all of us, black and white, who had so recently mass inhabited him. He had not, it seemed, gone unaffected by that event. (312) This is a literary moment that makes use of the distinctive narrative techniques for mindreading. The revelation that Lincoln undergoes – an opening up of the self to other minds and other experiences – is therefore exactly the kind of empathetic opening-out to the other that literature is very fond of claiming for itself. The reader’s experience of the spirits’ voices as they pass through Lincoln is the equivalent of his experience, and reading makes readers “an open book” to other voices. One reason for the novel’s appeal in 2017, of course, was this representation of reading as a way of healing a divided American nation through an oversimplistic, if hopeful, ideal of humane communication. Nevertheless, it is clear that Saunders’s historical setting – in an afterlife that is rooted in a particular moment and which is understood to speak to the political moment of the present day – is one of its most innovative features when the novel is compared with other afterlives.

Genre as Afterlife Considered as a body of literature, modern afterlives demonstrate a set of common preoccupations and techniques, particularly in their treatment of time, space, and voice. Taken as individual examples, however, they reveal specific approaches and concerns that show the genre conventions of afterlives being used for distinct purposes. In Lincoln in the Bardo’s use of the trope of the dead narrator, it is possible to see a genre convention being turned and reshaped for a very particular political purpose. Recognition of this gesture relies on a knowledge of the genre’s conventions, and therefore serves as a good example in defense of reading the afterlife as a genre. This chapter’s catalogue of examples has been assembled in the service of the future scholarship which I hope will attend more to this ever-growing corpus of material. As this index of allusion and intertextuality has demonstrated, afterlives exist in the modern literary imagination with an awareness of their own status relative to literary afterlives of the past. It is therefore useful to understand the modern afterlife as part of a genre history that revels in its status as supplementary to an older and perhaps more dogmatic tradition of afterlife writing. We might therefore say that modern afterlives effectively occupy the position of their own posthumousness: alive to their own position “after” other afterlives, but also after – in search of and in response to – naturalistic traditions of mimetically writing life.

Notes 1 Some further examples of this diversity in literary form: story cycles by David Eagleman, Sum: Tales from the Afterlives (2009), and Antoine Volodine, Bardo Not Bardo (2004); and Tadeusz Kantor’s play Dead Class (1975). 2 This feature runs from the classical descent narrative through Dante and on to John Kendrick Bangs’s stories, as well as more recent examples such as Thomas M. Dischs’s The Businessman (1984) and the final story of Julian Barnes’s The History of the World in 10½ Chapters (1989), “The Dream.” 3 The hotel is a feature of the afterlives in The White Hotel, Lanark, and Ali Smith’s Hotel World (2001).

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Literature and the Afterlife 4 Some examples in which the bureaucratic afterlife appears to comic effect are C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters (1942) and its sequels, and Self’s How the Dead Live (2000). 5 There are two strands to this grouping trope: the first starts with Huis Clos and the idea that hell is other people. Second is the idea of a group of people with a profound connection beyond life. In Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt (2002), the “karmic jati” are a group reincarnated together across lifetimes, whereas in Laura Lindstedt’s Oneiron (2017) the seven characters are apparently part of a group with “a special fondness for something or a peculiar quality of life” in the Swedenborgian tradition (180).

Works Cited Almond, Philip C. Afterlife: A History of Life After Death. I. B. Tauris, 2016. Amis, Martin. Time’s Arrow: or The Nature of the Offence. Jonathan Cape, 1991. Bennett, Alice. Afterlife and Narrative in Contemporary Fiction. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Brooks, Peter. Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative. Oxford UP, 1984. Del George, Dana. “Ghosts and Theme Parks: The Supernatural and the Artificial in George Saunders’s Short Stories.” George Saunders: Critical Essays, edited by Philip Coleman and Steve Gronert Ellerhoff. Palgrave Macmillan, 2017, pp. 121–136. Derrida, Jacques. The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation. 1984, translated by Peggy Kamuf. U of Nebraska P, 1988. Falconer, Rachel. Hell in Contemporary Literature: Western Descent Narratives Since 1945. Edinburgh UP, 2005. Kunzru, Hari. “Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders review – extraordinary story of the afterlife.” The Guardian, 8 Mar. 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/08/lincoln-in-the-bardo-georgesaunders-review. Le Goff, Jacques. The Birth of Purgatory. U of Chicago P, 1981. Lindstedt, Laura. Oneiron. Oneworld Publications, 2017. McDannell, Colleen, and Bernhard Lang. Heaven: A History. 1988. Yale UP, 2001. Pogell, Sarah. “ ‘The Verisimilitude Inspector’: George Saunders as the New Baudrillard?” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, vol. 52, no. 4, 2001, pp. 460–478. Royle, Nicholas. Telepathy and Literature: Essays on the Reading Mind. Blackwell, 1991. Saunders, George. “The Brain-Dead Megaphone.” The Brain-Dead Megaphone, Bloomsbury, 2008, pp. 1–20. Saunders, George. Lincoln in the Bardo. Bloomsbury, 2017. Saunders, George. “The New Mecca.” The Brain-Dead Megaphone, Bloomsbury, 2008, pp. 21–56. Saunders, George. “ ‘The Perfect Gerbil’: Reading Barthelme’s ‘The School.’” The Brain-Dead Megaphone, Bloomsbury, 2008, pp. 175–186. Tate, Andrew, and Arthur Bradley. The New Atheist Novel: Philosophy, Fiction and Polemic After 9/11. Bloomsbury, 2010. Thurston, Michael. The Underworld in Twentieth-Century Poetry: From Pound and Eliot to Heaney and Walcott. Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

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6 THE NOVEL AS HEARTBEAT The Dead Narrator in Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones Neil Murphy

Mike McCormack has frequently articulated his sense of belonging to an Irish experimental tradition,1 specifically to both the twentieth-century innovators ( James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and Flann O’Brien) and a younger group of writers – including June Caldwell, Oisín Fagan, Rob Doyle, Claire Louise Bennet, and Danny Denton – whose work McCormack identifies as having rejuvenated the experimental pulse in Irish fiction (Boland 49; De Loughry 114). McCormack argues that experimental writing has the effect of illuminating experience: “It casts the world in a different light, and at a different angle. I hope you walk away from the book and you experience a part of the world that you haven’t encountered before. I hope it illuminates something new about the world and, also, about what books are capable of ” (Boland 49). For McCormack, the experimental novel is not merely a purely technical or fragmented exercise that serves to antagonize readers; rather, the function of the experiment is to offer a way of seeing (De Loughry 113). In this essay, I first elucidate the tradition from which such experimental innovation emerges, before proceeding to argue that the technical experiment that is Solar Bones is fundamental to its character-narrator’s way of seeing and being in the world – or, more precisely, his way of no longer being in the world even as he posthumously bears witness to that world. McCormack’s assertion that “our great writers are exclusively our experimental writers” (De Loughry 113) is a position that several other critics and writers have previously argued.2 The centrality of innovation in the Irish novelistic tradition has long been observed: almost thirty years ago, Rüdiger Imhof noted the prevalence of technical innovation in Irish writing – post-O’Brien, Joyce, and Beckett – and specifically pointed to “the multi-faceted use of point-of-view […]; the spatialisation of narrative discourse; fragmented or split narrative; the disruption of chronology; fabulation and metafiction (including, possibly, historiographic meta fiction) […] a kind of narrative shown in the process of being created” (153). The novelist Aidan Higgins also wrote about what he saw as the experimental narrative tradition in Irish literature. Higgins shared Joyce’s and Beckett’s fascination with the ways that the world might be reconstituted in the forms of art and positioned them in the context of an European tradition of “free-fall and experiment” that extends back to Villon and Rabelais (21, 23). While many of these narrative experiments characterize modernist and postmodernist writing more generally, there is an extraordinarily high degree of concentration of such innovations in Irish writing.3 These experiments with non-conventional narrations include the widespread use of mentally ill narrators (e.g., Patrick McCabe’s The Butcher Boy and Dermot 62

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Healy’s Sudden Times) and deeply traumatized narrators (e.g., Anne Enright’s The Gathering, Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, Dorothy Nelson’s In Night’s City, and Emma Donoghue’s Room), whereas writers like Liam O’Flaherty use an animal’s point of view (e.g., “The Cow’s Death” and “The Black Rabbit”) to extend the range of human experience. Such experimental innovations work to expand literature’s possibilities; Beckett’s entire career can be seen as an attempt to escape from the limits of formal representation by continually acknowledging, and splintering, the nature of discourse itself.4 Flann O’Brien’s narrative voices similarly write-back against, and parody, mono-framed understandings of the real world of experience. Like McCormack’s narrator in Solar Bones, the unnamed narrator of The Third Policeman is dead – and unaware that he is so – and although the projected fictional world in each text is radically different, the overt gesture of trying to find an innovative narrative means to articulate the strangeness of their existences is common to both, as is the deep contrast between two states of existence, antemortem and posthumous. O’Brien, of course, frequently transgresses ontological levels and established narrative devices to facilitate such moves, as in his early story, “John Duffy’s Brother,” which also engages with the idea of symbolic death. In the short story, the character John Duffy’s brother abruptly becomes “possessed of the strange idea that he was a train … long, thunderous, and immense, with white steam escaping noisily from his feet and deep-throated bellows coming rhythmically from where his funnel was” (O’Brien 56). The moment effectively represents a momentous transfiguration of self that deploys the unexpected motif of a train. However, the use of the train is so peculiar that, like the use of a dead narrator, one is not really encouraged to actually believe it; rather, it serves as a narrative device to signal a transfiguration in perspective which, as is often the case with such narratives, is the locus of primary significance in the work of fiction. The use of unnatural narrators5 – dead people, trains, etc. – is commonplace in Irish writing. The trend stretches from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, narrated by Lemuel Gulliver, to the dying and dead Malone in Beckett’s Malone Dies who, conscious perhaps of this very inheritance, intertextually resurrects Lemuel bearing a bloody axe at the end of Beckett’s novel, which is now narrated by the dead Malone: Lemuel is in charge, he raises his hatchet on which the blood will never dry, but not to hit anyone, he will not hit anyone, he will not hit anyone any more, he will not touch anyone any more, either with it or with it or with it or with or or with it or with his hammer or with his stick or with his fist or in thought in dream I mean never he will never or with his pencil or with his stick or or light light I mean never there he will never never anything there any more (Three Novels 280). From Beckett’s dead Malone to the posthumous, post-purgatorial narrator of the 1933 short story, “Echo’s Bones” (Beckett’s Belacqua Shuah is lifted from Dante’s Divina Commedia, but radically transformed), to Banville’s use of the trickster god, Hermes, as his narrator in The Infinities (2009), and Caitriona Lally’s narrator of Eggshells (2014), who believes that she’s a changeling, the recurring intention appears to be an attempt to speak of the unspeakable and the unknowable or to offer utterance to experiences that remain beyond the limits of 63

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representational realism – which is, of course, a thing fundamentally different from the “real” or the actual. The innovative narrative mode frequently seeks to extend beyond realist representations to more effectively convey the extraordinary nature of the experience being articulated. Extraordinary experience invites, even requires, innovation in narrative, and in Irish writing there is ample evidence of that being a compelling motivation. The connection of Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones to the innovative tradition in Irish writing is apparent in numerous ways. The posthumous narrator, Marcus Conway, is initially unaware of his ontological status but progressively grows aware of what has happened to him, until a final moment of revelation radically transforms his ontological awareness. The manner in which Marcus narrates his story – the story of his life, as it turns out – is crucial. Though not entirely devoid of punctuation (there are ample commas, line-breaks, paragraphs, etc.), the novel completely dispenses with full-stops and effectively appears to be one extended sentence. As McCormack clarifies, “as far as I understand it the book is an excerpt from a sentence that extends from before the beginning of the book, and after it has closed. It’s a few clauses from the middle of the sentence” (De Loughry 111–12). The use of the extended sentence is technically fundamental to Solar Bones’ posthumous form, but McCormack’s decision to use this form also has broader literary–genealogical significance. As other contributors to this Companion – in particular, Alice Bennett, Philippe Carrard, and Jan Alber – have noted, the prevalence of the figure of the dead narrator is a relatively common international fictional practice. For example, some classic posthumous novels include Henry Fielding’s A Journey from This World to the Next (1743), Machado de Assis’s The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas (1881) (also translated as Epitaph of a Small Winner), Vladimir Nabokov’s Transparent Things (1972), and Alasdair Gray’s Lanark (1981). More recent variations include Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones (2002) and Susanna Moore’s In the Cut (1995), and the first section of Ali Smith’s Hotel World (2001) also belongs in the same category. Many Irish works of fiction and drama also include dead narrators and characters: in addition to Beckett’s “Echo’s Bones” and Malone Dies, Beckett’s Play (1963) features dead characters (M, W1, and W2). O’Brien’s The Third Policeman (completed 1940; published posthumously in 1967) also had a precursor short story, “Scenes in a Novel” (1934), that features a posthumous narrator. A more recent example is Neil Jordan’s chilling Shade (2004), whose protagonist Nina Hardy informs us from the outset of the date and time of her murder and about how her body is never found; she remains forever a silent shade. In Gaelic, Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s Cré na Cille is the most celebrated example of the form; first published in Gaelic in 1949, two English translations were published in 2016 – as The Dirty Dust by Alan Titley, and as Graveyard Clay by Liam Mac Con Iomaire and Tim Robinson. McCormack’s work has always been technically adventurous, from the early metafictional stories in Getting It in the Head (1996)6 to Forensic Songs (2012). As earlier indicated, McCormack has always seen himself as part of an experimental Irish tradition but, as with all such writing, the genealogical narrative influences are inevitably wider than a national tradition. For example, McCormack’s occasional referencing of Thomas Pynchon is revealing both in terms of his association with American postmodern fiction but also, crucially, because of his suggestion that a novel so frequently associated with technical experiment can also be an emotionally moving experience: “I think for all its manic loony tunes, Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 is heartbreaking. I find the predicament of Oedipa Maas at the end of that book really, really moving” (McCormack, qtd. in Nolan 9). McCormack has frequently bristled at the suggestion that experimental novels are simply difficult, self-indulgent, antiformal constructions and clearly views the kinds of experiment that interest him as being essentially life-affirming: “They seem to be saying experimental novels are always fragmented, 64

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and antagonistic to the reader, you always have to roll up your sleeves and work hard. In many ways I always thought that that book was quite conservative in its assessment, Solar Bones seems to say being human is about being harmonic, and unified” (McCormack, qtd. in De Loughry 113). Several critics have, in fact, observed a connection between the technical experiment and the essentially human concerns in the novel. For example, Sharae Deckard claims that “Solar Bones is that extraordinary thing, an accessible experiment, virtuosic yet humane,” though Deckard herself tends to focus more on the social implications than on the experiment (Deckard). Derek Attridge raises a similar point in the context of his reading of contemporary Irish fiction and affect theory, but he does so while demonstrating the impact of the formal experiment on the affective response. Attridge’s larger question is whether it is possible to “use innovative formal devices inherited from modernist writing in the service of, rather than as a distraction from, literary works’ emotional power?” (250). Writing specifically of Solar Bones, Attridge argues that it is precisely through the deployment of McCormack’s innovative use of language that emotional engagement is achieved rather than obscured: McCormack could have written this […] book, in conventional sentences, and the result would certainly have communicated complex emotions to the reader to some degree. But it is McCormack’s handling of English syntax that imparts a unique affective quality to the writing: he takes advantage of the many ways in which an utterance can be prolonged, sometimes bending the rules though seldom leaving the reader uncertain as to meaning, in order to capture the incessant onrush of thought and emotion peculiar to the situation in which Marcus finds himself (an unusual situation revealed at the end of the novel). (259) McCormack’s use of language and assimilation of the poetic devices of rhythm, meter, and repetition, clearly affect the manner in which Marcus’s perspectives are framed in the novel, as we shall see hereafter. Attridge’s observations chime with McCormack’s unhappiness at a simplistic demarcation between social and innovative novels, which McCormack argues is a false distinction, citing Ulysses as a primary example of an experimental novel that is simultaneously a social novel (Nolan 97). McCormack refutes the clichéd argument that experimentation is somehow an unnatural form and argues instead that [w]hen we reclaim our experimental instincts then a work of social overview will be the manifestation of that. People are putting the cart before the horse, people, like Damian Kiberd continually asking, where is the novel of social overview? Where is the socially engaged novel? They’re just asking for George Eliot or something like that. Not that it can’t be done. It’s just that it can’t be done any way new. Joyce, Flann, and those lads have shown us the lead. Experiment is the way to go. Until we reclaim those instincts we won’t find a novel of social overview. (qtd. in Nolan 97) McCormack further argues that the kind of simplistic realistic representations that a certain audience wishes for – in the form of the “great novel of social overview” – is “anti-intellectual” (Nolan 97), assuming, as it does, that our human experimental instincts are somehow a denial of the natural rather than an affirmation of it. 65

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It is in this context that the aspirations of Solar Bones may be viewed: as a novel whose innovative combination of the form of the posthumous narrative with the technical innovation of the long run-on sentence actually “illuminates something new about the world” rather than disguising it (Boland 49). In fact, it is the manner in which the formal innovations give voice to a unique human perspective that renders the novel such a powerful, and human, reading experience. Though many reviewers allude to its innovative technical attributes, few critics have actually interrogated the narrative function of such devices in McCormack’s novel, particularly in terms of its relationship with the deathly afterglow that shapes all of Marcus’s experiences. The deployment of the dead narrator is directly connected to the technical innovation of the run-on sentence. In fact, it is precisely because Marcus is dead that his account can take the form of fluid, throbbing, reflective engagement with the primary pulses that governed his life – love, family, the shaping work of the engineer, the frustrations with local power and social failures – but (importantly) from a perspective now fundamentally adjusted from his lived entanglements with those earthly experiences. The relentless deluge of memories, observations, and intricate assemblings that characterize his posthumous imaginative travels is all the more profoundly mesmerizing because the temporal duration of the novel is a mere one hour;7 we experience the narrated flow of information as a headlong rush through time. The effect is dizzying. The temporal compression combined with the illusion of free-ranging movement ensures that the novel’s narrative energy is sustained throughout. The tightly-wrought formal structure8 – derived from persistent rhythmic beats of various kinds – further confirms the potent fusion of free-flow narration and tight structural pattern. For example, from Solar Bones’ opening lines, the Angelus bell registers a pulse (“the bell as/ hearing the bell as/hearing the bell as standing here” [7]) that lingers throughout the novel, the bell “which still reverbs in my head now, a single note ringing on in/the brightness of the day as if the whole world were suspended from it/mountains, rivers and lakes/past present and future” (53). Its echoing ring resonates even as the rhythmic pulse of the prose at times blends into different formal presences; frequently, it registers its presence as an incessant triadic staccato (“harrows, ploughs and scufflers,” “the maiden, the rack and the wheel,” “clamps and blades and spikes,” “pounds, shillings and pence,” etc. [21–23]), or, as Jeanne-Marie Jackson puts it, the “recurrent series of three also echo the Angelus bell that rings out to set the book going, a symbolic holism achieved by the measured release of tones and parts” ( Jackson). The triadic tempo is also aesthetically harmonized with the presence of various other rhythms and tempos in Marcus’s daily life: the “habits and rituals” that “made up” his “marriage and family life” through the years (McCormack 134). Marcus’s overt consciousness of his physical heartbeat accelerates as the novel proceeds, until its final cataclysmic conclusion, when the “vast harmonic of my whole being was undone and I came apart in sheets and waves, torrential and ever falling” (220). Even in death, however, the harmonizing pulse of his now-stopped heart refuses to be still: My body had already picked up the rhythms of decay which had begun to work immediately in my soft flesh, that momentary heat spike which gave way to the falling temperature of rot with my blood passing from oxygenated red to black as the universal cellular explosions which bring on that spillage of filth within my organs which will eventually purge from every orifice of my body even as I Found my way home Home again To sit at this table And drift through these rooms (222). 66

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Even in death, the ritualistic pulse that governed his living still holds sway; Marcus is immediately “cast out beyond darkness into that vast unbroken commonage of space and time, into that vast oblivion in which there are no markings or contours to steer by nor any songs to sing me home and where there is nothing else for it to keep going, one foot in front of the other …” (223). The foot-beats, tellingly, continue despite the very texture of his being having dissolved. The persistence of the pulsating heartbeat in the prose – even as Marcus’s heart no longer beats – is perhaps even more profoundly innovative than the deployment of the run-on sentence in Solar Bones. It provides shape to the shapeless; it offers harmony, tempo, rhythm, incessant beat. The distinction between form and content diminishes, and the pulse of Marcus Conway’s life and death is at one with the pulse of the novel itself. McCormack is very forthright about the centrality of rhythm in his work, pointing, for example, to the powerful resonant presence of rhythm in the lives of farmers: “yearly rhythm, the seasonal cycles,” “diurnal rhythm and the rhythm of daily tasks, then there’s a smaller rhythm within that, and then there’s even smaller rhythms within that again” (qtd. in De Loughry 111). Similarly, he points to the “ecclesiastical rhythm of the church rhythm,” and reminds one that “the nearest timekeeper is in your heart it’s in your chest, it’s right there, we are timekeeping beings, we have a systolic rhythm, an aortal rhythm. All these things were constant preoccupations. In Solar Bones there’s an attempt to pick up a systolic rhythm that pulls you along” (111). The perpetual life-driving rhythms that are given expression everywhere in the novel have a number of potent affects. First, the novel becomes structurally and sensually consistent with life itself. Rather than simply seeking to offer a representation of life, it is itself the stuff of life, rather than being about that life. Second, that a novel narrated by a dead character can be so full of the incessant driving forces of a life is an extraordinary achievement in itself. While there are ample signs of him having died throughout the novel, via the momentary lapses and instances of confusion that Marcus experiences, the novel is nonetheless throbbing with life. None of the strange ghostly, dislocated phantasms here that one encounters in Beckett’s “Echo’s Bones” or O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, and yet the novel is very much a novel about death and dying. We sense the shifts in Marcus’s heartbeats when he does, we anticipate the fluctuations in his own internal rhythms, and the gradual emergence of the fire in his chest that will kill him. In a one-hour span he compulsively, yet unknowingly, revisits specific moments of his life, including regrets and frustrations – all of which knit the pattern of his experiences together in a strange pulsing temporal frame. The driving force behind much of Marcus’s life is to order, to repair, to arrange and rearrange. He is an engineer, after all, one “whose life and works/concerned itself with scale and accuracy, mapping and surveying so that the grid of reason and progress could be laid across the earth, gathering its wildness into towns and villages by way of bridges and roads and water schemes and power lines – all the horizontal utilities that drew the world into settlements and community” (McCormack 92). This partly accounts for Marcus’s extreme physical reaction to his daughter’s painting with her own blood, to his horror at the essential social failure (in the form of polluted drinking water) that allows his wife’s illness to take hold, and to his general disdain of the Celtic Tiger collapse and the corrupt local politics that continued to fester even after its demise. Marcus’s evident discomfort at these essentially social events are governed by his default desire to order, fix, and harmonize – but the world, it appears, cannot meet the elegance of this desire and this is the source of much of the anxiety embedded in his recollections. However, as Deirdre Flynn observes, “Everything he had trusted and understood is no longer in its ‘proper place’ and now that he is in some ‘higher realm’, he can try and place some structure on this chaos from beyond the grave. It is only in death that he can see the chaos clearly” (45). This is one of the concrete functions of the posthumous mode. Typically, in posthumous novels, 67

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the event of death, or awareness of that death, is accompanied by a radical shift in perspective. Such a shift is also apparent in Solar Bones, particularly in the general progressive shift away from a fascination with – and agitation at – the disordered social world. For example, in the early stages of the novel (effectively the early stages of Marcus’s posthumous existence), there are many passages that directly outline the Irish financial crash in detail, which initially creates the impression that this is the primary focus of the novel. However, as Jackson suggests, “many of the headiest and most topical passages … struggle to do more than state the fact of an interlinked world,” and “are also the least gratifying in their relation to the narrator’s life. The point, as I came around to seeing it, is that such ‘global ideas’ passages are smart but purposefully vague” ( Jackson). Attridge too observes that “although some of the book articulates strong condemnation of the corrupt political practices and shoddy engineering that for Marcus have darkened the world in which he has lived, the anger is mediated by the distance implied in this retrospective gaze” (257). As the novel proceeds, this kind of material gradually diminishes in importance. As Marcus moves deeper into his transfigured focus, the close intimacy of his family relationships, and the deep rhythmic belonging to the local, living, world, progressively become his primary subjects, rather than the social critique that initially featured so heavily in his recently bereaved consciousness. By the closing stages of the novel, a lightness of vision – and more aesthetically compelling – way of seeing eventually emerges. As with many narrators of posthumous texts, Marcus Conway isn’t immediately aware that he has died; only much later in his narrative does he understand what has happened. Unlike many such texts, however, he gets to fully (re)experience his death and the account of his passing is an extraordinary piece of rhythmic, harrowing, writing. One of the primary functions of the posthumous mode is to offer a transfigured perspective or a contrast between life and the thereafter and, in some senses, McCormack’s novel aligns with this model. We witness, with Marcus, a fundamental shift from the concrete materiality of his life to an ultimately more metaphysical sense of the world, although the starkness of the distinction is somewhat moderated by the gradually emerging comprehension of his deathly status. Without realizing it for much of the novel, he gazes from beyond life, at life. This pattern, as Herbert Klein suggests, is commonplace in more secular forms of twentieth-century fiction in which “the borderline between life and death has been so much blurred,” with the effect that the primary focus is no longer to offer fictional insights into an afterlife, heaven, or hell, but to act as a means of effecting a contrast between the living and the dead, as well as offering a post-human perspective on life itself: “Fictional representations of the afterlife therefore do not only ask the question ‘What is death?’, but also ‘What is life?’” (Klein). Life, after all, becomes the true subject of the dead narrator, but it is life stripped of the confused entanglements of the living. Marcus dies and returns on All Souls’ Day in 2008, a day that Marie Mianowski reminds us is a day on which “both Christian and Celtic traditions share the belief that the boundaries between the mortal and unearthly realms break down” (3). In the strange transitional space between these alternate states, Marcus Conway lingers for a while and is allowed to gaze one last time at the living with the illuminated eyes of the dead; for a brief interlude, he is pre-death and post-human consciousness. He transcends time and space while yet bearing the fading imprint of a lifelong desire for harmony that had governed his life above all else: my body drawing its soul in its wake or vice versa until that total withdrawal into the vast whiteness is visible only as a brimming absence so that finally there is nothing left, body and soul all gone, and these residual pulses and rhythms which for these waning moments, abide in their own recurrent measure, nothing more than a vague 68

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strobing of the air before they too are obliterated in that self-engulfing light which closes over everything to be (McCormack 223).

Notes 1 McCormack repeatedly makes this assertion in his interviews with Stephanie Boland, Treasa De Loughry, and Val Nolan. He clearly sees this as a deeply ingrained tradition in Irish writing: “I see myself as part of the speculative and conjectural tradition that informs Irish writing. You see it in the mystical poetry of Yeats, you see it in Berkeley’s idealism, you see it in Flann O’Brien …” (qtd. in Nolan 96). 2 For instance, Richard Kearney proposes a “counter-realist” tradition in Irish writing, pointing to how the work of writers like John Banville and Aidan Higgins “becomes self-reflexive as it explores fundamental tensions between imagination and memory, narration and history, self and language” – in order to demonstrate “how these authors share, with Joyce and Beckett, the basic modernist project of transforming the traditional narrative of quest into a critical narrative of self-questioning” (83). Derek Attridge in turn situates his affect-focused analysis of contemporary Irish experimental writers (McCormack, Kevin Barry, and Eimear McBride) against a tradition of innovative Irish modernist writers ( Joyce, Beckett, and O’Brien). In his anthology The Other Irish Tradition (2018), Rob Doyle extends this range of influences to include precursors such as Jonathan Swift and Laurence Sterne, and defines this strand of Irish writing as containing “startling talents, oddities, subversives, and transgressors” (11). 3 The success rate of Irish writers as winners of the Goldsmiths Prize is a telling example. According to its website, “Launched in the tercentenary year of the births of Laurence Sterne and Denis Diderot, the Goldsmiths Prize champions fiction that shares something of the exuberant inventiveness and restlessness with conventions manifest in Tristram Shandy and Jacques the Fatalist. The modern equivalents of Sterne and Diderot are often labelled ‘experimental,’ with the implication that their fiction is an eccentric deviation from the novel’s natural concerns, structures and idioms. A long view of the novel’s history, however, suggests that it is the most flexible and varied of genres, and the Goldsmiths Prize seeks to encourage and reward writers who make best use of its many resources and possibilities” (Goldsmiths Prize). Three of the first four winners were Irish writers: Eimear McBride (2013), Kevin Barry (2015), and Mike McCormack (2016). 4 As early as 1931, Beckett claims, “There is no communication because there are no vehicles of communication” (Proust 47); already language, as a mode of valid discourse, is invalidated. By the time he had written Molloy, Beckett had already turned the traditional quest motif of the realist novel on its head and the characters’ “quests” simply act as sterile, peripheral plotted aspects to the obsessive selfreflexive questioning that is the novel’s raison d’être. For example, when Molloy informs us of the condition of his story, narrative credibility is immediately threatened: All I know is what the words know, and the dead things, and that makes a handsome little sum, with a beginning, a middle and an end as is the well built phrase and the long sonata of the dead […] Saying is inventing. Wrong, very rightly wrong. You invent nothing, you think you are inventing, you think you are escaping, and all you do is stammer out your lesson… (Three Novels 27). 5 For all it sounds like a kind of narrative transgression, the use of unnatural narrators has been quite commonplace in literary fiction for at least two hundred years or longer. Brian Richardson, for example, sees the evolution of unnatural narrators as an inevitability given two distinct strains of development in literary fiction since the eighteenth century. Richardson observes, Two main features stand out in the development of fictional technique since Defoe: the exploration of subjectivity (beginning with Sterne’s play with unexpected associations of ideas and continuing with Jane Austen’s development of free indirect discourse); the other is the rise of the unreliable narrator, which had been present in epistolary fiction and gained new prominence by the time Dostoevsky’s “Notes from the Underground” (1864) appeared. (1)

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Neil Murphy 6 Attridge acknowledges McCormack’s early innovations: “Getting It in the Head (1996) contains some early examples of his stylistic inventiveness and liking for bizarre narratives” (256). 7 McCormack explains these temporal perimeters in his interview with Treasa De Loughry (112). 8 McCormack has often acknowledged his “preoccupation with form,” but his specific understanding of what form means is also significant for the current discussion: “My notion of form I learned as a philosopher, and I came away from philosophy with a sense of structure, rigour, intellectual progress. I began to see that form and structure was not corseting, but a scaffolding, as it allowed you to climb higher, see further, look down, see deeper” (qtd. in De Loughry 113–14).

Works Cited Attridge, Derek. “Modernism, Formal Innovation, and Affect in Some Contemporary Irish Novels.” Affect and Literature, edited by Alex Houen. Cambridge UP, 2019, pp. 249–266. Beckett, Samuel. “Echo’s Bones,” edited by Mark Nixon. Faber and Faber, 2014. Beckett, Samuel. Proust. Grove Press, 1931. Beckett, Samuel. Three Novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable. Grove Press, 2009. Boland, Stephanie. “ ‘We’re living in a time of cultural conservatism’: Mike McCormack talks to Stephanie Boland.” New Statesman, 11–17 Nov. 2016, pp. 49. De Loughry, Treasa, and Mike McCormack. “ ‘… a tiny part of that greater circum-terrestrial grid’: A conversation with Mike McCormack.” Irish University Review, vol. 49, no. 1, 2019, pp. 105–116. Deckard, Sharae. “Solar Bones is that extraordinary thing, an accessible experiment, virtuosic yet humane.” The Irish Times, 21 Oct. 2016. www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/solar-bones-is-that-extraordinarything-an-accessible-experiment-virtuosic-yet-humane-1.2838095. Doyle, Rob. The Other Irish Tradition: An Anthology. Dalkey Archive Press, 2018. Flynn, Deirdre. “Holding on to ‘Rites, Rhythms and Rituals’: Mike McCormack’s Homage to Small Town Irish Life and Death.” Representations of Loss in Irish Literature, edited by Eugene O’Brien and Deirdre Flynn. Palgrave, 2018, pp. 37–52. Goldsmiths Prize. “About the prize.” Goldsmiths, 23 Apr. 2020. www.gold.ac.uk/goldsmiths-prize/about/. Higgins, Aidan. “The Hollow and the Bitter and the Mirthless in Irish Writing.” Force 10, vol. 13, 2008, pp. 21–27. Imhof, Rüdiger. “How It Is on the Fringes of Irish Fiction.” Irish University Review, vol. 22, no. 1, SpringSummer 1992, p. 153. Jackson, Jeanne-Marie. “The art of intellectual curation: mike mccormack’s solar bones,” 3:AM Magazine, 17 Jan. 2017. www.3ammagazine.com/3am/art-intellectual-curation-mike-mccormacks-solar-bones/. Kearney, Richard. Transitions: Narratives in Irish Culture. Wolfhound Press, 1988. Klein, Herbert. “The Wonderful World of the Dead: A Typology of the Posthumous Narrative.” Eese, Mar. 2002. http://webdoc.sub.gwdg.de/edoc/ia/eese/artic22/kleinh/3_2002.html. McCormack, Mike. Solar Bones. Tramp Press, 2016. Mianowski, Marie. “Immaterial matters in Solar Bones by Mike McCormack.” Études de Stylistique Anglaise, vol. 14, 2019, pp. 1–12. Nolan, Val. “Experiment or Die: A Conversation with Mike McCormack.” Ariel: A Review of International English Literature, vol. 43, no. 2, 2012, pp. 87–99. O’Brien, Flann. The Short Fiction of Flann O’Brien, edited by Neil Murphy and Keith Hopper. Dalkey Archive Press, 2013. Richardson, Brian. Unnatural Voices: Extreme Narration in Modern and Contemporary Fiction. Ohio State UP, 2006.

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7 DEAD MAN/AND WOMAN TALKING Narratives from Beyond the Grave Philippe Carrard

Posthumous narrative, – that is, a narrative performed “from beyond the grave” by one or several dead characters – has become an established subgenre of the current literary scene, whether in high or low culture. Several scholarly studies (e.g., Bennett; Friedman; Holland; Norman; Raymond) have been devoted to it, and its popularity is illustrated by the 67-page entry for “Fiction by a dead person” in Wikipedia, as well as by the presence of such categories as “Dead Narrators” and “Narrated by the Dead” on the “Goodreads” and “Crime Fiction Lover” Internet sites. As used by François-René de Chateaubriand in the title of his celebrated Mémoires d’outre-tombe, the phrase “from beyond the grave” was of course a metonymy. Chateaubriand wrote his autobiography over four decades “as if” he had reached the next stage in his journey, the trope pointing both to the author’s highly retrospective stance and to the fact that the memoirs were to be published posthumously. In the texts I am about to analyze, however, “from beyond the grave” must be taken, if not literally, at least as referring to an actual death. Whether they were buried or not, the narrators of the stories in my corpus are no longer among the living. Because this Companion is about death and literature, I won’t consider the use of the dead narrator in other media, such as the reliance on a dead character to provide a voice-over commentary in films (Sunset Boulevard) and television series (Desperate Housewives). To further limit my inquiry, I won’t take up issues related to the presence of the dead in plays (Tony Kushner’s Angels in America) or in poems whose authors (Dickinson, Plath) at times pretend they are writing posthumously. I also won’t consider, at the risk of leaving out major achievements such as Toni Morrison’s Beloved, D. M. Thomas’s The White Hotel, and Ana Castillo’s So Far from God, texts in which the dead may be present, but are not in charge of telling the story. I will focus on works in which the deceased perform as narrators, whether throughout the text or in some specific sections of it. Because the critics I mentioned earlier have dealt comprehensively with the social, political, and psychological aspects of posthumous narrative, I will only look in conclusion at the function that the subgenre may have in contemporary society. Most of my analyses will be devoted to elaborating an elementary poetics of narrative “from beyond the grave”: that is, to studying the codes, rules, and conventions that shape this type of story. My perspective will be synchronic. I won’t trace the evolution of the subgenre, but will describe some of its features in twentieth- and twenty-first-century literature. 71

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Unlike those of critics such as Bennett and Norman, moreover, my corpus won’t be limited to texts written by British and American authors. It will also include works that originate in other traditions, in this instance, French, German, and Latin American. As a subgenre, posthumous narrative falls under the category that several contemporary theorists call the “unnatural.” For Jan Alber, unnatural narratives are defined, at the cognitive level, as those that foil “the real-world cognitive parameters that derive from our bodily existence in the world” (Unnatural Narrative 26); for Brian Richardson, at the literary level, as those that contain “significant antimimetic events, characters, settings, and frames,” thus violating “mimetic expectations and practices of realism,” and defying “the conventions of existing, established genres” (3). Whether we use Alber’s or Richardson’s definition, posthumous narrative undoubtedly qualifies as “unnatural.” On the one hand, it does not agree with our knowledge of the world in general, of the human body in particular. If we set aside matters of belief (to which I will return later), deceased human beings can no longer speak or write. Posthumous narrative, moreover, disrupts the canons of verisimilitude in “natural” storytelling; in texts that claim to be realistic, the dead neither speak, nor are staged as characters. I will look at the “unnatural” aspects of posthumous narrative, though with a caveat. As Richardson has noted, the subgenre has become so common that for some readers at least it has “ceased to be unnatural” (18). Readers familiar with its conventions will thus have specific expectations. For instance, they will no longer be surprised if the narrator should turn out to be dead, their only questions bearing then on the circumstances of his/her demise. Taking this production and reception framework into account, I will seek to describe the games that authors of posthumous narratives play not just with the rules of natural, realistic stories, but also with those of the subgenre they have elected to practice.

Dispositions Bennett, in the chapter of her study devoted to “Plotting Murder,” distinguishes structurally between two types of posthumous narrative: the “murder mystery” and the “ghost story” (98). The device of the murder victim as narrator, according to her, is just “the next step for a genre which has already fitted together all the other possible permutations of its protagonists” (104): the narrator as sidekick (Watson in the Sherlock Holmes novels), as detective (Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe), or even as murderer (in Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd). Bennett’s models of this “next step” are Alice Sebold’s oft-analyzed The Lovely Bones and Susanna Moore’s In the Cut, two novels that in fact are plotted very differently. In The Lovely Bones, the protagonist reveals immediately that she was murdered and by whom, thus raising two questions: What will her afterlife be like, and will her murderer be punished?1 In In the Cut, conversely, the narrator does not divulge before the end of the novel that she is dead, the last pages describing how she was killed, and by whom. This late disclosure of course raises the issue of the type of narrativity at work in Moore’s novel. In terms of Meir Sternberg’s (1978) wellknown categories, does In the Cut posit relatively uninformed readers, who will experience “surprise” when they discover that the narrator tells her story after her murder? Or does it rather posit readers who know that they are dealing with a posthumous narrative; that is, readers who throughout the text will be “curious” about when, where, and how the narrator will die? The same problem occurs in the many narratives that do not turn out to be posthumous before the very end. For instance, Gilbert Adair’s The Death of the Author stages a DeMan-like literary critic who, after contributing to collaborationist magazines during World War II, comes from France to the United States, where he establishes himself as the founder of a theory that looks suspiciously like deconstruction. Killed by the partner of one of his students, he concludes his 72

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report by observing with “disappointment” that “death is merely the displaced name for a linguistic predication” (Adair 135), a quotation from DeMan’s essay “Autobiography as DeFacement” (DeMan 81). Curiosity and surprise obviously are not exclusive, as readers who are aware of the posthumous nature of the texts they are perusing may not just be curious about the way the narrator dies, but also surprised by it. Although the protagonists of In the Cut and The Death of the Author tell their stories without making any reference to their coming death (a significant omission, as they are using the past tense), other narratives include prolepses that announce that death most explicitly. David Foster Wallace’s novella “Good Old Neon,” for instance, a text that falls under a category that Bennett does not consider – it could be called the “suicide plot” – contains several references to the narrator’s decision to end his life. The first such mention occurs as early as in the second paragraph of the novella, when the protagonist assures that his “boring” story will become more interesting “when I get to the part where I kill myself ” (Wallace 143). Readers of “Good Old Neon,” unlike those of In the Cut and The Death of the Author, thus know immediately that the narrator is dead, the only question being: if he committed suicide, how, exactly, did he do it? This question is answered close to the end of the story, in a passage where the protagonist describes the “bridge abutment” into which he plans to drive his car, “at speeds sufficient to displace the front end and impale me on the steering wheel and instantly kill me” (176). As for the suicide itself, it is described in two takes: first in a footnote in which the narrator tells about the problem of representing the “first, infinitely split-second” of a crash (179), and then, in the text itself, with the observation that “dying isn’t bad, but it takes forever” (180). Whereas murder mysteries and suicide narratives such as Wallace’s “Good Old Neon” recount mostly what happened before the protagonist’s death, ghost stories deal in general with what follows it. This focus may be exclusive or include analepses. In Joseph Skibell’s A Blessing on the Moon, for instance, the narrator describes briefly how he was murdered with other Jews during the Holocaust in Poland, then accounts at length for his journey as ghost. Conversely, the thirteen-year-old girl who in Damned depicts her life in Hell frequently interrupts her narrative to evoke her past on Earth, notably her stay in a Swiss boarding school (chapter IX) and her relationship to her jet-setting parents (chapters XII–XIV). As far as plot is concerned, one of the major problems in ghost stories is obviously the end: will the ghost at some point go through a second, definitive death, or is his/her condition an eternal one? The narrator of American Desert, killed when his car was hit by a UPS truck, decides after some time on the road that he has had enough and decides to die “for good.” Amy in Damned, on the other hand, accepts the fact that she will never age and will be in Hell forever; tellingly, the novel’s last line reads: “to be continued …” (Palahniuk 247). As for the narrator of A Blessing on the Moon, he is laid to rest after the moon, which had disappeared as if to hide from the horrors of World War II, finally returns to the sky.2 Whether they take the form of the murder or the ghost story, the plots adopted in posthumous narrative must be distinguished from those analyzed by Rachel Falconer in her study of the representations of Hell in contemporary literature. For Falconer, twentieth-century journeys to the beyond are still structured like what the Greeks called a “katabasis”: unfolding in three steps, they include “a descent, an inversion or turning upside down at zero point and a return to the surface of some kind” (45). This model, according to Falconer, agrees with a worldview that still often conceives of selfhood as “the narrative construct of an infernal journey and return” (1). Commenting on this plot pattern, Bennett has shown that it is not applicable to posthumous narrative. Indeed, Falconer analyzes texts in which the characters, whether they abuse drugs or are sent to Vietnam, live “in and through hell” (Bennett 150). After living a death-like life, they in the best cases return from the underworld to a “complete and 73

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functional way of living” (151). In posthumous narratives, however, the protagonists do not return to the world. They remain in the beyond, a situation to which they adjust with varying ease.

Enunciations Ruediger Heinze, in his analysis of the violations of mimetic epistemology in first-person narrative fiction, distinguishes between “global” and “local” paralepses: that is, between the violations that occur at the level of the whole storyworld and those that affect only part of that world (286). Heinze’s distinction is certainly relevant to posthumous narrative. The texts I have considered so far all fall under the “global paralepsis” type, as dead, “unnatural” narrators are in charge of the whole story in novels such as Damned, In the Cut, and The Death of the Author. Other texts, however, present “local paralepses,” as they stage several narrators, of whom only one is no longer alive. The archetype for this distribution of the voices is of course Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, a novel that clearly functions as the hypotext for Suzan-Lori Parks’s Getting Mother’s Body. Whereas Addie, the dead mother, is granted just one chapter in Faulkner’s narrative, Willa Mae Beede, who plays a similar role in Parks’s, is given 12 (albeit short) chapters; she uses them to provide a direct, “from below” take on what is happening “above,” or to perform blues-like songs that constitute a more oblique commentary on her and the other characters’ past and present activities. A similar structure is found in Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing. Of the 15 chapters, three are given to the voice of a dead character: Richie, a boy who, about to be caught by guardians as he was trying to escape from the penitentiary where he was kept, was “mercy killed” by an adult prisoner, who did not want him to be caught and then abused by his captors.3 A classic of postmodern literature, Ali Smith’s Hotel World belongs in that same category, as only the first of the five chapters, “Past,” is told by a dead character: Sara, an hotel chambermaid who fell into a dumbwaiter. The next four chapters stage narrators who, like Sara, work for or have some connection to the hotel, but are still alive. Relying on a dead narrator also seems to incite novelists to play at times with the standards of literary enunciation. His head severed, Ted, the narrator of American Desert, thus tells his story in the third person: a decision he justifies by arguing that the device, while “unusual (politicians and athletes aside),” is nevertheless “acceptable,” given that “in a most profound way, he stood – or stands even – outside himself, not so much on the parapet of consciousness but of life itself ” (Everett 1). Taking another stance, Carter, the narrator in Keith Kachtick’s Hungry Ghost, recounts his life in the second person, a decision that he rationalizes, as Ted does, by way of a metacommentary. “In recent weeks,” he explains, “you’ve wondered if it isn’t better for people to always think of themselves in the second person, to dissociate their awareness from the obstructing, lower-self ‘I’ that thinks in terms of ‘me’ and ‘mine’” (14). This clarification notwithstanding, Hungry Ghost remains ambiguous from the standpoint of enunciation. On the one hand, Carter could certainly, as he claims, be talking to himself. But a heterogeneous narrator could also be talking to him, a situation that critics (e.g., Kacandes 158–60) have long described in novels such as Michel Butor’s La Modification [A Change of Heart]. Another type of “you” is at work in David Eagleman’s Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlife. Whereas “you” in The Hungry Ghost refers to a single individual, this pronoun in Sum is of the collective, generic type: “In the afterlife you relive all your experiences …” (Eagleman 3); “In the afterlife you find yourself in a beautiful land of milk and honey …” (50); “In this reverse life you are born on the ground …” (109) – to quote the beginning of the first, 19th, and last of Eagleman’s “tales.” “You,” in these opening lines, may include the homodiegetic “I” of a deceased person who is familiar with death. But it could also be the heterodiegetic “I” of someone who knows, or 74

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claims to know, what things are like in the afterlife. Similarly, the pronouns of the first person plural that frequently occur in Sum in opening sentences – such as “Just as there is no afterlife for a computer chip, there is none for us …” (79), or “Because the afterlife is a form of justice, we may think that it cannot include animals …” (95) – may comprise the “I” of someone who is already “there.” But they could also involve the “I” of an outsider who merely “pretends to know,” in these instances, that there is no afterlife, or that the afterlife actually admits animals. Though authors such as Everett, Kachtick, and Eagleman play with the conventions of literary enunciation, their games remain easily decipherable. Readers know from page one that the narrator of American Desert speaks of himself in the third person, and that the “you” in Hungry Ghost, as well as the “you” and the “we” in Sum, merely generates ambiguities. To put it otherwise, the way pronouns are used in these texts do not fundamentally problematize the situation of enunciation. Here we are far from a novel such as Butor’s Degrés [Degrees], in which the last sentence, “Who is speaking?,” explicitly formulates a question that readers must have asked throughout the text, and that only an attentive second reading (or clarifications provided in the epitext) can fully answer. In other words, the audience that such novels as American Desert and Hungry Ghost posit should be able to sanction the double “unnaturalness” of a dead narrator who speaks in the third or second person. That same audience, however, is not supposed to be disconcerted for too long, and the identity of protagonists known as “he” and “you” should not become the object of a guessing game throughout the text.

Perspectives I introduced issues of temporal perspective when I examined the different plot structures used in posthumous narrative, noting that the narrator in this subgenre always reports from a retrospective, “after death” standpoint, but that his/her story may then go in two directions: murder mysteries (e.g., In the Cut) mostly focus on what happened before the protagonist’s passing, whereas ghost stories (e.g., A Blessing on the Moon), focus on what happened after. A few texts in my corpus also fall under the “simultaneous narrative” type, in which the main character recounts his/her afterlife in the present tense as he/she discovers its different aspects. Palahniuk’s Damned follows this model, with Madison, its narrator, observing on page 1 “If you can go to Hell for having low self-esteem, that’s why I’m here,” and even resorting to the present tense in the analeptic passages in which she recalls episodes of her family life. As for Windows on the World, Frédéric Beigbeder’s contribution to novels about 9/11, it constitutes an example of what might be called “feigned simultaneity.” Although already dead, the narrator recounts his morning in the World Trade Center in the present tense, from 8:31 a.m. (he is at the top of the building with his two children) to 10:25 and 10:27 (he and the children are now buried in the rubble, soon to become part of what he foresees will be a “tourist attraction” [Beigbeder 363]). Insofar as posthumous narratives are told “from beyond the grave,” they obviously raise issues of spatial perspective. That is, whether the expression “from the grave” is taken literally or figuratively, they pose the question of knowing “from where it is it told,” a question that has recently been rehabilitated in narrative theory. Let us note, to begin with, that some of the stories in my corpus are told from a place that is not explicitly designated. Murder mysteries such as In the Cut and The Death of the Author, for instance, describe how, where, and by whom their narrators were killed, but they do not identify the site of the narration. Conversely, Heaven and Hell are depicted in detail in some ghost stories. Critics (e.g., Olson 138) have long noticed that Susie’s afterworld, in Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, resembles a cozy suburban setting, with its schools, soccer fields, and carefully tended lawns. In Palahniuk’s Damned, on the contrary, Madison’s Hell is both unfamiliar and inhospitable. Newcomers find themselves 75

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“lying on the stone floor inside a fairly dismal cell composed of iron bars” (Palahniuk 8), and the environment includes such unappealing landmarks as “Shit Lake” (40), the “Great Ocean of Wasted Sperm” (44), the “Swamp of Partial-Birth Abortions” (45), and the “Great Plains of Broken Glass” (46). The afterworld, moreover, can be located neither in Heaven, nor in Hell, but on Earth. Lily, the older woman who tells her story in Will Self’s How the Dead Live, resides with other deceased persons in Dulston, an imaginary district in London. She freely roams the city, however, spying on her daughters in real neighborhoods (e.g., South Kensington) and attending concerts at existing locales (e.g., Wigmore Hall). Like Lily, Josué, the narrator in Carlos Fuentes’s Destiny and Desire, speaks “from Earth,” but his circumstances are markedly different. After being murdered, he tells his story as a severed head, “lost like a coconut on the shores of the Pacific Ocean along the Mexican coast of Guerrero” (Fuentes 4). As for Elegant Effeni, the narrator of the first chapter of Orhan Pamuk’s My Name Is Red, he finds himself in a situation quite similar to Josué’s: slain, he speaks as “nothing but a corpse” from the place he has been thrown into, the “bottom of a well” (Pamuk 3). Told by dead characters, posthumous narratives are also generally focalized through them. That is, these characters function as centers of perception and knowledge, though in different ways. Murder mysteries such as In the Cut and The Death of the Author are told in what classical narratology (e.g., Genette, Figures III 206) calls “internal focalization.” Their narrators only communicate what they saw, heard, and knew “then,” a device that leads – as we have seen – to a significant omission: they do not mention what they know “now,” namely, that they are dead. Conversely, ghost stories offer many instances of what Heinze (280) calls “paralepses”: speaking in the first person, their narrators provide data they have no way of accessing, whether we take as a yardstick the limits of human cognition and perception or the usual protocols of homodiegetic narrative. In Amy Tan’s Saving Fish from Drowning, for example, Bibi Chen, the ghost narrator, is endowed with special privileges. Her omniscience, if we follow Jonathan Culler’s (2004) suggestion to break this term down, is concurrently synonymous with omnipresence, telepathy, and total recall. Indeed, Bibi can join the tour from China to Myanmar she was supposed to lead, escort its participants to the various locations they are visiting, get into peoples’ minds, and reproduce word-for-word the conversations that she has heard. The novels that stage several narrators, of whom only one is deceased, usually offer two kinds of perspective. In Getting Mother’s Body (Parks), for instance, the living characters tell their version of the journey they are taking to unbury “mother” according to the conventions of restricted, internal focalization. Speaking in the present tense, they report what they see, hear, and think as they move from one stage of their trip to the next. But Willa Mae Beede, the dead mother, one of the only characters in my corpus to speak literally “from the grave,” has access to what the people who are looking for her tomb are doing. She thus comments on a “trick” that her daughter Billy is trying to pull at a service station because she has no money to pay for the gas (Parks 225–29). Similarly, the living characters in Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing tell their version of the drive to the prison and back according to their limited perspectives. But Richie, the dead boy, enjoys some of the privileges granted to ghosts in posthumous narrative. For one thing, “fold[ing]” himself and sitting “on the floor of the car” (Ward 133), he can share the family’s journey home both unnoticed by the parents and able to communicate with Jojo, the teenage son. In Parks’s and Ward’s novels, the paralepses are thus “local” (Heinze 286). They only occur in parts of the narrative in which the dead report and ponder what they themselves and the living characters are doing. Classical narratology (e.g., Genette, Nouveau discourse 44–45) would describe this type of focalization as “multiple,” emphasizing that the shift from one mode to the other comes with a shift of narrator, as it does for example in epistolary novels, the “transfocalization” appearing as a consequence of the “transvocalization.” 76

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Verisimilitude Given the fact that the initial speech situation in posthumous narrative is unmistakably unnatural, the issue is to know whether that situation is later naturalized; that is, whether the circumstances that allow a dead person to speak are at some point specified, thus warranting the paralepsis. In the entry “Impossible Worlds” in the Routledge Companion to Experimental Literature, Marie-Laure Ryan identifies three main strategies that allow naturalization of such worlds: “mentalism” (the inconsistencies can be “explained away as dream, hallucination, or the dementia of an unreliable narrator”); “figural interpretation” (the inconsistencies “do not correspond to facts, they are only ways of describing certain phenomena”); and “many-worlds and virtualization” (the “mutually incompatible elements are not part of the same world, but of different possible worlds”) (377). Ryan does not list posthumous narrative among the subgenres that may include “impossible worlds,” but the “strategies” she lists can be (and have been) applied to several of the works in my corpus. First, the authors themselves have at times provided in the epitext explanations for the unnaturalness of their stories. Keith Kachtick, for instance, has in an interview rationalized the abilities granted to the narrator of his Hungry Ghost (e.g., omnipresence and telepathic powers) by stating that the story is told “from the point of view of the protagonist’s Buddha nature, his omniscient higher self,” which allows him “to see things that his ego-driven lower self is reluctant to acknowledge.” Relying on Ryan’s strategy of “mentalism,” proponents of cognitive narratology have also at times sought to interpret the “inconsistencies” at work in posthumous narrative in terms of psychological phenomena. Looking from this perspective at one of the classics of the subgenre, Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, David Herman has thus described the narrator’s “Hell” less as a “place” than as the “cognitive dissonance” caused by his “efforts to model the underworld as a place”; that is, by a “mismatch between basic parameters for spatial cognition and the regions in which the narrator finds himself, posthumously at least” (285). Similarly, Alber has argued that O’Brien’s novel can be taken as an “hallucination” or as a “vision of the narrator’s afterlife” (“Unnatural Spaces” 49). In other words, for Alber, the oddities displayed in The Third Policeman can be explained by assuming either that the narrator “dies during a long period of time,” or that “he has already died” and describes what he is going through after his passing (51). Another way of validating the unnaturalness of posthumous narrative is to relate it to the cultural values of a specific community. Taking up this issue in her chapter on the representation of “fictional afterlife worlds,” Bennett has shown that “things that are not provable in the actual world” can still be “objects of belief.” The afterlife, in this instance, has a different reality for a believer and a non-believer (190). Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day exemplifies Bennett’s point, as Willow Spring, the fictional island off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina where the novel takes place, has kept many aspects of a traditional African-American belief system. One such aspect is the possibility of talking with the dead – a possibility that is actualized by one of the characters, Ophelia, who converses at length with her dead husband. These conversations alternate with the reports and comments of a communal narrator, from which they are clearly demarcated by a typographical space and three diamonds. Asking whether Naylor, and for that matter Parks and Ward, believe in the possibility of communicating with the dead, of accessing the voice of a deceased person, and of ghosts existing among the living, is of course beside the point. The fact is that these authors stage communities in which death is not just an important matter, but in which ghosts move around and the departed can keep speaking with the people they were close to. Most texts in my corpus, however, do not offer any justification for the fact that a dead character is allowed to tell his/her story. This arbitrariness is particularly obvious when the author “appropriates,” as Elizabeth Tallent puts it, “the personae of real individuals, mostly dead, mostly famous” (1). Indeed, it would be difficult, in these cases, to explain how the main character is 77

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entitled to speak – how, for example, Queen Marie-Antoinette can posthumously recount her life, as she does in Kathryn Davis’s Versailles. At the least, the author can in the epitext account for the way he/she was able to obtain the information used in the fake autobiography. Saint-Paulien does so in the foreword to one of the most bizarre texts in my corpus, Pourquoi j’ai perdu la guerre par Adolf Hitler: Mémoires d’outre tombe [Why I Lost the War by Adolf Hitler: Memoirs from Beyond the Grave], when he states that he can speak “for” Hitler because he has first-hand information: he in the 1930s met the Führer, together with other National-Socialist personalities such as Hess, Himmler, Goebbels, Rosenberg, and Ribbentrop (13).4 Whether or not their authors justify the fact that the dead can speak, posthumous narratives raise obvious issues of reception. To put it in the terms of the theorists of unnaturalness: given that posthumous narrative is now an established subgenre, is the reliance on a dead speaker still perceived as unnatural? I mentioned earlier how some of these theorists (e.g., Richardson 18) recognize that “repetition,” and “widespread knowledge of that repetition,” can “fully conventionalize the antimimetic,” thus making strategies such as that of the dead narrator “cease to be unnatural.” The question, of course, is: “unnatural” for whom? To return to the issue I raised about the novels in which the narrator is not revealed to be dead before the very end of the text: Are the inscribed readers of In the Cut and The Death of the Author supposed to be surprised when they learn about the deceit? Or, aware that they are dealing with a posthumous narrative, are they from the start asking when the narrator will die, and how? Assuming that readers are likely to be informed of the nature of the text (in the case of The Death of the Author, by the flaps of the dustcover that announce a “murder mystery”), I would argue that they ask the second type of question. With James Phelan (175), I would then explain that readers accept the basic paralepsis at work in these “character narrations” because of the “Story-overDiscourse Meta-Rule”: cognizant of the game being played at the level of the story, they consent to its implications at the level of the discourse.

Conclusion(s) As a subgenre, posthumous narrative fulfills a certain number of functions. On the map of current publishing, it first constitutes a contribution to, as well as a critique of, the spreading field of life writing – a field that now extends all the way from autobiography to Bildungsroman to autofiction. With other postmodern novels, afterlife narratives are especially prone to exposing what Linda Hutcheon calls “the arbitrariness of traditional novelistic closure” (176). Hutcheon’s example is D. M. Thomas’s The White Hotel, but such novels as Damned, The Lovely Bones, and How the Dead Live are similarly open-ended. Although several posthumous narratives challenge the conventions of realist fiction, others play intertextual games that interrogate the literary tradition of writing about the afterlife. Some of the most obvious are Ulrich Plenzdorf ’s Die neuen Leiden des jungen W. [The New Sorrows of the Young W.], whose hypotext is obviously Goethe’s celebrated epistolary novel, and Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad, which provides a woman’s post-mortem perspective on the events recounted in Homer’s Odyssey. Parks’s Getting Mother’s Body also clearly rewrites Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, as both texts stage a journey with dead mothers speaking, daughters wanting an abortion, and family members reluctant to help. In like fashion, Self ’s How the Dead Live offers several references to Joyce’s Ulysses, beginning with the name of the narrator, Lily Bloom, a Jewess who roams through London as Joyce’s Bloom roams through Dublin, and a concluding “Not” that responds to Joyce’s “Yes.” As for Naylor’s Mama Day, it alludes to several of Shakespeare’s plays: to The Tempest (there is one on the island), Hamlet (the heroine’s name is Ophelia), and Romeo and Juliet (the lovers marry in spite of their different backgrounds, though only the husband dies in Mama Day). 78

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Used to critique the protocols of realist fiction, posthumous narrative also serves to castigate some aspects of contemporary society. The dead, then, are employed as the Huron in Voltaire’s L’Ingénu or the Middle-Easterner in Montesquieu’s Lettres persanes: their perspective as outsiders enables the novelists to expose abuse, injustice, or mere ridicule. Self thus relies on Lily Bloom’s account of her last days and afterlife to denounce the way older people are treated in Great Britain, especially the indignities they have to suffer in the state hospital system. In a different, more restricted area, Adair makes use of Professor Sfax’s narrative of his career to mock the American university’s addiction to novelties, in this case, its turn to theory in the 1980s and more particularly to deconstruction. Eagleman’s critique in Sum is more comprehensive, as several of the versions of the afterlife proposed in this text turn out to be extreme versions of the contemporary world’s trends, fears, and (especially) obsession with technology. Upon entering the afterlife, the deceased can thus sit in a lounge with “banks of television monitors,” “millions of blue-green glowing screens” (59); use a computer-supplied “death switch” to pretend they are “not dead” and make such things as “a transfer between bank accounts” (67); or receive a “clear answer about our purpose on Earth”: our mission is to “collect data,” a task for which we are equipped with “advanced lenses that produce high-resolution visual images,” “ears to pick up air-compressions waves,” and “analytic brains that get this mobile equipment on top of clouds, below the seas, onto the moon” (89). As several critics have pointed out, the denunciation of today’s world offered in posthumous narrative is often conducted through people that society has marginalized for reasons of age, gender, race, or social background. Arguing along these lines, Tiina Käkelä-Puumala has shown that the figures she calls “postmodern ghosts” are now politicized: they illustrate Agamben’s “bare life,” the life of people whose existence has been “neglected, forgotten, or repressed” (85). The function of afterlife fiction, according to Käkäla-Puumala, is to give voice to these outcasts – to provide them, after their death, with the visibility they did not enjoy while alive. Focusing on women, Brian Norman has similarly examined how the dead female characters who speak in texts from Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying to Randall Kenan’s Let the Dead Bury Their Dead have come to represent “figures of injustice” in American literature. Norman lends particular attention to violence against women, stressing that The Lovely Bones’s Susie was both raped and murdered, and that Willa Mae Beede, in Parks’s Getting Mother’s Body, died of the hemorrhage that followed her attempt at a self-performed abortion. One could add Frannie, the narrator of In the Cut, who reports about the killing (and dismembering) of two women, and in the last section of her narrative describes at length how she herself was slaughtered in the same fashion. I mentioned earlier how Self uses the voice of the deceased Lily Bloom to denounce the neglect of which the elderly are victims in Great Britain. Samantha Chang, in Hunger, resorts to a similar strategy to point to different problems: those faced in the United States by Asian immigrants. As Belinda Kong has explained, the originality of Chang’s short story resides in the fact that it challenges the tradition of the Asian-American Bildungsroman: it does not deal with the success of the family’s children, but – through “the posthumous voice of the immigrant parent” – with the ordeal of members of the first generation in such areas as language (100).5 It must be pointed out, at last, that the current popularity of posthumous narrative is obviously related to today’s preoccupation with anything having to do with the nature of death and the possibility of an afterlife. Alan Warren Friedman, in his study of death in modern fiction, mentions that Raymond Moody’s bestseller Life After Death has brought about the formation of several “Near-Death-Experience (NDE)” support groups, whose function is to provide the participants with the opportunity of recounting what they have (or think that they have) gone through (162). Friedman also emphasizes that our society, “unable to agree on when life begins and ends,” nevertheless engages in activities such as organ transplants and laboratory 79

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fertilization, and deploys life-support systems that mark a shift from “prolonging living to prolonging dying” (280). While the polemics related to these “prolongations” (and the right to halt them) testify to our current interest in the moment of death, it remains that what may happen after death is still an object of curiosity for many people, as well as a crucial question for the holders of specific faiths. According to a 2018 article in the New York Times (Horowitz A8), the pope had made a provocative statement to the left-wing (and atheist) Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari: he had affirmed that Hell does not exist, and that bad souls consequently are not punished. The Vatican, according to the New York Times, had felt obliged to issue a denial: Pope Francis had been misquoted, as Hell, for him, was still “one of the central tenets of Catholicism.” This anecdote, while it accounts for the position of the Roman Catholic church, also indirectly poses a question: if there is such a thing as Hell, what does it look like? Or, more generally: if there is an afterlife, what are its different aspects? The role of fiction, to use the subtitle of Eagleman’s book, is to answer these questions by providing “tales from the afterlife,” that is, ludic, playful versions of what it might be like once we are “there.”

Notes 1

2

3

4

5

The structure is the same in another classic of posthumous narrative, Robert Davies’s Murther & Walking Spirits. Because the narrator is killed and the identity of the killer revealed in the first sentence of the novel, the questions, just like in The Lovely Bones, are to know how the deceased is going to “live” as a ghost and whether the killer will be punished. One could add to this basic typology the narratives that focus on the moment of death, on the model of Ambrose Bierce’s short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” William Golding’s Pincher Martin falls under this category, but it takes more than two hundred pages to tell what happened within a few minutes: a seaman whose ship has sunk seems to have escaped, but he in fact has drowned. However interesting, this text does not belong to my corpus because the story is not told by the character but by a heterodiegetic narrator. Both Parks’s and Ward’s novels have in common with Faulkner’s that they are road novels. In Park’s, the characters travel from Texas to Arizona to exhume “mother’s body,” retrieve the jewels she was supposedly buried with, and bring her home; in Ward’s, they drive from southern to northern Mississippi to pick up one of the characters’ husbands, who is being released from prison. Susan Lanser, contrasting the “road” with the “drawing room,” has argued that the road novel is not exclusively a masculine domain; women novelists have indeed claimed the subgenre and staged female characters who “take to the road” (28). Lanser does not mention Parks’s work (Ward’s is posterior to her article), which shows that the road novel can be appropriated by African-American women. Saint-Paulien is the pen name of Maurice-Yvan Sicard (1910-2000), a French journalist and writer who was a member of the Doriot’s proto-fascist movement Parti Populaire Français. Sentenced to forced labor in 1946 because of his collaborationist activities during the German occupation of France but then pardoned, Sicard is the author, besides of Hitler’s “memoirs,” of a history of the collaboration and of novels featuring the French SS volunteers. Not all dead narrators are innocent victims of brutality and/or discrimination. The narrator of Horace McCoy’s potboiler Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, for example, is a vicious offender, who himself commits several crimes before being shot at the very end of the novel.

Works Cited Adair, Gilbert. The Death of the Author. William Heinemann, 1992. Alber, Jan. Unnatural Narrative: Impossible Worlds in Fiction and Drama. U of Nebraska P, 2016. Alber, Jan. “Unnatural Spaces and Narrative Worlds.” A Poetics of Unnatural Narrative, edited by Jan Alber, Henrik Skov Nielsen, and Brian Richardson. Ohio State UP, 2013, pp. 45–66. Atwood, Margaret. Penelopiad. Canongate, 2005. Beigbeder, Frédéric. Windows on the World. Grasset, 2003. Bennett, Alice. Afterlife and Narrative in Contemporary Fiction. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

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Dead Man/and Woman Talking Butor, Michel. Degrés. Gallimard, 1960. Butor, Michel. La Modification. Minuit, 1957. Castillo, Ana. So Far from God. Norton, 1993. Chang, Lan Samantha. Hunger: A Novella and Stories. Norton, 1998. Chateaubriand, François-René de. Mémoires d’outre-tombe. 1898–1899. Gallimard, 1951. Culler, Jonathan. “Omniscience.” Narrative, vol. 12, no. 1, 2004, pp. 22–34. Davies, Robert. Murther & Walking Spirits. Penguin, 1991. Davis, Kathryn. Versailles. Houghton Mifflin, 2002. DeMan, Paul. “Autobiography as De-Facement.” The Rhetoric of Romanticism, Columbia UP, 1984, pp. 67–82. Eagleman, David. Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives. Pantheon Books, 2009. Everett, Percival. American Desert. Hyperion, 2004. Falconer, Rachel. Hell in Contemporary Literature: Western Descent Narratives Since 1945. Edinburgh UP, 2005. Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying. Jonathan Cape, 1930. Friedman, Alan Warren. Fictional Death and the Modernist Enterprise. Cambridge UP, 1995. Fuentes, Carlos. Destiny and Desire, translated by Edith Grossman. Random House, 2011. Genette, Gérard. Figures III. Seuil, 1972. Genette, Gérard. Nouveau discourse du récit. Seuil, 1983. Golding, William. Pincher Martin. Faber and Faber, 1966. Heinze, Ruediger. “Violations of Mimetic Epistemology in First-Person Narrative Fiction.” Narrative, vol. 16, no. 3, 2008, pp. 279–297. Herman, David. Story Logic: Problems and Possibilities of Narrative. U of Nebraska P, 2002. Holland, Sharon Patricia. Raising the Dead: Readings of Death and (Black) Subjectivity. Duke UP, 2000. Horowitz, Jason. “An atheist and the Pope talk (maybe) about Hell.” New York Times, 31 Mar. 2018, p. A18. Hutcheon, Linda. Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction. Routledge, 1988. Kacandes, Irene. Talk Fiction: Literature and the Talk Explosion. U of Nebraska P, 2001. Kachtick, Keith. Hungry Ghost. Harper Collins, 2003. Kachtick, Keith. Hungry Ghost, Book Interview, https://b0f646cfbd7462424f7a-f9758a43fb7c33cc8adda 0fd36101899.ssl.cf2.rackcdn.com/book-interviews/BI-9780060523916.pdf. Accessed 15 July 2020. Käkelä-Puumala, Tiina. “Postmodern Ghosts and the Politics of Invisible Life.” Death and Literature, edited by Outi Hakola and Sari Kivistö. Cambridge Scholars, 2014, pp. 83–101. Kenan, Randall. Let the Dead Bury the Dead and Other Stories. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992. Kong, Belinda. “When Ghosts Dream: Immigrant Desire in Lan Samantha Chang’s Hunger.” Death in American Texts and Performances: Corpses, Ghosts, and the Reanimated Dead, edited by Lisa K. Perdigao and Mark Pizzato. Ashgate, 2010, pp. 99–112. Lanser, Susan. “Toward (a Queerer and) More (Feminist) Narratology.” Narrative Theory Unbound: Queer and Feminist Interventions, edited by Susan Lanser and Robyn Warhol. Ohio State UP, 2015, pp. 23–42. McCoy, Horace. Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye. Random House, 1948. Montesquieu, Charles-Louis de. Lettres persanes. 1721. Gallimard, 2014. Moody, Raymond. Life After Life: The Investigation of a Phenomenon – Survival of Bodily Death. Bantam, 1975. Moore, Susanna. In the Cut. Penguin Random House, 1995. Morrison, Toni. Beloved. Knopf, 1987. Naylor, Gloria. Mama Day. Vintage Books, 1989. Norman, Brian. Dead Women Talking: Figures of Injustice in American Literature. Johns Hopkins UP, 2013. O’Brien, Flann. The Third Policeman. McGibbon and Kee, 1967. Olson, Greta. “Introducing Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones.” anglistik & englischunterricht, vol. 66, 2005, pp. 137–146. Palahniuk, Chuck. Damned. Anchor Books, 2011. Pamuk, Orhan. My Name Is Red. Translated by Erdag Göknar. Knopf, 2001. Parks, Suzan-Lori. Getting Mother’s Body. Harper Perennial, 2004. Phelan, James. “Implausibilities, Crossovers, and Impossibilities: A Rhetorical Approach to Breaks in the Code of Mimetic Character Narration.” A Poetics of Unnatural Narrative, edited by Jan Alber, Henrik Skov Nielsen, and Brian Richardson. Ohio State UP, 2013, pp. 167–184. Plenzdorf, Ulrich. Die Neuen Leiden des Jungen W. 1973. Suhrkamp, 2008. Raymond, Claire. The Posthumous Voice in Women’s Writing from Mary Shelley to Sylvia Plath. Routledge, 2006.

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Philippe Carrard Richardson, Brian. Unnatural Narrative: Theory, History, and Practice. Ohio State UP, 2015. Ryan, Marie-Laure. “Impossible Worlds.” Routledge Companion to Experimental Literature, edited by Joe Bray, Alison Gibbons, and Brian McHale. Routledge, 2012, pp. 368–379. Saint-Paulien. Pourquoi j’ai perdu la guerre par Adolf Hitler: Mémoires d’outre tombe. Editions du Clan, 1968. Sebold, Alice. The Lovely Bones. Little, Brown, and Company, 2002. Self, Will. How the Dead Live. Grove Press, 2000. Skibell, Joseph. A Blessing on the Moon. Algonquin Books, 1997. Smith, Ali. Hotel World. Hamish Hamilton, 2001. Sternberg, Meir. Expositional and Temporal Ordering in Fiction. Johns Hopkins UP, 1978. Tallent, Elizabeth. “The Trouble with Postmortality.” The Threepenny Review, Spring 2005, pp. 1–7. Tan, Amy. Saving Fish from Drowning. Harper Perennial, 2006. Thomas, D. M. The White Hotel. Viking, 1981. Voltaire. L’Ingénu. 1767. Larousse, 1994. Wallace, David Foster. “Good Old Neon.” Oblivion: Stories. Back Bay Books, 2004, pp. 141–181. Ward, Jesmyn. Sing, Unburied, Sing. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017.

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8 THE VIEW FROM UPSTREAM Authority and Projection in Fontenelle’s Nouveaux dialogues des morts Jessica Goodman

In 1683, Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle published the first volume of his Nouveaux dialogues des morts. The text, which brought together a series of celebrated individuals in conversation in the afterlife, explicitly modeled itself on a work by Lucian of Samosata, written in the second century CE. Fontenelle was far from the only modern author to take on this classical model: Fénelon, Boileau, and Voltaire in France, and Lyttleton in England were just some of those who revived the famous dead across the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. But in the only full-length study of the form to date, Egilsrud identifies Fontenelle as its superlative example (110–14). The dialogues were immensely successful: the first volume was reprinted twice in the following months, a second volume followed at the end of the year, and a final section (the Judgment of Pluto) appeared in early 1684. Modern criticism has considered them as examples of the contemporary trend for gallantry (Cazanave 125), as echoing polite salon conversation (as studied by Fumaroli), and for their contribution to the quarrel of the ancients and the moderns (Corréard 51–70); it has commented upon the choice of interlocutors, who at times seem incongruous and designed to create antitheses (Cosentini 2) yet also reveal the continuity of humanity across time (Marchal 121), and it has examined the text in the broader context of the dialogue form, as a search for truth or judgment (Pujol 231–47). Less often, however, has this text or its successors appeared in studies about death in literature; indeed, Henrichot, noting this fact in 2002, suggests that death itself is, paradoxically, almost absent from the genre of the “dialogue of the dead” (127). In line with other authors in the same volume, he wonders if the representation of death here is, as elsewhere, merely a pretext to do something else entirely (Garreau 16). It is true that there is little or no attempt to give a “realistic” representation of death or the afterlife: there is no hellish (or heavenly) landscape, no reference to the ghostly shape of the interlocutors, no macabre depiction of the processes of dying or burial, and no description of how the souls have arrived in their new domain. But that is not to say that the protagonists’ status as dead is of no relevance at all. One of the key functions of these dialogues is their satirical impact: the comments that the dead make about the world they have left behind. And it is precisely the fact that they are dead that provides them with the detachment – with the clarity of perspective – to make such comments (see Henrichot 134 and Pujol 232). Fontenelle himself is explicit in this regard, writing in his preface: “The Dead have a great capacity for reflection, both because of their 83

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experience, and because of their leisure […] They reason better than us regarding the affairs of our world, because they regard them with more indifference and more tranquility, and they want to reason on them, for they retain some interest in them” (48; all translations mine). As the grammarian Parmeniscus says in his dialogue with Theocritus: “Living means not knowing what one is doing for the majority of the time. When we discover the unimportance of all that preoccupies us and affects us, we tear Nature’s secret from her: we become too wise” (147). In this commonplace of the genre, and of critical responses to it, death is the condition for this wisdom: it provides them with a form of authority to which the living simply do not have access. This authority is also based on a sort of panoramic view of history – what Leiris describes as “a view situated in time, but already outside of time” (223) – in which the repeated mistakes of mankind suddenly become blindingly obvious. However, in a dialogue between Montaigne and Socrates in which this very theme is discussed at length, the notion of authority as it is linked to death is revealed as more complex. These might be great men; they may be wise in their posthumous detachment, but they are not untouchable. Says Socrates: “When we lived, we accorded our ancestors far more esteem than they deserved; and at present, our descendants accord us more esteem than we deserve, but our ancestors, and we, and our descendants, are all the same in the end” (85). These are, as Dagen points out in his introduction to the 1971 edition of the dialogues, “not those dead figures without any consistency or interest, who hurry, once the dialogues are over, to participate in […] the false and derisory myth of a fixed essence, which is the state of true death” (26). And if they are not fixed – more specifically, if this lack of fixity and grandeur can be both pointed out and exploited by their still-living revivifier, Fontenelle himself – then the authoritative wisdom conferred by their death is perhaps also less definite than commonplace interpretations of this genre would imply. In what follows, I seek to unpack the different iterations and interactions of death and authority in this text, beyond the notion of critical detachment. I examine how the textual reincarnations of dead greats simultaneously act as figures of authority, and are left open to manipulation and domination by those that follow them. I consider the interplay of voices, and how the question of the judgment of those to come is presented and problematized throughout the text. Finally, I ask how far the imaginative resources Fontenelle employs to undertake this examination of the afterlife and its inhabitants are in fact intimately bound up with the very arguments he makes about the value of projecting one’s own posterity. The chapter title, of course, refers to Terence Cave’s immensely influential work on “afterlives,” in which “upstream” refers to going backward in time, whilst “downstream” is the future for an idea, or a person, or a text: the fragmentations, recreations, and refractions of the original (Afterlives). The dead figures examined here might seem unproblematically to belong to the “upstream” – certainly in the traditional interpretation of their authoritative status – and to comment on the present from their position in the past. However, as we shall see, when it comes to talking about posterity, the direction of travel is often far more complicated, and we might ultimately find that they are better described as existing in their own “downstream,” having been transposed forward into a different world and in the process becoming something totally new. The presence of explicit reflections on posthumous fame and glory in Fontenelle’s dialogues has been noted by a number of critics. Corréard suggests that the range of individuals presented (from the ancient to the modern; from authors to emperors) encourages a meditation on how everyone is equal before eternity (63), Marchal points out Fontenelle’s insistence on the vain illusions of all earthly concerns (124), and Cosentini evokes a similar theme of fortune laughing at humankind (25). In the dialogues themselves, Athenais and Icasis – respectively an oracle and a Turkish beauty – consider how context is all: the character trait (wit) that made the reputation 84

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of one of the women was the downfall of the other, and thus “everything is uncertain. It seems that fortune gave different levels of success to the very same thing, in order to consistently mock human reason, which can therefore hold onto no solid rules” (71). Meanwhile, Cosimo de Medici complains that the moons of Jupiter, which once bore his name, now no longer immortalize him, thwarting his attempt to “hold onto life,” and demonstrating the contingency of earthly fame, even when it is tied to apparently immortal celestial objects (97–99). At the other end of the scale, Artemisia and Ramon Llull, both interpreted as glorious in their lifetimes (she for her fidelity to her husband – swallowing his ashes, and building a temple in his honor – and he for his search for the philosopher’s stone), reveal that both their lifetime reputations were built upon falsehoods, for she made her great displays of fidelity to conceal her love for another, and he never found the mythical stone; two facts revealed only after their deaths (159–62). This theme of the contingent nature of reputation would seem to undermine any notion of human authority, whether on the part of the living or the dead. What the other studies cited fail to recognize, however, is either the manner in which this text participates in the very posterity it explores, or the importance of the conceit of death to this self-reflexive mode. The motif of detachment from earthly concerns and personal passions can be found in dialogues of the dead across time: the memory-wiping waters of the Lethe are credited with giving the dead access to a higher plane of disinterested reason (Egilsrud 17). Yet in Fontenelle’s dialogues, the personal concerns, motivations, and quarrels of the interlocutors could hardly be more present, most particularly as they regard the survival of their reputation, and the precise manner in which they are viewed by the world they have left behind. Despite the acknowledgment of chance and contingency, the attempt to control one’s own legacy – to acquire authority over it – is a running theme. Herostratus vocalizes this universal desire when he notes that “[t]he earth is like a series of great tablets, onto which everyone wants to inscribe his name” (129), and Bérénice specifically ties this survival of a name alone (irrespective of any reputation attached to it) to a sort of cheating of death, stating: “Men […] cannot evade death, and so they try to hold back from its grasp the two or three syllables that belong to them” (98). Death and glory are thus inextricably linked. On the most basic level, Aristotle’s discussion with the poet Anacreon revolves around the question of relative reputation, and what merits a glorious posterity, comparing a mere “Scribbler of Ditties” with “a Philosopher of such great reputation as I” (63). A more complex version of a similar debate emerges in the dialogue between the Emperor Hadrian and Margaret of Austria, which also introduces the question of where and how reputation is conveyed. The two engage in a long discussion over the grandeur of their respective final moments, and that of Cato. Hadrian argues that his death was great because of his witty, philosophical final words, which he carefully composed before expiring (89). But Margaret, who lived some 1,300 years later than Hadrian, knows nothing of his bons mots, while being well appraised of the actions surrounding Cato’s death: a suicide to avoid falling into the hands of the enemy. Actions, she seems to argue, speak louder than words across time. Yet Margaret herself also composed words to outlive her, in her case an epitaph, written “with a cool head” during a storm at sea, when she anticipated death at any moment. Producing this comic couplet (“Here lies Margot, the gentle maiden / Who had two Husbands, and is still a virgin” (90) – the rhyme is Damoiselle/Pucelle in French) – was not only, as she says, “most extraordinary” in the circumstances, but also showed a desire to control her legacy through the very form (words) that she dismisses in Hadrian’s case. Indeed, this theme of textual reputation is pervasive. It is something of a commonplace to speak of the durability of text: the image is present in Horace’s “I shall not wholly die” (Horace 216–17) and in endless reiterations since. Elsewhere in Fontenelle’s text, it is very clear that the teller of a tale takes on the authority, while the (dead) subject is left helpless. Dido complains bitterly at how 85

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her own story has been manipulated: “It pleased a Poet named Virgil to transform such a strict Prude as I into a young Coquette, who lets herself be charmed by the good looks of a Stranger from the first day that she sees him. My whole story is upended” (59; for the multiple textual afterlives of Dido in the medieval context, see Swift 207–22). It is revealing that Dido also considers why such changes were made: “if Virgil were required to recognize me in the Aeneid as a virtuous woman, the Aeneid would lose a lot by it.” There is an acknowledgement, here, of artistic license, and of the priorities of literary value over truth. The voiceless dead, in this model, have no authority at all; rather, it is those who come after who speak for and through them, manipulating them to suit their own purposes, which might include entertainment or aesthetics. If text is really what lasts, the situation should be somewhat different for the authors brought back to life by Fontenelle. Unlike Dido, such figures have produced the text that, in Horace’s model, can live on beyond them, and thus create and transmit a version of them to future generations. Some authors of dialogues of the dead go so far as to reproduce or rework the words of their protagonists, thus apparently proving this notion (see, for example, Gouges). Marvick notes instead that Fontenelle does not even claim to quote, rather aiming for authentic-sounding conversation (74). However, there are still moments when the status of authors and the potential power of text beyond the grave are explicitly valorized. Montaigne’s conversation with Socrates includes italicized terms (“such a naïve virtue” and “such natural […] charms”) that are footnoted as “terms of Montaigne,” and thus do point to the ability of words to live on (83). In the Judgment of Pluto with which the collection ends, it is the authors Aristotle and Homer who most vehemently complain that they have not been allowed to use their words in order to respond to the slights that Fontenelle has visited upon them in the first two volumes (223, 227). Of course, it is in this denial of the right to respond, now that they are dead, that we find the weakness of the durable text, for it is still the audience that has power over the interpretation of any piece of writing. The dialogue between Homer and Aesop illustrates this point vividly: the latter is convinced, along with all the “great savants” of his time, that Homer tried to “hide great mysteries in [his] Works,” while the Greek insists that they were, for the most part, mere fictions (139–44). Just like the voiceless Dido, Homer has been forced to see his legacy in the hands of others: text, it appears, is not always as solid as bronze, but rather is flexible and infinitely reinterpretable. With this insistence that the downstream living reader or readerwriter holds the power, the locus of authority definitively shifts, from the once-authoritative, clear-sighted dead to the author who brings them back to life, taking over from pure chance to become the active and changeable representative of the “Posterity [which] distinguishes between the praises heaped upon different Princes, confirming some, and declaring the others vile flattery,” as Pietro Aretino puts it to the Emperor Augustus (76). However, even this definitive shift is not all it appears. For while Fontenelle takes on the authority to retell the stories and rewrite the words of his distinguished dead, their own authority is not entirely useless. It is by pronouncing his own views through their illustrious, dead mouths that he can imbue these views with greater authority: in other words, the conceit of their distance and upstream wisdom as the dead is still relevant, but must be combined with that other facet of death, the (bodily and verbal) absence that Fontenelle can fill with his own thoughts. This is, after all, the notion at the heart of the genre itself. Fontenelle thus enacts the processes of posterity, not only in his appropriation of these famous names and voices, but in the fact that he defines his cast, selecting who it is that has the requisite authority for him to ventriloquize in this manner. Though previous writers have noted his anti-commemorative challenges to “official history” and its “unmerited panegyrics” (Niderst 68–73; see also 86

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Cosentini 78; Bonnet 143; Pujol 233, 243), in this regard we might also see the text as acting as a precursor to the cult of great men that would develop across the eighteenth century, and culminate in the creation of the Panthéon in 1791 (Bonnet). This cult involved the identification of great individuals to act as inspiration for contemporaries and to define the parameters of French identity. In selecting great men and women to bring together, whether as good or bad examples, and in attributing to them wise morals of his own invention, Fontenelle creates something of a personal Panthéon. This process involves sharing the authority with his protagonists. He capitalizes upon their existing, authoritative reputations in a context over which he has complete control; purporting, as does the Aztec ruler Montezuma in the dialogues, to learn from the great dead of history (“since my arrival, I have been studying history through the conversations I have had with different Dead,” 207), but all the while using his privileged downstream position to treat them as puppets in his fictional world. The self-reflexive nature of this text, participating in and commenting upon posterity, comes to a head in the third section, the Judgment of Pluto. In this polyvocal supplement, the interlocutors brought back to life in the previous two volumes are released from the constraints of their individual dialogues, and come together to complain to Pluto, Lord of the Underworld, about their treatment by the upstart Fontenelle. They are thus shown to be commenting on the effect that Fontenelle’s rewritings of them – his imposition of his own authority – will have on their reputations; in other words, the participation of this very text in the construction of the posterity of its subjects is explicitly acknowledged. Plato is particularly aggrieved that “I am no longer, in this Dialogue, the divine Plato – or at least, I have been thoroughly humanized” (252); the “no longer” here suggesting a definitive alteration to his reputation among the living. It is in this context that Fontenelle’s credentials as a “modern” against the “ancients” have most frequently been identified: Homer and others complain about the lack of respect shown to their longstanding reputation, marveling: “he dismisses in a moment, with little reflection, so many judgments that have all been in agreement?” (228). Meanwhile, there is also a sense of reputation among the fellow dead: the Greek courtesan Phryne notes that her companions now insist on referring to her as the “little conqueror,” following Fontenelle’s presentation of her teaching Alexander the Great about war based on her coquettish conquests (222); Pluto halts a reading of the second volume of dialogues to the audience of assembled spirits on the basis that it will be damaging for those modern greats whose reputations are less well established. The fiction of the intradiegetic audience of souls also allows the comment that the less well-known dead (the vast majority of those listening) enjoy hearing their better-known companions taken down a peg or two: appreciating the spectacle as if they were “at the theater.” For them, anonymity in the annals of history is a benefit, as “the Author would not find them in any History or Historical Dictionary […] and they were totally out of the reach of such a dangerous man” (255). The sense that Fontenelle’s work can have such an effect in both this world and the next, even when expressed through fiction, endows the text itself with a significant weight. This, of course, is the final element of self-reflexivity, for this section also allows Fontenelle to think about the posterity of the text and its author themselves, and thus return once more to focus on his own, very specific authority. Written in response to contemporary critiques of the two volumes of dialogues, the Judgment is sometimes seen as trying to attenuate some of the dialogues’ more extreme presentations of their interlocutors. But it also allows Fontenelle to underline how he has the final word: how he is the master of all, the end point in the lineage of the illustrious greats he celebrates and critiques. This begins with setting himself in the succession of Lucian in his preface – indeed, it is Lucian himself who is asked to represent the (stillliving) Fontenelle at the “trial” to which his work is subject in the Judgment. But if the 87

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character Fontenelle is absent, unable to defend himself, the author Fontenelle is the all-pervasive presence, painting the follies of his predecessors; and thus conforming, too, to the recipe for immortality that he sets out, via the mouth of Molière, earlier in the text: “I know perfectly well how revolutions can take place in the Empire of Letters; and with all of that, I can guarantee that my Plays will last. […] If you want to write for immortality, then paint [a] picture of Idiots” (191). What looks like hubris on Molière’s part (we have already seen that no future image, even crystallized in text, can be guaranteed) seems somewhat unironically appropriated by Fontenelle with regard to his own writing. In his analysis of the fate of others in posterity, has he perhaps found a way to cheat the vicissitudes of time and the future reader? Even the ultimately fictional nature of this recreation of the dead is both explicitly commented upon and valorized. The work of the imagination with respect to notions of posterity – the fact that the consciousness of one’s future, posthumous self is ever only a projection – reappears again and again across the dialogues. For a minority of Fontenelle’s dead, posterity’s unattainable nature combines with the contingent nature of fate to become mere illusion. Mary Queen of England states: “Ambition is easily recognized as a work of the imagination; […] it continually moves beyond its desires as soon as they are fulfilled; its end point is never reached” (204). Yet for most of the interlocutors, the motivational facet of potential glory somewhere downstream in posterity is necessary, however ephemeral and uncontrollable it may be, far outweighing mere duty as a driving force. Lucretius describes it as the very reason for moral, heroic actions in life: “That chimera is the most powerful thing in the world […] see how it populates the Champs-Elysées; glory brings us more people than the fever” (181). Though he acknowledges that glory means nothing once one has passed the Lethe, “the Living can never know this,” for otherwise “no-one would accomplish any more heroic actions” (182). Moreover, the example of the glorious dead is explicitly evoked as vital to inspiring such thoughts of future glory. This point is ironically raised by Ramon Llull, whose own false glory has been revealed, but who nonetheless insists on his potential as a model: “in all things, men must find a point of perfection that is out of their reach. They would never even start their journey if they thought they would only arrive at the point that they will in fact attain; they must have before their eyes an imaginary end-point that drives them forward” (161). Imagining the future can not only be productive, it can also be pleasurable, as Queen Elizabeth of England notes when she explains why she pretended she would marry a series of suitors with no real intention of doing so: “when things pass from our imagination to reality, something is always lost,” but “if chimeras were taken away from Man, what other pleasure would be left to him?” (111–13). The genre of the dialogue of the dead complicates the idea that posthumous glory is always receding, always just out of reach of its subject, for these individuals are, in the fiction, present at their own post-mortem, swimming downstream alongside the new versions of themselves generated by their successors, and thus able to assess the relationship between their actions in life and their reputations after death. In fact, talking about the dead and about posterity always involves a complicated negotiation of tenses: for the living, death is conjugated in the future, and even the present-tense experience of dying itself must belong to the world of the living (Guirlinger 23). In contrast, in the imagined discussions of the dead, their lives are by definition in the past (and often the past conditional; “if only I had… I would have”), whereas their “present” is an eternal state with no future, except for that created for them by others based on that completed, perfective past (for more on death and tenses, see Kenny). The articulation between past, present, and future is especially visible in a dialogue on the theme of projection that takes place between Jeanne of Naples and her astrologer Anselme. Despite noting that “it would be funny if a dead man made predictions,” and despite Anselme’s insistence that such predictions, futile in life, are even more so in death, Jeanne wants a 88

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prediction for herself, requesting it in a complicated sequence of tenses which themselves underline the unreal nature of the future to be discussed: “although I know that nothing will happen to me, if you wanted nonetheless to predict something for me, that would not prevent it providing me with some distraction” (123). For her, then, an imagined future is not just motivation to be glorious; it is, rather, a human necessity. Though Anselme warns that “the greatest trap laid for man is always the future” (124), because it never materializes, Jeanne insists that the gap between anticipation and reality is irrelevant; it is the fact of having considered, imagined, or simply thought about the future at all that counts: “I believe that of all the dead who are here, there is not one who has not left his life before making the use of it that he had hoped to […] But what does it matter; I place much weight on the pleasure of predicting, hoping, fearing, even, and having a future before one” (126). That the “one” [soi] of the future and that of the present are here so clearly distinguished is, of course, misleading: one not only becomes the other, but – to a greater or lesser extent – the two “selves” also try to shape one another, with the “me” of the present imagining that of the future, and that of the future attempting to rewrite that of the past. The dead, in Fontenelle’s afterlife, inhabit that distant, future, downstream “me,” but their own rewritings no longer have any impact on how that “me” is viewed by others; they are no longer actors in their own drama, as encapsulated by that plaintive “the use of it that he had hoped to” (il en voulait faire in the French; my emphasis). It is precisely because these dead interlocutors no longer have quite the same capacity as the living to “predict […] hope […] have a future before [them]” that they are at once authoritative in themselves (they have, too late, learned what does and does not count), useful figures of authority for Fontenelle to appropriate (as they are no longer able to change their own destinies, their illustrious name becomes an empty vessel for another to fill), and models for the writer, who seeks to validate his own art. Imagination, projection, fiction, pleasure, and instruction are all words that also have significant resonance when it comes to discussions of literature. By projecting the futures of others, Fontenelle gains vicarious access to that posthumous space of authority and judgment: through his entertaining and creative literary invention, he also projects himself downstream into his own future, using the lessons learned by others to think about how best to perform his own legacy. He thus enacts the advice that would later be given by Marmontel in his Encyclopédie article “glory”: “He who transports himself into the future, and enjoys the memory of himself, will write work that is for all the centuries, as if he were immortal […] for his imagination makes him present to posterity” (720). Rather like the eighteenth-century travel commentators who throw their voice via the perspective of an outsider, Fontenelle adopts the perspective of the authoritative dead, demonstrating himself to have, despite his status as living, “a basis of Logic […] of which no-one but a dead man would be capable” (234). In doing so, and even as he reveals the very lack of fixity that marks the afterlife of any individual, he tries to “make [himself] present to posterity,” to carve out for himself a more secure space in the literary afterlife than the fragile, manipulable glory of those he brings back to life in his fiction. The notion that both Fontenelle and his protagonists actively seek to imagine their own afterlives might seem to complicate any attempt to read their actions and writings as Cave would have us do: suspending our hindsight to encounter them in their present, on their terms (Pré-histoires). Yet paradoxically, their awareness of their downstream context, as separate from their actual fate in posterity, is precisely part of that present which it is so important to rediscover - a part that this text throws sharply into relief. Contrary to what some scholars have claimed, then, death turns out to be very important for these dialogues, when they are considered from the perspective of their meditations on posterity. But while detached authority and the contingent nature of fate remain important features of the resuscitation of these past greats, it is their potential as part-known, part89

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fictionalized projections that makes them most useful to Fontenelle. In the end, it is the living writer who has the final word, both rewriting the posterities of others and “judging” his own text. The contingent experience of others and the specter of his own future reputation are as useful to him in their motivating properties as his dead protagonists claim they will be, but are also a tool that he believes he has mastered: able to swim both upstream and downstream, and imagine the perspective from both.

Works Cited Bonnet, Jean-Claude. Naissance du Panthéon. Essai sur le culte des grands hommes. Fayard, 1998. Cave, Terence. Mignon's Afterlives: Crossing Cultures from Goethe to the Twenty-First Century. Oxford UP, 2011. Cave, Terence. Pré-histoires: Textes troublés au seuil de la modernité. Droz, 1999. Cazanave, Claire. Le dialogue à l’âge classique. Étude de la littérature dialogique en France au XVIIe siècle. Honoré Champion, 2007. Corréard, Nicolas. “Le parallèle entre anciens et modernes dans les Nouveaux dialogues des morts de Fontenelle et l’instauration d’une poétique classique du genre ménippéen.” Littératures classiques, vol. 75, 2011, pp. 51–70. Cosentini, John W. Fontenelle’s Art of Dialogue. King’s Crown Press, 1952. Dagen, Jean. “Introduction.” Fontenelle, Nouveaux dialogues des morts. Marcel Didier, 1971. Egilsrud, Johan. Le ‘Dialogue des Morts’ dans les littératures française, allemande et anglaise (1644–1789). Éditions Vega, 1934. Fontenelle, Bernard le Bovier de. Œuvres complètes. Edited by Alain Niderst. Fayard, 1990, vol. I, pp. 47–263. Fumaroli, Marc. L’Âge de l’éloquence: rhétorique et « res literaria » de la Renaissance au seuil de l’époque classique. Droz, 1980. Garreau, Bernard-Marie. “Introduction.” Les Représentations de la mort. Actes du colloque organisé par le CRELLIC, Université de Bretagne-Sud, Lorient, 8–10 novembre 2000, edited by Bernard-Marie Garreau. Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2002, pp. 13–20. Gouges, Olympe de. Mirabeau aux Champs-Elysées, edited by Jessica Goodman, MHRA Critical Texts, 2017. Guirlinger, Lucien. “La Mort ou la représentation de l’irreprésentable.” Les Représentations de la mort. Actes du colloque organisé par le CRELLIC, Université de Bretagne-Sud, Lorient, 8–10 novembre 2000. Edited by Bernard-Marie Garreau. Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2002, pp. 21–36. Henrichot, Michel. “Réflexions sur les dialogues des morts à l’Age classique.” Les Représentations de la mort. Actes du colloque organisé par le CRELLIC, Université de Bretagne-Sud, Lorient, 8–10 novembre 2000. Edited by Bernard-Marie Garreau. Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2002, pp. 127–141. Horace. Odes and Epodes, translated by N. Rudd. Loeb Classical Library, Harvard UP, 2004. Kenny, Neil. Death and Tenses. Oxford UP, 2015. Leiris, Michel. La Règle du jeu III: Fibrilles. Gallimard, 1966. Marchal, Roger. Fontenelle à l’aube des Lumières. Champion, 1997. Marmontel. “Gloire.” Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, edited by Diderot, d’Alembert et al. Briasson, 1754–1772, pp. 716–721. Marvick, Louis W. “Fontenelle and the Truth of Masks.” Modern Language Studies, vol. 23, no. 4, 1993, pp. 70–78. Niderst, Alain. Fontenelle. Plon, 1991. Pujol, Stéphane. Le Dialogue d’idées au dix-huitième siècle. Voltaire Foundation, 2005. Swift, Helen. “Points of Tension: Performing Je in Jean Bouchet’s Jugement poetic de l’honneur femenin (1538).” Visualizing Medieval Performance: Perspectives, Histories, Contexts, edited by Elina Gertsman. Ashgate, 2008, pp. 207–222.

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PART II GENRES

There is much in this study that speaks to the vastly diverse ways in which humans have understood and continue to understand and respond to death: personally, aesthetically, socially, and politically. As with formal structures, John Frow explains that genres work “at a level of semiosis – that is, of meaning-making,” noting specifically that generic frames are “one of the ways in which texts seek to control the uncertainty of communication, […] by building in figures of itself, models of how it should be read” (20, 4). In particular, Frow’s emphasis on the bidirectional “flow[s] between genre and text” (4–5) offers a productive way of considering relationships between death and genre; instead of working to encompass a totalizing master-list of genres, the essays in this section (which range dynamically from the study of children’s literature to examinations of the opera) attend to the question of how a work’s genre actively generates and shapes knowledge of and about death. Lesley D. Clement’s essay, “Big Questions: Re-Visioning and Re-Scripting Death Narratives in Children’s Literature,” focuses on “the text-image interanimation of twentieth- and twenty-first-century picturebooks” to explain how works of children’s literature “interrogate, re-vision, and re-script adult death narratives.” Drawing on examples from Keizaburo Tejima’s Swan Sky, E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Margery Williams’s The Velveteen Rabbit, Margaret Wise’s The Dead Bird, and others, Clement explicates how child characters “(re)create their own scripts about how to grieve loss” and, more generally, how animal friendships are used to introduce death-related themes in children’s literature, “showing the legacy that each individual creature, each individual species, leaves for its community, and honoring that legacy through the mourners’ memory.” Taking up where Clement leaves off, Karen Coats’s essay “In the U-Bend with Moaning Myrtle: Thinking about Death in YA Literature” examines the varied ways in which death is used in young adult (YA) fiction “as a plot device, a metaphor for individuation and childhood’s end, a call for greater social awareness and broader empathy, and a quest for what it means to be posthuman.” Using examples from J. K. Rowling, Lauren Henderson, Annette Curtis Klause, John Greens, Suzanne Collins, and other YA writers to explain how “death functions as an ideological catalyst in the dialogic formation of teen values in contemporary culture,” Coats contends that the genre fills an important epistemological lacuna by addressing “conversations and insights that teens need – which adults are too often reluctant to address directly.” 91

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José Alaniz’s essay, “Death and Mourning in Graphic Narrative,” provides a clear and critical overview of how “debility, dying, death, loss, and mourning have figured prominently in graphic narrative since the medium’s emergence in the late nineteenth century.” Like other essays in this section, Alaniz speaks specifically to how features of the genre make it ideal for exploring issues related to death, tracing death’s evolving function: beginning with early newspaper strips that project the “modern body’s resilience” to the “persistent traumas” brought about by the age of industrialization, to its central role in the twenty-first century’s “quasi-eugenicist superhero genre” – where death remains “its structuring, oft-disavowed other.” In his essay “Death and Documentaries: Heuristics for the Real in an Age of Simulation,” Benjamin Bennett-Carpenter contends that “the entire experience of documentaries points to the mortal condition, where the genre operates as an especially apt form of contemporary memento mori experience.” In particular, Bennett-Carpenter examines documentary’s rhetorical functions in relation to death: how it effects transformative action by confronting us with the fact that we must die – and the impetus to revise behavior when faced with impending death. Noting that the difficulty of fully distinguishing between life and death is mirrored in finding “distinctions between the imaginary and empirical,” Bennett-Carpenter observes that “[a]s technologies and audiences become more sophisticated in an age of simulation, documentary increasingly operates as a heuristic rather than simple documentation of the real.” Death is central to how tragedy has been defined since Aristotle, and in his essay “Death and the Fanciulla,” Reed Way Dasenbrock recognizes a shift in the central tragic character from male to female “as the key moment leading to the modern, female-centered tragedy found in nineteenth-century opera.” With reference to Shakespearean tragedies including Othello, Julius Caesar, and especially The Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet (which, Dasenbrock notes, infuses “the cultural energy of the Renaissance love lyric into drama in a way that permanently enlarges the potential of the genre of tragedy”), Dasenbrock contends “that this shift in genre is only possible with a profound shift in the way the culture as a whole thinks about female agency.” Dasenbrock ultimately argues that the deaths of characters such as Desdemona, Portia, and Juliet carry “more weight and resonance” than those of their male partners, asserting that their deaths paradoxically evince “a momentous positive shift in the status of women.” In the section’s concluding essay, Ronald Schleifer’s “Death, Literary Form, and Affective Comprehension: Primary Emotions and the Neurological Basis of Genre” offers a decisive shift in treating genres not as “formal categories by which phenomenal experience” is “explained, understood, [and] apprehended,” but by suggesting that genre builds upon “affective responses to experience that are evolutionarily adaptive.” Proceeding from John Frow’s premise that “ ‘human behavior is rich in analogous forms of bracketing,’ ” Schleifer adopts David Huron’s neurological study of the power of music to explain how “genre attends to constants in human experience,” “reground[ing] primal emotions of fear, anger, and surprise – emotions which respond to life-threatening situations – as the laughter, triumph, and awe that constitute, in basic ways, the affective comprehension of literary genres.”

Work Cited Frow, John. Genre. 2nd ed. Routledge, 2015.

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9 BIG QUESTIONS Re-Visioning and Re-Scripting Death Narratives in Children’s Literature Lesley D. Clement

In Wolf Erlbruch’s Die Große Frage [The Big Question], Death responds to an unspoken “big question” with “You are here to love life” (11th opening). Throughout history, a plethora of books have dictated to children expectations on how to frame and respond to life’s big questions. Given persistent romanticized concepts of childhood “innocence,” resulting in the protection of children from topics pertaining to sex, violence, and death, most children’s books, even today, fail to address the big questions concerning mortality, preferring instead to gloss over questions for which there are no simple absolute answers. Among the voices advocating for a literature that grants and fosters in children a “knowingness” is that of Neil Gaiman, who argues that literature is an effective means for children to develop “the resources – smartness, bravery, trickiness, pluckiness, persistence – to confront the darkness” (Clement, “Introduction” 15).1 This “knowingness” is the “precocity” that Marah Gubar observes in many Victorian and Edwardian children’s books and examines in Artful Dodgers: Reconceiving the Golden Age of Children’s Literature, demonstrating the aptitude of child characters for “reshaping stories” and their “canny resourcefulness … without claiming that they enjoy unlimited power and autonomy” (5–6). Packed into Death’s response to “the big question” (cited earlier) are the nuances that characterize the outstanding children’s books on bereavement, dying, and death that this essay discusses.2 These books interrogate, re-vision, and re-script adult death narratives through empathy, humor, contrapuntal narratives, an appeal to the macabre, recognition and acceptance of fear, and an occasional nod to the possibility that rituals and memory may fail to bring closure to the grieving process. Despite arguments that death-related themes are “taboo” in children’s books, deaths have always occurred.3 In children’s novels, the death of parents often takes place offstage to initiate the action and allow the protagonist to mature independently on his or her own terms;4 Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Sara Crewe (A Little Princess) and Mary Lennox (The Secret Garden), Roald Dahl’s James Henry Trotter (James and the Giant Peach), and J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter (Philosopher’s Stone) are the best-known examples. Death may also be a plot mechanism to trigger a critical moment when decisions are made, as, for example, the choices that the various permutations of Pa’s death precipitate in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn or “the bend in the road” (308) that Matthew Cuthbert’s death elicits in L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. Occasionally these death scenes invite more extended considerations of dying and mortality, as happens with the deaths of Beth March in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and Walter Blythe 93

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in Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside, books that are probably discovered more by young teens than children. For examples of children’s literature – as distinct from young adult (YA) or adult literature – this essay focuses on the text-image interanimation5 of twentieth- and twenty-first-century picturebooks, with several references to illustrated and graphic novels. Approaching and organizing representative books around who dies, this essay demonstrates that, although some simply recite adult narratives and impose them on child readers, most allow child characters – or child surrogates – and child readers to (re)create their own scripts about how to grieve loss and, in so doing, how to understand, conceptualize, and respond to mortality and/or life after death, philosophically and personally, as they ask questions while navigating the life–death continuum.

Cast of Animal Characters One of the most frequent ways of introducing death-related content and themes into children’s books is through a cast of animal characters. In theory, use of animal characters distances the child reader, a strategy “adopted to make the subject [of death] more palatable for publishers, mediators, and readers alike,” as seen in a Japanese picturebook by Keizaburo Tejima, Oohakuchou no sora [Swan Sky], “a story of acceptance and new life” (Beckett 250, 257). E. B. White, American author of one of the best-known examples of a narrative built around animal characters, Charlotte’s Web, would dispute that animal deaths are more conveniently “palatable” for child readers, as suggested in an interview in The Paris Review when he argued that children’s writers “have to write up, not down” because “[c]hildren are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth.” Though adult readers, editors, and film directors have had concerns about Charlotte’s death (Agosta 114; Crisp 98–108) – and it is noteworthy that illustrator Garth Williams avoids the scene in Chapter 21, “Last Day” – this book, with the threat of death hanging over the runt pig in the opening chapters and the death of the spider in the final chapters, is now a classic of children’s literature for its presentation of death. It does so not only from the usual biological and emotional perspectives, exploring themes about life’s natural cycles, mentorship, legacies, and grief, but also by addressing the big questions on how death fits into a perception of “transitional selves” (Costello 17–35), “our common mortality,” “Charlotte’s model of ‘the good death’ ” (Matthews 89, 93–94), and “speciesist discourses” that signal “monstrous otherness” legitimizing dualisms of who must die to feed whom (Daniel 19–31). As in Charlotte’s Web, many children’s picturebooks use friendship among animals of indeterminate age to introduce death-related themes. Also as in Charlotte’s Web, most stress companionship, sympathy, and empathy among differing species of animals, showing the legacy that each individual creature, each individual species, leaves for its community, and honoring that legacy through the mourners’ memories. Examples include Badger’s Parting Gifts by British author-illustrator Susan Varley, Kuma to yamaneko [The Bear and the Wildcat] by Japanese writer Kazumi Yumoto, and Kikker en het vogeltje [Frog and the Birdsong] written and illustrated by Netherlander Max Velthuijs.6 The emphasis on the connectedness of life and death does not always center on animate beings. Another classic of children’s literature that examines death-related themes from a unique angle is The Velveteen Rabbit, by English-American writer Margery Williams. Although the book’s interpretations of reality and death have engaged scholarly attention in diverse ways – Allan Kellehear’s “Death and Renewal in The Velveteen Rabbit” provides a good overview7 – these themes intersect in Kellehear’s “sociological reading”: “The theme of renewal and survival in the face of death is a necessary narrative device for the support it gives to more important themes, at 94

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least for young readers. These broader themes speak to the mutual interdependence of relationships and the triumph of love in the face of change and transformation in life, particularly in the context of growing up” (36). Rooting his argument in the theories of Jean-François Lyotard, Kellehear notes the importance of keeping open “intellectual spaces where we can entertain and examine … the plurality of ideas about death that is part of our diverse human inheritance,” as evidenced within “tales of rebirth” (48). Bug in a Vacuum by Canadian author-illustrator Mélanie Watt is a humorous take on a tale of rebirth. Will it be “An Unfair Tale with an Unhappy Ending/Based on a truly SAD story” (25th opening)? Readers are guided to think metaphorically from the pre-title page: a bug, an insect, is an “unexpected glitch”; a vacuum, a cleaning machine, is a “void left by a loss.” There are contrapuntal stories throughout: first is that of the bug whose “entire life changed with the switch of a button” (6th opening); then there are the responses of the dog, whose toy dog has also been sucked up in the vacuum. Both pass through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, despair, and acceptance. From the black tunnel of the vacuum hose, to the dusty debris-strewn innards of the vacuum, to the celestial light when the vacuum is tossed on the garbage heap, the journeys through these five emotions may be absurd but raise important questions about loss and grief, defiance in the face of death, speciesism, environmental destruction, and the nature of death itself: dark or light? a void or a world filled with flotsam and jetsam? a dream or reality? an end or a beginning? quiescence or regeneration? The boy in Velveteen Rabbit and the dog in Bug in the Vacuum accept the “death” of a onceloved toy animal and transfer their affections elsewhere. American writer Margaret Wise Brown’s The Dead Bird, one of the earliest picturebooks to focus exclusively on death, as its title unabashedly signals, also questions the capacity to remember. The children find a dead bird; they adapt adult rituals to perform a funeral for this seemingly insignificant and anonymous bird; “they cried because their singing was so beautiful and the ferns smelled so sweetly and the bird was dead” (16th opening); moved by the rituals and the signs of a rich and beautiful life around them, the children are now ready to move on. “And every day, until they forgot, they went and sang to their little dead bird and put fresh flowers on his grave” (20th opening; emphasis mine). There is emotional and physical honesty – “the limp bird body grew stiff, so they couldn’t bend its legs and the head didn’t flop when they moved it” (6th opening) – but also a gentleness that never becomes sentimental in both Brown’s restrained text and Remy Charlip’s deceptively simple images.8 The bright blue, green, and yellow of the children’s clothing and kite mirror the colors of the natural world while belying the somberness of the occasion.

Death of Pets and Elderly Family Members Because in Western societies children’s first exposure to dying and death is most often through pets and elderly grandparents, these form the subject matter for the majority of death-related children’s books, as the number of entries in several bibliographies attests; however, grieving the loss of parents, siblings, and friends is becoming more frequent.9 Books on pet loss are generally marketed for younger children and therefore tend to be quite conventional in their treatment of loss and to avoid textual or pictorial explanations or depictions of dying or death. The occasional book emerges as offering something different from the usual messages that attempt to comfort with reassurances that the child will get over the loss but will always have the memories. For example, in Tough Boris, Australian writer Mem Fox humorously shows that even the most fearless and fearful pirate can grieve deeply the loss of a pet parrot. Another Australian picturebook that deals particularly well with pet loss from a child’s perspective is Margaret Wild’s Harry & Hopper. Harry undergoes many emotions between his initial denial 95

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and final acceptance as he adjusts to life without Hopper and works through his grief in his own way, though he does not come to an understanding about dying or death beyond his personal situation. Grieving, as Angela Wiseman observes in her article “Summer’s End and Sad Goodbyes,” is an opportunity for children to “negotiate complex emotions and feelings related to their personal identities, cultural background, and relationship with the loved one” (2). Children’s books featuring a grandparent as the dying or deceased, like those on pets, also focus on loss, but memory, memorialization, and legacy all figure more prominently therein. Grandparents or elderly friends frequently act as mentors, “ ‘as transmitters of knowledge and tradition,’ including ‘the beliefs regarding death and family which our society wishes to transmit to children’ ”; however, these beliefs can be rescripted through challenges and adaptations (Clement, “Introduction” 2–3; Sadler 249). Two picturebooks that stand out in their humorous and empathic treatment of a child’s relationship with his grandfather (or, in the case of the latter, a surrogate grandfather) and subversive attitude to dying and death are German author-illustrator Jutta Bauer’s Opas Engel [Grandpa’s Angel] and Swedish author Ulf Stark’s Kan du vissla Johanna [Can You Whistle, Johanna?], both with male protagonists around the age of eight or nine coming to perceive death “as permanent, irreversible, inevitable, and universal.”10 There are books that feature grandmothers and granddaughters – several are discussed later in this essay – and David Sadler notes that, of the 29 books he surveyed, 14 are of grandfathers dying, 15 of grandmothers; 21 of granddaughters grieving, and nine of grandsons. Sadler also concludes that, “with very few exceptions,” in scenes leading to their death and in memory scenes, the “idealized” grandparents “act according to stereotyped sex roles” in transmitting family heritage (246). It is noteworthy that many of the books with a dying or dead grandmother as their subject matter are expositions not just of family heritage but of cultural practices and that, when the child responding to the lessons being taught is a granddaughter, there tends to be more compliance than negotiation of traditional beliefs and customs. Two books discussed by Charles Corr depict a grandmother passing on to her granddaughter explanations about “the meaning and implications of death,” both about North American indigenous practices. One is Annie and the Old One by Miska Miles (pen name for Patricia Miles Martin), in which a young Navajo girl, after several rebellious acts to forestall her grandmother’s return to Mother Earth, learns from her grandmother not only the art of weaving but also acceptance of death as the natural end to life. The other is The Great Change by White Deer of Autumn (pen name for Gabriel Horn), in which Wanba’s grandmother draws upon the natural world to explain the grandfather’s death and more generally that “death is part of the unbreakable Circle of Life, in which our bodies become one with Mother Earth while our souls or spirits endure” (Corr, “Grandparents” 385). In both, the granddaughter, after some initial resistance, is consoled by her grandmother’s wise beliefs and attitudes.11 In most children’s books from European and North American writers, when an elderly person dies, explanations allude vaguely and gently to biological aging, a gradual weakening followed by a natural end to a life well lived, with rarely a connection made to the human condition of mortality and hence to the child him/herself. Norwegian writer-illustrator-designer Stian Hole confronts this topic directly in Garmanns sommer [Garmann’s Summer]. Sixyear-old Garmann is surrounded by adults filled with anxieties and fears, including three “shrink[ing]” aunts “from another time” (2nd opening), who fear the aging process and their pending death. In the digitally collaged expressionistic images, reflecting Garmann’s perception of his world, parallels are made between these aunts and Garmann himself, conveying the empathy he develops for them and the growing understanding of his own mortality as his summer folds into autumn. For example, Garmann has been fretting about losing a tooth before 96

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summer’s end, an emotion rendered delightfully macabre as he peers at his aunt’s dentures in a glass (8th opening). Through his curiosity about others’ fears, Garmann channels his own fears. “Are you going to die soon?” Garmann asks Auntie Borghild. She acknowledges that she is, and when he presses her further about whether she is frightened, she admits to fear but also excitement about her journey “in the great starry wagon in the sky” and the beautiful garden that awaits her (10th opening). When Garmann finds one of his sparrow friends dead, he performs the expected rituals – burying it, placing a cross as its gravemarker – but then thinks, “When you die, you travel in the great starry wagon in the sky … but first [you will be buried down under with the earth-worms and become dirt]” (15th opening).12 The story opens with “Garmann’s summer will soon be over” and closes with “[t]hirteen hours to go before school starts. And Garmann is scared” (1st and 20th openings). Like the aunts who “have all the time in the world, but no time to lose” (17th opening), Garmann moves into an uncertain future, for which such openness is apt. “The story has an open ending, like life itself,” Hole said in an interview. “Every ending is also the beginning of something new.”

Death of Parents Understandably, some of the most powerful, and in several instances rawly honest, children’s death-themed books profile a child trying to understand a parent’s death. Another book by Hole – Annas himmel [Anna’s Heaven] – exemplifies this as it traces Anna’s and her father’s rediscovery of beauty and the power of love as they prepare for the mother’s funeral and navigate, in their individual ways, what her physical absence signifies. Anna asks big questions in their surrealistic journey, turning their world upside down and inside out as she tries to understand “[w]hy can’t he who knows everything, who can push and pull and turn over clouds and waves and planets – why can’t he invent something to turn bad into good?” (7th opening). The representations of both the creator and a celestial afterlife are metaphorically and spiritually evocative rather than religiously denominational. Anna’s father too ponders big questions as they consider what the deceased is doing and wearing in her new life. Father begins by asking, “Today there’s someone in the sky sending down nails. That is not right, is it?” Anna whispers her prediction: “No … but tomorrow there might be strawberries with honey” (5th opening). And while the nails in the front endpapers become strawberries in the closing endpapers, this is only one among several possibilities that Anna has collected as to what happens after death. Hole’s Anna’s Heaven juxtaposes absence in a physical sense – empty shoes and dresses, a broken strand of pearls – with presence in an imaginative or even spiritual sense, with the dead mother’s presence being conveyed through cloud formations, shadows, reflections, and symbolic objects such as dead flowers, falling leaves, and broken crockery. Another Norwegian book about a bereaved husband comforting his child as the child becomes aware of the significance of the mother’s absence uses a similar strategy but in an entirely different style: Eg kan ikkje sove no [My Father’s Arms Are a Boat], by Stein Erik Lunde with illustrations by Øyvind Torseter. Whereas Anna’s Heaven is told primarily through dialogue with third-person narratorial connectives, Lunde’s book is filtered entirely through the young boy’s perspective as he listens to the silence with hints from symbolic images of physical absence (an empty swing) and intense emotions (white flames licking out of the fireplace and into the cluttered kitchen). All is askew, as in Anna’s Heaven, but the edges are sharper with the prose text shaped and inserted like poetry onto the 2-D and 3-D paper cut-out illustrations. Red birds, a lurking fox, stars, and moon – the boy pieces them together almost architecturally to build a distinctive way of aligning life and death and reverencing the physical proximity of his father with his encircling arms to make their loss less debilitating. 97

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In contrast to Hole’s and Lunde’s books, in which a child finds support through an equally grieving parent, is Moi et rien [Me and Nothing] by Belgian author-illustrator Kitty Crowther, in which the mother’s death has isolated the grieving spouse from his daughter, Lila. She finds solace by wrapping herself in her living parent’s jacket and through an imaginary friend, Rien, who inspires her to discover the resilience and means to bring both herself and her father back from “nothing,” as conveyed through the analogy of Lila’s nurturing her dead mother’s garden of blue Himalayan poppies back to life. The interplay of text and image on the page, shift in voice midway, humorous depiction of Rien as a snowman–ghost hybrid, and empathic engagement this book fosters all define Crowther’s style, “a ‘dynamic’ kind of loneliness that breeds the creativity and energy to conquer oneself,” as noted when she received the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (“More About Kitty Crowther”).

Children’s Death and Grieving Many of the examples discussed so far trust to the child reader’s ability to comprehend metaphors and even symbols. When the death is that of a child, metaphorical suggestiveness seems particularly apt. In “A Note about this Story,” a preface to American author-illustrator Chris Raschka’s The Purple Balloon, Ann Armstrong-Dailey, Founding Director of Children’s Hospice International, writes that an anecdote she first heard from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross has since been corroborated by healthcare professionals: regardless of “cultural or religious background,” a dying child often draws “a blue or purple balloon, released and floating free … [R]esearchers believe that it demonstrates the child’s innate knowledge that a part of him or her will live forever.”13 Beginning with an elderly green balloon and a young red balloon on his lap to illustrate that both dying and talking about dying are “hard work” (1st–2nd openings), the book continues with pages filled with balloons of various colors, suggesting the communities available to make both easier; then a page that introduces the even more difficult topic of “someone dying young” (7th opening); and ending with a single young purple balloon and caption “[g]ood help makes leaving easier” (11th opening). All of Raschka’s simple line drawings show the importance of palliative support. While this is the primary intent of the book, it also invites big questions about the fear of dying, the connections between the living and the dead, and the paradox of mortality and eternal life, primarily through background shading, facial expressions, and balloon-string sculpting. Several of the books examined provide glimpses of adult responses to loss; however, two stand out because adult grief becomes the focus, although connected to children in effective and meaningful ways. The first is The Heart and the Bottle, by Irish artist Oliver Jeffers, who has been working out of New York City for the past decade. This is a book about love and sudden loss (there is no explanation: the father just disappears from his chair one day) and grief that cauterizes the young girl’s other emotions well into adulthood. The fairy-tale opening of the book – “Once there was a girl, much like any other” – is sustained for several expansive double-spread pages as she explores the beauty and curiosities that fill her life. The turn occurs in the seventh opening as the verso and recto, each with an empty chair and the girl waiting, profile the contrapuntal story, previously hinted at through shadows. This darker story now takes over as the girl puts her heart in a safe place, a bottle hung around her neck, and “nothing was the same” (8th opening). She becomes one of the walking dead, as the sparse, fragmented images convey. She is saved from this existence after many years when she meets a curious young girl who helps her retrieve her heart from the bottle. “And the chair wasn’t so empty anymore” (15th opening). A vulnerable heart and an empty bottle – love, joy, and curiosity as countering the void left by death and fear of change – are powerfully represented in this book’s images, design, and text. 98

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In contrast to the deadening grief that The Heart and the Bottle depicts is an adult’s intense bereavement over the death of his son – a boy well known to child readers of the humorous Eddie poems – in Michael Rosen’s Sad Book, by British duo Michael Rosen and Quentin Blake. In an educational book, What is Humanism? How do you live without a god? And Other Big Questions for Kids, which Rosen co-edited, he identifies Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be, that is the question” as his favorite quotation (8–9). As a humanist, Rosen provides no simple or categorical answers. He tries to figure out why he cannot shake his sadness and why he does such crazy and sometimes bad things, but really “[i]t’s just because.” As with Jeffers’s girl, although with very different responses, the experience of death disrupts any sense of permanence. “So what happens is that there’s a sad place inside me because things aren’t the same,” says Rosen (6th opening). He offers practical suggestions on how to alleviate bereavement, humorously illustrated with Blake’s loosely colored line drawings (7th opening). He turns to his preferred genre, poetry, and squeezes out several short poems, confiding that he “just want[s] to disappear” (8th–9th openings). Memories can be helpful, especially of birthdays with candles (13th–14th openings). The honesty of the book carries through to the end, as readers are left with a wordless image of a reflective father, pen in hand, staring at a framed picture adjacent to an oversized candle with an intensely colored flame. Equally honest is a Canadian graphic novel, Harvey: Comment je suis devenu invisible [Harvey: How I Became Invisible], by Hervé Bouchard and Janice Nadeau. The Governor General’s Award jury praised Bouchard for “a series of poetically powerful metaphors” that allow readers “the freedom to explore the multiple layers of his story” and illustrator Nadeau for her “wonderful ways of depicting the sadness of spring and the melancholy of loss” (“Winners of 2009 Governor General’s Literary Awards”). Narrated through the child’s perspective, which Nadeau captures in her cinematic angles and black-white-gray-sepia-toned line drawings, the book traces young Harvey’s responses to the sudden death of his father from a heart attack. Rosen’s wish to disappear becomes this boy’s obsession, inspired by the 1957 movie The Incredible Shrinking Man. Like the previous two books discussed, Harvey explores, through both text and image, the nuances of light and dark as they relate metaphorically to death and grief. As well, this book interweaves less conventional metaphors and analogies: for example, life as a toothpick boat-race and death as an invisible man facing the stars all alone in the night. Bouchard’s text and Nadeau’s images interanimate one another in an investigation of big questions pertaining to death rarely asked in children’s literature: Is invisibility a mark of deadness? Is silence? Can the dead person communicate through visible or audible signs with those left behind? Do adult rituals surrounding death render a child’s perspective – and ultimately the child – invisible?

What Is Death? The diverse representations of grief and mortality complement the diverse perceptions of what constitutes death. Death is a cog in the natural cycle of life; death is the last phase of life with nothing beyond; death is a portal to another world; death is a liminal state between the known and unknown. When death is anthropomorphized, there are myriad physical and emotional possibilities for its representation, given that death is life’s greatest unknown. Representations in children’s literature tend toward Markus Zusak’s depiction of death and the narrator Death in The Book Thief, which, as Markus Bohlmann demonstrates in his article “Machinic Liaisons,” does not perpetuate the binaries of life/presence and death/absence, but rather is generative; that is, life–death is a continuum, “a perpetual process of ‘becoming.’ ” Bohlmann argues that, by interrogating death as “an absence or a limit to non-existence or finitude, whose affirmation 99

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results in a higher appreciation of life in its present form,” Zusak avoids death “being in binary opposition to life, as a sickle-bearing figure eager to terminate life” (255). The challenges for representing death in children’s literature are increased in illustrated books and picturebooks: how does one visualize what has never been seen? Through these imagined visualizations children have further opportunities to resist narratives imposed on them, as the final three picturebooks to be discussed well illustrate. The first is another by Kitty Crowther, La visite de petite mort [The Visit of Little Death], an unusual picturebook because it features an ill child, Elsewise, and the empathic relationship that she develops with Little Death. Elsewise’s suffering is not minimized after she is introduced in the fifth opening, nor are the conventional ways of regarding death, with which the book opens and which Little Death has internalized. Elsewise welcomes death as a release from her pain, and the depictions of Little Death enjoying a new identity and friendship are playfully childlike. Crowther avoids the morbid with her predilection for “reinventing experience” rather than “reproducing reality” (Yi-Ching 29) through the rhythm of voice and dialogue and pictorial strategies such as fluid framing and perspective, white space, the interplay of light and dark, intertextual mythological allusions, contrapuntal and transitional images, and page turns.14 Next is Græd blot hjerte [Cry, Heart, But Never Break], by Danish writer Glenn Ringtved and illustrator Charlotte Pardi, which parodies fearful folklore representations of death. “In the far north, in a small snug house, four children lived with their beloved grandmother. A kindly woman, she had cared for them for many years. Now she had a visitor” (1st opening). The lurid red splashed across the sky, a black cat crossing a shadow-filled yard, two blackbirds overseeing the scene, and a scythe left outside the door ironically anticipate the story to come. Death may be a black-hooded figure, but his robes hang loosely over his elongated hands and pale face with pensive eyes and beak-like nose protruding. Each child responds in an age-appropriate way to death. Nels and Sonia, the two oldest, have been socialized enough to close “their eyes, heavy with sorrow”; Kasper, in the middle, ignores; and Leah, the youngest, the most defiant, “stare[s] straight at Death” (2nd opening). Nels plies Death with coffee, believing what “everyone knows”: that “Death’s only friend is night.” This received wisdom is challenged first with the comment “Death loved his coffee strong and black like the night, and he was happy to sit and rest for a while” (4th opening) and then, after Leah places her hand over Death’s bony hand and asks why her grandmother must die, with “[s]ome people say Death’s heart is as dead and black as a piece of coal, but that is not true. Beneath his inky cloak, Death’s heart is as red as the most beautiful sunset and beats with a great love of life” (5th opening). Death responds to Leah’s question with a story of two brothers, Sorrow and Grief, who live in a gloomy valley, marrying two sisters, Joy and Delight, who live on the top of the hill, and making their homes “halfwayup and halfway-down the hill” (9th opening). Illustrator Pardi captures this liminal space through muted coloration. Death’s allegory becomes collaborative when Death notices Leah nodding and says, “I think you can guess what happened next” (7th opening). While the children do not completely grasp Death’s allegory, they know that what he suggests is “right.” Pardi’s use of lines and shadows is particularly effective to represent death/Death as both inside and outside the scene when “[a] line of pale gray was edging away the night.” “Life is moving on. This is how it must be,” Nels tells Kasper as Death releases grandmother’s soul out the window (10th–11th openings). Death’s final words to the children give the book its title: “Cry, Heart, but never break. Let your tears of grief and sadness help begin new life” (12th opening). The grandmother still has a presence conveyed through the shadows, open window, and caressing breeze captured in the penultimate opening’s text and image. Fittingly, this essay ends where it began, with German author-illustrator Wolf Erlbruch posing some of life’s biggest questions. Many of the themes and motifs that have been discussed 100

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come together in his Ente, Tod und Tulpe [Duck, Death and the Tulip], although within the context of pending death rather than grieving as seen in most of the other examples. Whereas in Erlbruch’s The Big Question the figure of Death wears a clown-like yellow-polka-dot smock, here Death is more dignified in his checked smock that reflects the crosshatching of Duck’s body, one of several visual signs that they are breaking down boundaries and reshaping themselves. Duck reacts to his pending death with defiance, denial, fear, and curiosity, and Death accounts for death in several ways, beginning with life’s responsibility for doling out illness, accidents, and fox (3rd opening). Rejected are euphemistic explanations of death as sleep and doctrinaire perceptions of afterlife as heaven for some, hell for others (6th–7th openings). In the incongruous situation of roosting atop a tree, Duck envisions “what it will be like when I’m dead … The pond alone, without me.” Death posits that without Duck, “the pond will be gone too,” a comfort for Duck who will not need “to mourn over it” when she is dead (9th–10th openings). The fluidity between mourner–mourned, vulnerable–invulnerable, warm–chill, inside–outside, innerscape–landscape, continues to the end: “Death stroked a few rumpled feathers back into place, then he carried her to the great river. He laid her gently on the water and nudged her on her way” (13th opening). The star-speckled teal-blue sky of the death scene (12th opening) provides the color for the river, which in the final double-spread follows Death’s gaze, flowing in from the lower-left corner and diminishing as it flows off the upper-right corner into the unknown. Death is “almost a little moved. But that’s life, thought Death” (14th opening).15 The life–death continuum, the main motif noted throughout these examples, underpins Death’s response in The Big Question: “You are here to love life.” Erlbruch ends this book with a direct address to the child reader – “Growing up/You’re sure to find more answers/To The Big Question” – followed by two graphed sheets for their answers. With the collection of books discussed in this essay, children could fill these sheets many times over with their own creative thoughts on and responses to loss and grief; memory and memorialization; mentorship and legacy; life’s cycles; the connectedness of living and dead and of animate and inanimate; rebirth and regeneration; absence and presence; nothingness, silence, and invisibility; mutability and the paradoxes of impermanence and permanence and of mortality and eternal life; and what it means to live a good life and die a good death. This is a literature worthy of Neil Gaiman’s call for books that give children the means to acquire a “knowingness” about life and death.

Notes 1 I am paraphrasing a conversation that Gaiman had in 2014 with publisher/editor Françoise Mouly and cartoonist Art Spiegelman. For a historical and thematic overview of changing concepts of childhood and attitudes toward the inclusion of death in children’s literature, see Clement, “Introduction,” especially 2–12. 2 Most of the books discussed in this essay have been honored with major awards, such as the BolognaRagazzi Award, and/or are works within the canon of authors and illustrators whose contribution to children’s literature has been recognized with international awards, such as the Hans Christian Andersen and Astrid Lindgren Memorial Awards. 3 The topics of murder, suicide, and euthanasia have generally remained off-limits in children’s – though not YA – books (Beckett 265–71). Michelle Ann Abate’s Bloody Murder is devoted to showing how “narratives for children in the representation of homicide” expose the need to revise “our existing conceptions about the politicized purposes of violence, the emotional appeal of fear, and the cultural construction of death and dying” (12). An exceptional picturebook in which the central character seems to entertain suicidal thoughts is Australian Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree. Jessica Phillips’s 2018 article contextualizes Tan’s book within Albert Camus’s theories of the absurd. Kimberley Reynolds’s Radical Children’s Literature, Chapter 5, on “Self-harm, Silence, and Survival: Despair and Trauma in

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4 5 6 7 8 9

10 11

12

13 14 15

Children’s Literature,” addresses the topics of depression and suicide, discussing Michael Rosen’s Sad Book (97–99) and Tan’s Red Tree (99–101) to demonstrate the importance of the counterpoint of words and images in children’s literature. In the oft-quoted observation of Peter Hollindale and Zena Sutherland, these offstage deaths are a mechanism “to dispose of inconvenient parents” (259). David Lewis uses the terms “interanimate” and “interanimation” throughout Reading Contemporary Picturebooks. For an analysis of Velthuijs’s book, see Clement, “Death and the Empathic Embrace” 3, 8. For a more recent discussion, see Kirsten Jacobson’s “Heidegger, Winnicott, and The Velveteen Rabbit.” Brown’s The Dead Bird, originally published in 1938, did not receive critical or popular recognition until it was re-released in 1958 with Charlip’s illustrations. The most recent of these bibliographies is Alice Crosetto and Rajinder Garcha’s Death, Loss, and Grief in Literature for Youth (2013). Also of value are David Sadler’s 1991 survey of 29 books published after 1969 about death of grandparents; three annotated bibliographies, all by Charles Corr and published in a special edition of Omega: Journal of Death and Dying on “Death-Related Literature for Children” (2003–04); Corr’s “Appendix” (2010); and Angela Wiseman’s 2013 survey of 89 picturebooks “providing support and understanding for children” coping with loss (13). For a discussion of Bauer’s book, see Clement, “Death and the Empathic Embrace” (4, 8), and of Stark’s book, see Penni Cotton’s “Old Age and Death in Northern European Picture Books.” In a number of the Mexican-American books that Denise Dávila discusses in “Deadly Celebrations: Realistic Fiction Picture Books and el Día de los Muertos,” the timely deaths of grandmothers are used to invite child readers on a touristic experience of customs that are anglicized and therefore misrepresented. Viktor Johansson argues in his article “ ‘I am scared too’ ” that Don Bartlett’s English translation, which deletes the references to dirt and worms, affects the perception of death and dying: “This translation misses the complexity of Garmann’s worldview, the connection to nature he shows involving both decomposition and a religious understanding of death, and also misses a dimension of how Garmann thinks about starting school. After becoming soil, there is still the hope of the starry wagon and traveling through heaven” (87; 106n20). This anecdote is developed throughout Kübler-Ross’s To Live Until We Say Good-Bye (13, 50, 57, 59–60, 73–74). These are discussed in detail by Sala and Valios in their generally astute commentary on La visite de petite mort (126–29) published in International Journal of Language and Literature, which Cabell’s Scholarly Analytics blacklists as a predatory journal for nine violations. For a more detailed analysis, see Clement, “Death and the Empathic Embrace” 5–8.

Works Cited Primary Sources Alcott, Louisa May. Little Women. 1868. Penguin Classics, 1989. Bauer, Jutta. Opas Engle. Carlsen, 2001. Translated Grandpa’s Angel. Walker, 2005. Bouchard, Hervé. Harvey: Comment je suis devenu invisible. Illustrated Janice Nadeau. Les Éditions de la Pastèque, 2009. Translated Harvey: How I Became Invisible. Groundwood, 2010. Brown, Margaret Wise. The Dead Bird. 1938. Illustrated Remy Charlip. HarperCollins, 1958. Burnett, Frances Hodgson. A Little Princess. 1905. HarperCollins, 1963. Burnett, Frances Hodgson. The Secret Garden. 1911. HarperCollins, 2010. Crowther, Kitty. Moi et rien. Pastel/l’école des loisirs, 2000. Crowther, Kitty. La visite de petite mort. Pastel/l’école des loisirs, 2004. Dahl, Roald. James and the Giant Peach. Knopf, 1961. Erlbruch, Wolf. Ente, Tod und Tulpe. Antje Kunstmann GmbH, 2007. Translated Duck, Death and the Tulip. Gecko, 2008. Erlbruch, Wolf. Die Große Frage. Peter Hammer, 2004. Translated The Big Question. Europa Editions, 2005. Fox, Mem. Tough Boris. Illustrated Kathryn Brown. HMH Books for Young Readers, 1994. Hole, Stian. Annas himmel. Cappelen Damm, 2013. Translated Anna’s Heaven. Eerdmans, 2014. Hole, Stian. Garmanns sommer. J.W. Cappelens, 2006. Translated Garmann’s Summer. Eerdmans, 2008.

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Death Narratives in Children’s Literature Jeffers, Oliver. The Heart and the Bottle. Philomel, 2010. Lunde, Stein Erik. Eg kan ikkje sove no. Illustrated Øyvind Torseter. Samlaget, 2008. Translated My Father’s Arms Are a Boat. Enchanted Lion, 2013. Miles, Miska. Annie and the Old One. Illustrated Peter Parnall. Little, Brown, 1971. Montgomery, L. M. Anne of Green Gables. 1908. Seal, 1983. Montgomery, L. M. Rilla of Ingleside. 1921. Seal, 1987. Raschka, Chris. The Purple Balloon. Schwartz & Wade, 2007. Ringtved, Glenn. Græd blot hjerte. Illustrated Charlotte Pardi. Gyldendal, 2001. Translated Cry, Heart, But Never Break. Enchanted Lion, 2016. Rosen, Michael. Michael Rosen’s Sad Book. Illustrated Quentin Blake. Walker, 2004. Rosen, Michael, and Annemarie Young. What is Humanism? How do you live without a god? And Other Big Questions for Kids. Wayland, 2016. Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Bloomsbury, 1997. Stark, Ulf. Kan du Vissla Johanna. Illustrated Anna Höglund. Bonnier Carlsen, 1992. Translated Can You Whistle, Johanna?. Gecko, 2005. Tan, Shaun. The Red Tree. Lothian, 2001. Tejima, Keizaburo. Oohakuchou no sora. 1983. Translated Swan Sky. Philomel, 1988. Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 1884. Penguin Classics, 2014. Varley, Susan. Badger’s Parting Gifts. Andersen, 1984. Velthuijs, Max. Kikker en het vogeltje. Leopold, 1991. Translated Frog and the Birdsong. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1991. Watt, Mélanie. Bug in a Vacuum. Tundra, 2015. White Deer of Autumn. The Great Change. Illustrated Carol Grigg. Beyond Words Publishing, 1992. White, E. B. Charlotte’s Web. 1952. Illustrated Garth Williams. HarperCollins, 2012. Wild, Margaret. Harry & Hopper. Illustrated Freya Blackwood. Scholastic Australia, 2009. Williams, Margery. The Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real. 1922. Illustrated William Nicholson. HarperCollins, 1999. Yumoto, Kazumi. Kuma to yamaneko. Illustrated Komako Sakai. Kawade Shobo Shinsha, 2008. Translated The Bear and the Wildcat. Gecko, 2011. Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. Illustrated Trudy White. Knopf, 2005.

Secondary Sources Abate, Michelle Ann. Bloody Murder: The Homicide Tradition in Children’s Literature. Johns Hopkins UP, 2013. Agosta, Lucien L. E.B. White: The Children’s Books. Twayne, 1995. Beckett, Sandra L. Crossover Picturebooks: A Genre for All Ages. Routledge, 2012. Bohlmann, Markus P. J. “Machinic Liaisons: Death’s Dance with Children in Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief.” Clement and Jamali, pp. 255–69. Clement, Lesley D. “Death and the Empathic Embrace in Four Contemporary Picture Books.” Bookbird: A Journal of International Children’s Literature, vol. 51, no. 4, 2013, pp. 1–10. doi: 10.1353/bkb.2014.0018. Clement, Lesley D. “Introduction: Flying Kites and Other Life-Death Matters.” Clement and Jamali, pp. 1–19. Clement, Lesley D., and Leyli Jamali, editors. Global Perspectives on Death in Children’s Literature. Routledge, 2016. Corr, Charles A. “Appendix: Selected Books to Be Read by or with Children.” Children’s Encounters with Death, Bereavement, and Coping, edited by Charles A. Corr and David E Balk. Springer, 2010, pp. 455–476. Corr, Charles A. “Bereavement, Grief, and Mourning in Death-Related Literature for Children.” Omega: Journal of Death and Dying, vol. 48, no. 4, 2003–2004, pp. 337–363. doi: 10.2190/0RUK-J18N-9400-BHAV. Corr, Charles A. “Grandparents in Death-Related Literature for Children.” Omega: Journal of Death and Dying, vol. 48, no. 4, 2003–2004, pp. 383–397. doi: 10.2190/UHT5-KYTM-ANWF-VBD5. Corr, Charles A. “Pet Loss in Death-Related Literature for Children.” Omega: Journal of Death and Dying, vol. 48, no. 4, 2003–2004, pp. 399–414. doi: 10.2190/HXQY-DU5D-YC39-XKJ9. Costello, Peter. “Toward a Phenomenology of Transition: E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and a Child’s Process of Reading Herself into the Novel.” Libri & Liberi, vol. 5, no. 1, 2016, pp. 13–36. doi: 10. 21066/carcl.libri.2016-05(01).0001.

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Lesley D. Clement Cotton, Penni. “Old Age and Death in Northern European Picture Books: Achieving Empathy Through Textual and Filmic Images of Sweden’s Kan du Vissla Johanna.” Clement and Jamali, pp. 161–76. Crisp, Thomas. “ ‘Some Dead Spider!’: Three Variations on the Death of Charlotte in Print and Film.” Crossing Textual Boundaries in International Children’s Literature, edited by Lance Weldy. Cambridge Scholars, 2011, pp. 94–108. Crosetto, Alice, and Rajinder Garcha. Death, Loss, and Grief in Literature for Youth: A Selective Annotated Bibliography for K-12. Scarecrow, 2013. Daniel, Carolyn. Voracious Children: Who Eats Whom in Children’s Literature. Routledge, 2006. Dávila, Denise. “Deadly Celebrations: Realistic Fiction Picture Books and el Día de los Muertos.” Clement and Jamali, pp. 74–86. Gaiman, Neil. “Neil Gaiman on Comics and Scaring Children, with Françoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman.” Toon Books, October 2014. vimeo.com/109769310. Gubar, Marah. Artful Dodgers: Reconceiving the Golden Age of Children’s Literature. Oxford UP, 2009. Hole, Stian. “Author Interview: Stian Hole.” Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., May 2008. www. eerdmans.com/Pages/Item/8992/Author-Interview-Stian-Hole.aspx. Hollindale, Peter, and Zena Sutherland. “Internationalism, Fantasy, and Realism: 1945–70.” Children’s Literature: An Illustrated History, edited by Peter Hunt. Oxford UP, 1995, pp. 252–288. Jacobson, Kirsten. “Heidegger, Winnicott, and The Velveteen Rabbit: Anxiety, Toys, and the Drama of Metaphysics.” Philosophy in Children’s Literature, edited by Peter R. Costello. Lexington, 2012, pp. 1–20. Johansson, Viktor. “ ‘I am scared too’: Children’s Literature for an Ethics beyond Moral Concepts.” The Journal of Aesthetic Education, vol. 47, no. 4, 2013, pp. 80–109. doi: 10.5406/jaesteduc.47.4.0080. Kellehear, Allan. “Death and Renewal in The Velveteen Rabbit: A Sociological Reading.” Journal of NearDeath Studies, vol. 12, no. 1, 1993, pp. 35–51. digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc799238/m2/ 1/high_res_d/vol12-no1-35.pdf. Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth. To Live Until We Say Good-Bye. Touchstone, 1978. Lewis, David. Reading Contemporary Picturebooks: Picturing Text. Routledge, 2001. Matthews, Gareth B. The Philosophy of Childhood. Harvard UP, 1994. “More About Kitty Crowther.” Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, 2010. www.alma.se/en/Laureates/2010Kitty-Crowther/More-About-Kitty-Crowther. Phillips, Jessica. “ ‘There is No Sun Without The Shadow and it is Essential to Know The Night’: Albert Camus’ Philosophy of the Absurd and Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree.” Children’s Literature in Education, 2018. doi: 10.1007/s10583-017-9342-6. Reynolds, Kimberley. Radical Children’s Literature: Future Visions and Aesthetic Transformations in Children’s Literature. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Sadler, David. “ ‘Grandpa Died Last Night’: Children’s Books about the Death of Grandparents.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, vol. 16, no. 4, 1991, pp. 246–250. Project Muse. Sala, Rosa Tabernero, and Virginia Calvo Valios. “Children’s Literature and Taboo Topics: Approaches to Kitty Crowther’s Work.” International Journal of Language and Literature, vol. 5, no. 2, 2017, pp. 121–131. doi: 10.15640/ijll.v5n2a13. White, E. B. “E.B. White: The Art of the Essay No. 1.” Interview by George Plimpton and Frank H. Crowther, The Paris Review, issue 48, 1969. www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4155/e-b-white-theart-of-the-essay-no-1-e-b-white. “Winners of 2009 Governor General’s Literary Awards Announced by the Canada Council for the Arts.” Canada.ca (Government of Canada), 17 Nov. 2009, www.canada.ca/en/news/archive/2009/11/ winners-2009-governor-general-literary-awards-announced-canada-council-arts.html. Wiseman, Angela M. “Summer’s End and Sad Goodbyes: Children’s Picturebooks About Death and Dying,” Children’s Literature in Education, vol. 44, no. 1, 2013, pp. 1–14. doi: 10.1007/s10583-0129174-3. Yi-Ching, Su. “Kitty Crowther: Illustrator, Belgium.” Bookbird: A Journal of International Children’s Literature, vol. 42, no. 4, 2004, p. 29. Academic One File.

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10 IN THE U-BEND WITH MOANING MYRTLE Thinking about Death in YA Literature Karen Coats

Myrtle Elizabeth Warren was fourteen years old when she became the first person killed by Lord Voldemort (then Tom Riddle) in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Known after her death as Moaning Myrtle, she provides both comic relief and vital information as she haunts a first-floor girls’ bathroom, spying on the living and “sitting in the U-Bend, thinking about death” (Rowling, Chapter 10). Certainly, life at Hogwarts gives Myrtle, and the millions of readers who have spent countless hours immersed in the wizarding world, plenty to think about. From beginning to end, the series asks readers to ponder what death means, what might be worth killing and dying for, and whether trying to avoid death is ultimately worth the cost. Rowling comes down firmly against the latter, beginning with the destruction of the philosopher’s stone that grants eternal life at the end of the first book, and expanding her view by presenting Voldemort’s efforts to avoid his own death by intentionally murdering six people (on top of the unplanned murders of Myrtle and Cedric Diggory, who were at the wrong place at the wrong time) as the measure of the depths of his evil. On the contrary, though Harry’s decision to die is an agonizing one for him, his willingness to sacrifice his life is rewarded with the opportunity to make a choice about whether he wants to return to the fight. The moral message about death is ultimately clear: seeking to preserve one’s life at any cost is not acceptable, whereas laying down one’s life for others is a noble act. Other deaths in the series showcase varied emotional responses and attitudes toward death. These include the laughter inspired by the Hogwarts ghosts and the fear and disgust prompted by Death Eaters, werewolves, vampires, and other creatures who menace characters readers have grown to love. But more complicated responses emerge that accord with Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s familiar stages of grief. The writers on the online community Pottermore suggest that readers, along with Harry, experience disbelief and denial at the deaths of Sirius Black and Albus Dumbledore; Dobby the house elf ’s death evokes a desire to plead and bargain against his sacrifice; the loss of Fred Weasley triggers Harry’s guilt; gentle Remus Lupin’s death, coming so quickly after he finds happiness with Nymphadora Tonks and their baby, inspires anger and is accompanied by depression at the loss of Tonks as well; and finally, the memories Severus Snape bequeaths to Harry lead to acceptance not necessarily of Snape’s death, but of the fact that Harry had misjudged him all along (“Most Devastating Deaths”).

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The multivalent presentation of death in this one series points to a theoretical problem: How could one possibly begin to make sense of the moral, ethical, psychological, and narrative presence and functions of death in Young Adult (YA) literature? I think the task necessarily begins with understanding something about the conflicting cultural attitudes toward the literature’s implied readership of teens, as well as the category of YA literature itself. To begin with, the age of the readership is ill-defined. Younger children have always wanted to read “up,” and a push by parents for elementary students to read above their grade level, as well as the recent trend of transforming YA books into multimedia franchises, has led to younger and younger children picking up books like the Hunger Games, Twilight, and Harry Potter series, all of which heavily dependent on representations of death to drive their action. On the other side of adolescence, though, adults make up more than half the readers of YA fiction, according to a 2012 study conducted by Bowker Market Research (“New Study”). Academics, cultural critics, and authors themselves cite a host of reasons for the appeal of YA texts for adults, naming everything from a nostalgia for simple story arcs, to a desire to recapture “the intensity of the first time,” to a need to understand what it’s like to come of age in today’s social climate (Kitchener). My own sense is that at least some of the crossover appeal of these books has to do with the current cultural obsession with diverse, provisional, and politically salient identities in a period that values perpetual makeovers more than stable, often repressive, and unitary ideas of what it means to be a mature adult. As Virginia Zimmerman notes, in contemporary culture, we “continue to change, continue to come of age,” so narratives that focus on the losing and re-finding of identity mirror contemporary experience even for adults (qtd. in Kitchener). If there is one thing that defines a YA text, it is a focus on what is involved in negotiating an identity that feels authentic while gaining positive recognition among one’s peers and from one’s culture. This process is dialogic: that is, as older generations seek to preserve and pass on their values, young people challenge and change the culture they are purportedly growing into.1 Still, there might be another reason for the crossover appeal that has to do more specifically with the way YA literature fills a need that real adults are less willing to address directly. The perpetual “coming of age” phenomenon that Zimmerman notes is indicative of a pervasive desire on the part of contemporary adults to deny death. This desire, according to psychotherapist Nick Luxmoore, results in an unwillingness to talk openly and honestly about the inevitability of death with teens, and instead to project fantasies of perpetual youth and vaulted expectations onto young people in an attempt to defend ourselves against the knowledge of mortality. Writing out of his experience as a school counselor, Luxmoore argues that teens are much more preoccupied with death than adults would like to believe, and yet they have few opportunities to have honest discussions about their anxieties regarding the fact that life is finite. He points out that young children will ask questions about death that result in any number of mythic or stilted explanations from their uncomfortable caregivers. By the time those questions resurface in adolescence, however, teens have internalized a belief transmitted from their adults that death is a taboo subject, profoundly unfair and something to be avoided as long as possible; they have learned that death is a site of fear, blame, and shame, altogether too upsetting to consider and discuss aloud. But, Luxmoore continues, one of adults’ most prevalent defenses against their own fear of death involves looking to young people to challenge its authority on our behalf, to live on after us, to realize potentials that we have failed to achieve. So most adults, and especially parents and educators, focus talks with young people on what they need to do to achieve successful, happy futures, rather than having meaningful discussions about the causes, consequences, and meaning of death. This lacuna in our injunctive conversations fails to engage teens’ emergent questions 106

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about meaning in and of a life that they know will result in death. In thinking about death, they experience curiosity, survivor guilt, existential exhaustion, and fears of annihilation. They wonder about whether they matter enough to be missed and by whom; gravitate between pity and envy when someone else dies; and puzzle over how to display their emotional response to death, including what’s wrong with them if their expressions of grief don’t look like those of others. The problem is that Western culture separates death and its rituals from the rest of life, attempting to disavow its power over everyday experience and in fact failing to understand how much of teen behavior is linked to the fear, anger, and anxiety that accompanies a burgeoning awareness that death holds the last word, the ultimate authority, over all of carnal existence. Enter YA literature, which does not shy away from representations of death, and thus offers an opportunity for teens (and adults) to imagine their way into a confrontation with their biggest, though likely least to be openly acknowledged, fear. Just as characters in YA texts pose value-laden questions about gender, sexuality, embodiment, race, ethnicity, intelligence, ability, neurodiversity, mental health, and social responsibility in ways that correspond to and press against the values of those around them, they also, in sometimes overt but often more oblique ways, ask ideological questions about the meaning of life and death. And because literature for young adults is a genre that almost always rejects despair and instead offers hope as its concluding gesture, the teen characters most often emerge from whatever dilemmas they encounter embraced by a small community that loves and accepts who they have become or faithfully mourns them and finds meaning in their lives if they die. As a living literary form, YA literature is not, however, a coherent genre with definable, distinctive, and consistent features that give it definition and make it recognizable across time, and this includes its approach to representations of death. Like its target audience, it is remarkably nimble in its response to epistemic shifts and cultural preoccupations. It is trendy in a way that makes categorical pronouncements about the attitudes toward and roles of death in YA texts tricky, as such pronouncements tend to date the scholarship in which they appear. For instance, Roberta Seelinger Trites could persuasively argue in 2000 that “death is the sine qua non of adolescent literature, the defining factor that distinguishes it both from children’s and adult literature” (118). At that time, she could confidently generalize that death in YA is most often “depicted in terms of maturation when the protagonist accepts the permanence of mortality” and embraces his or her Heideggerian “Being-towards-death” (119). Now, two decades into the new millennium, such a generalization no longer holds, and as such, it loses its force as a distinguishing quality. Given trends toward an extended period of adolescence bleeding into what has been called “emerging adulthood,” such maturation is often delayed. As a result, contemporary YA texts frequently present death in ways Trites finds more relevant to literature for younger children, wherein death represents a symbolic and/or actual separation from parents or, more metaphorically, from childhood itself. Another consideration is that the explosive generic variety of YA texts in recent years has resulted in the proliferation of perspectives that Trites attributes to literature written for adult readers, which “confronts death from such a variety of intricate perspectives that it seems difficult to trace a pattern on the topic” (119). So, while some contemporary YA texts still focus on an adolescent protagonist confronting and accepting mortality as Trites avers, the causes, effects, modes, and functions of death and dying in contemporary YA literature are far too multivalent to be subsumed under a single definition or ideological pattern. Instead of pattern tracing, then, what I attempt to do in this essay is pose what I see as certain relevant questions about the ways death is used in YA literature as a plot device, a metaphor for individuation and childhood’s end, a call for greater social awareness and broader empathy, and a quest for what it means to be post-human. Even as I frame my questions, however, I do so with the caveat that 107

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these are not comprehensive and are likely to become quickly dated as YA literature continues to innovate its content for an audience defined by its status as transitional. Each question I identify, however, speaks to the ways in which death functions as an ideological catalyst in the dialogic formation of teen values in contemporary culture.

Plotting Death YA fiction, like fiction for children and adults, varies in its level of seriousness, and this includes the level of seriousness with which death is represented. The death of a boy as a result of a kiss laced with peanut residue, for instance, is not a site for a prolonged exploration of grief, but is instead a necessary starting point for a whodunit mystery series that follows the conventions of a police procedural or forensic mystery, but with ordinary-teen-turned-detective Scarlett Wakefield sifting clues and narrowly avoiding danger as she seeks to clear her name and expose the facts and the perpetrator of the cleverly planned murder (Henderson). Because the reader never really gets to know the victim, the focus is on the teen’s competence as she figures things out, modeling for readers the process of epistemological search. Though the emotional style and ordinary setting will be structurally familiar to fans of a Miss Marple or Father Brown “cozy” mystery, the character responses are still a bit jarring in their neglect of any emotion or care beyond mild regret for the murdered teen, precisely because he is a teen. In these types of books, we might posit that the idea that life is so precarious that a casual kiss might end in death is untenable unless undergirded by an ideology that such an occurrence is not an accident, but a crime – that is, the choice of the mystery or crime genre subtly hints that there must be a motivated human agent responsible for the act, someone to blame for the death of a young person. When death is an instigating plot device in a YA mystery, then, a key thematic question is: Who’s responsible, and how can we find out? Tenacity, intelligence, and perseverance are the responses rather than grief or acceptance. Other YA genres, such as horror, dystopias, and psychological thrillers, also put forth this ideological premise that death is something unnatural rather than accidental or inevitable. Although these plots also require and reward tenacity and perseverance for the survivors, they add to the theme of external culpability the idea that death is a relentless adversary to fear. Whether the threat of death comes from six-foot-tall praying mantises (e.g., Smith A., Grasshopper Jungle), classmates who have turned into ravenous zombies (e.g., Beaudoin, The Infects), nefarious governments seeking to keep their citizenry cowed and cooperative (e.g., Collins, The Hunger Games), ordinary-looking sociopaths (e.g., Donaldson, I Know You Remember), or technology gone wrong (e.g., Anderson, Feed; Bick, Ashes trilogy; Roth, Divergent series; etc.), the message is that the reason death exists is because there are people who either have the means and desire to kill or are clueless about the likely results of their technologies; the protagonist’s goals are thus to avoid being killed and to bring the perpetrators to justice. As a result, there is very little acceptance of death in texts like these; instead, there is the sense that death is an aberration that can be understood or avoided if only the teen runs fast enough, fights hard enough, and/or figures out who or what is responsible and stops the culprit(s) before they have the chance to kill again.

Individuation and Childhood’s End In addition to being a plot motivator, one of the primary reasons death is so ubiquitous in YA literature is because it offers a handy metaphor for the grief of leaving childhood’s naiveté behind and taking up the responsibility of caring for oneself psychologically if not physically. 108

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New affective burdens imposed by hormonal fluctuations and greater cognitive awareness impinge upon the teen from the inside, while increased expectations for achievement and independent decision-making seem to come from all sides. Folk wisdom has long held the view that teens think they are invincible, such that they engage in risky behaviors with little thought that they could die as a result. Luxmoore offers a different explanation, suggesting that risky behaviors are to some degree performances in rebellious response to death as the ultimate authority figure in teen’s lives. In other words, they engage in risky behaviors precisely because they have learned that they will inevitably die, and they want to see how close they are brave enough to get, to test and perhaps flout death’s authority over them, as it were. Other authority figures – parents, teachers, religious and political leaders, and other purveyors of ideologies – are material stand-ins for death’s overbearing authority, which ultimately resides in its ability to annihilate the individual the teen seeks and is expected to become. Since the late 1990s, neurological studies of the teenage brain have offered yet another explanation. Such studies show that teens lead with their emotions when it comes to processing information and solving problems. In response to the same stimuli, for instance, teen amygdalas light up in contrast to adult prefrontal cortexes, which are responsible for executive brain functions such as strategic planning, risk assessment, impulse control, and emotion regulation. A growth spurt of gray matter in the prefrontal cortex occurs just prior to puberty, but myelination, the process that facilitates communication between this new growth and the rest of the brain, is ongoing at least until the age of 25. This means that the executive functions of the frontal lobe are newly emergent skills for teens, but they do not develop in a vacuum. Instead, neo-Piagetians argue that capacious self-images that effectively integrate affective and cognitive dimensions of thought are dependent upon positive social interactions, ongoing language development, and the increasing cognitive ability to entertain higher-order abstractions (Harter 66). Literary narratives can help facilitate the development of executive functions by articulating complex emotional responses to both ordinary social interactions and traumatic experiences, but to do so, they must be affectively engaging. According to cognitive literary theorist Michael Burke, death is one of the most emotionally affecting themes in literature, accompanied by mothers, childhood, home, and an inability to communicate. As a result, characters in YA novels are often put through emotional wringers of conflict and loss in order to emerge at book’s end as individuals who are more resilient and better at perspective-taking, with a greater sense of themselves as individuals. That said, who dies and how they die make a thematic difference in teens’ understanding of their identity and place in the social order. As in life, so in literature for teens, “[a]lthough the loss of anyone can be traumatic and difficult to accept, it seems that the mourning of different persons creates a qualitatively different experience” (O’Brien et al. 432). While the goal for writers is to find adequately interesting, original, and affecting expressions for those qualitatively different experiences, some patterns emerge when the death a girl protagonist must come to terms with is that of a mother rather than a father. In Annette Curtis Klause’s The Silver Kiss, for instance, teenaged Zoe is facing the slow but inevitable loss of her mother to cancer. Klause figures Zoe’s psychological entanglement with her mother by emphasizing their physical resemblance as well as Zoe’s refusal to eat, her volitional weight loss echoing her mother’s wasting away but also functioning as an immature and dysfunctional bargain, as she half-heartedly believes that she can die in her mother’s stead. Zoe’s emotional journey of separation from her mother begins when she meets Simon, a seventeenth-century teenage vampire who is pursuing Christopher, his brother, who was made a vampire when he was only six years old, and who then promptly bit and killed their mother. Christopher 109

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leverages the sympathy women feel for a lost child to lure them to their deaths. In the symbolic matrix established by the characters in the novel, Simon shows Zoe the banality of an existence that denies natural death; he is profoundly lonely, exhausted, and depressed, and although he is willing to entertain Zoe’s idea of turning her mother into a vampire, he explains to her that the condition will not heal her mother’s suffering, but instead prolong it for eternity. Christopher, then, brings the ideological message home by representing the horror of a child whose consumptive, insatiable desire killed his own mother as well as any woman who stands in for her, so he must be killed as a symbolic effigy representing Zoe’s own need to “kill” her inner child so that her mother can be released to die in peace. A flipped version of this dynamic can be found in John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. The teenage protagonist, Hazel, experiences a sense of peace regarding her own death only when she finds out that her mother has gone back to school and has a plan for the work she will do after Hazel dies; until that point, Hazel is worried that her mother’s life will end when hers does. In both of these cases, and in many others, emotional maturity is gained only when the girl is able to separate from her mother, with death acting as the catalyst. An especially interesting part of this pattern is that when the mother dies, the girl is left to come of age under the care of an emotionally distant father. These fathers behave like Zoe’s: that is, they disappear into their own pain, leaving the teen to find her path through grief without emotional support while taking on domestic and caregiving activities. In terms symbolic and actual, then, the dead-mother trope reinforces traditional gender norms, at least for girls. A dead father, however, tends to function differently. When fathers die, as does Vivian’s in Klause’s Blood and Chocolate, Katniss’s in Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, and Donna’s in Jen Violi’s Putting Makeup on Dead People, girl characters experience various forms of empowerment unavailable to them under the rule of their fathers. In Blood and Chocolate, for instance, instead of disappearing into her grief, Vivian’s widowed mother steps into a leadership role, brings a younger man into her bed, and actively encourages her daughter to embrace her full-blooded, carnal sexuality as a werewolf. In The Hunger Games, Katniss takes over her father’s role as her family’s provider, and the skills she learns as a hunter enable her to emerge victorious in the deadly arena and become both a leader and a symbol for rebellion against a corrupt government. Defying her mother’s wishes in Putting Makeup on Dead People, Donna copes with her grief and finds a mature sense of self by embracing the task of lovingly preparing bodies for open-casket funerals and being an empathetic presence for grieving family members. These are emblematic cases of girls for whom the death of their fathers certainly causes deep pain, but also in some measure enables them to escape traditional gender roles and rebel against societal expectations. The patterns for boys are somewhat different and more various. Boys who have lost their mothers, like Jerry in Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War and Matt in Jason Reynolds’s The Boy in the Black Suit, face the challenge of not becoming like their emotionally constipated fathers. After the death of their wives, Jerry’s father becomes a workaholic, and Matt’s father drinks heavily and stops working. Neither boy knows how to express his grief, and they both experience a degree of guilt as a result. Whereas Jerry uses football, rebellion, and isolation as means of self-harm, Matt begins to sit in on funerals, having taken a job at a local funeral home. There he finds a more adequate father figure in his boss, Mr. Ray, but he also finds a sense of comfort and a site for emotional modeling as he watches other people grieve. Rather than allowing grief to isolate him, he eventually invests in his community when he meets Lovey, a girl who has lost more than he has, and yet volunteers to help others. While Jerry’s grieving process remains incomplete, Matt’s results in finding emotional supports and replacements for the mother he lost. We might theorize this difference by pointing to the 110

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prevailing ideologies of the self during the time period and/or as they relate to ideologies of race and gender: Jerry is emblematic of the white, masculine teen rebel, standing alone against conformity and authoritarianism during the Vietnam era, whereas Matt represents a twentyfirst-century understanding of black feminist subjectivity as interpersonal, communityoriented, and intersectional. YA books wherein boys face the death of their fathers, however, are much rarer. Fathers are more often absent for reasons other than death: either they were never in the picture, or they have left to pursue new families. In any case, the pattern that emerges is most often one of iconoclastic response, as boys come to terms with the fact that the fathers they have lionized or sought to emulate are deeply, perhaps irredeemably, flawed. Such is the case, for instance, with Chris Lynch’s Hothouse, where two boys lose their firefighter fathers in a house fire. At first the town considers the men heroes, but as more of the story emerges, it becomes clear that the men were not the saints everyone, including their sons, wants to remember them as. With apologies for spoilers, in Jason Reynolds’ Long Way Down, protagonist Will’s father appears as both a victim and a perpetrator of gun violence, joining a chorus of ghosts asking Will to reconsider his plan to avenge the death of his brother while revealing that the circumstances of his own death do not match the myth of retributive justice surrounding it. Thus, while girls usually separate from their dead mothers in ways that allow them to retain a positive sense of their moms as role models, boys must not only bear their father’s actual deaths, but must also metaphorically kill them as heroes in order to achieve maturity.

Awareness, Empathy, and Activism In contrast with confronting the death of a parent, books that feature the deaths of classmates, siblings, and first loves hit closer to home, resulting in the opportunity for readers to “griev[e] the inevitability of their own death” (O’Brien et al. 437). The popularity of what is derisively known as “grief-porn” or “sick-lit” supports Luxmoore’s contention that teens are extremely interested in death, but that they need opportunities to convert their anxiety into narrative suspense, and consider and evaluate character responses as possible models for their own behavior when they are faced with a death in real life. These books thus function as metaphorical vaccines for teens who haven’t yet confronted death; that is, by introducing death and its aftermath in a vicarious way, they can help their readers develop and evaluate strategies for coping with the deaths they will inevitably face. For readers who have experienced the death of someone close to them, they can provide sites of identification so that readers do not feel so alone in their grief, and offer insight into the behaviors of themselves and others who are unwilling or unable to articulate or share their feelings openly. Books featuring dead and dying teens are highly emotional and very often melodramatic, but what is perhaps ideologically disturbing is the fact that the characters who die are most often either socially or psychologically abject. That is, they are characters who disturb our sense of what constitutes, in Kristeva’s words, a “clean and proper” body, be it physical or social (4). There is a kind of comfort in the fact that the reader is still living at the end of the book; no matter how strong my emotional investment or identification with a character, the person who dies, and the ones who are left behind to grieve, are other, not me – I have faced death and survived it. This stands in some contrast to Trites’s argument that the acceptance of one’s mortality is the distinguishing feature of maturation for characters in YA fiction. Instead, I argue that – in the case of peer deaths at least – the goal is to resist acceptance and instead to present the unfairness of the world in such a way as to inspire activism toward social justice. To accomplish this goal, characters who represent threats to the social order are sacrificed in a 111

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paradoxical narrative gesture that at once prompts sadness and outrage yet ultimately preserves and even shores up the individual and social order the deaths critique. The ideological question here is this: What prompts the most outrage, and who deserves sympathy for their textual death? YA’s quick responsiveness to ethical flashpoints, cultural change, and the newest ways of thinking about identity, the self, and the social world enables readers to see the abject as a moving target. Whereas a strong and persistent desire for a mythical space of innocence, protection, and care renders ideologies of childhood slow to change, the teenage years are more often seen as a time of awakening awareness of existential, social, and political realities. At the same time, teens have not yet settled into ways of thinking dominated by cynicism. Thus, the literature on offer tends to usher in some measure of disillusion and disenchantment with the world while still playing to, and often insisting upon, a romantic idealism that teens have a special insight into the social, political, and moral problems of their day, and can effect solutions through heroic, often violent and revolutionary, action. The way I explain it to my students is this: young teens know they aren’t getting their letters to Hogwarts, but they still believe they are destined to do something amazing or extreme that will fix some broken aspect of the world while making them famous. This combination of romantic idealism and material disillusion is thus one of the family resemblances or patterns among YA texts which bear on the consideration of how death functions in the literature. A popular version of the romance genre, for instance, has long preserved the idealization of romantic teen love by killing off one of the lovers before the realities and complications of a long-term relationship can interfere with the myth of perfection; Lurlene McDaniel alone has written more than 60 wildly popular novels that adopt this convention. The nobility of her young characters who are dying from cancer, AIDS, or failing organs has undeniably salutary effects: as McDaniel notes on her website, her novels have prompted fans to “become nurses, doctors, researchers, teachers, missionaries, Mothers, and writers. All because you once read books that inspired you.” The deaths in her novels are considered unfair because of the random nature of currently incurable diseases, but other types of realistic YA fiction facilitate the awakening of a social conscience of their characters (and, arguably, their readers) through deaths caused by an unfair social order. Beginning with S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders in 1968, and continuing until very recently, characters who challenge the values of white, middle-class, educated, able-bodied, cishet society have been marked for death in order to foreground issues of social injustice. In books with such narratives of social critique as their central concern, characters are sacrificed so that their deaths function as a catalyst for empathy and outrage. However, as social mores shift and identities get redefined, there is a contingency to this project in terms of who and what deserve teens’ pity and outrage, and with whom it is desirable or even okay to empathize. Does a teen who dies by suicide, for instance, deserve the same sympathetic response as a young person dying of cancer? Jennifer Niven would say yes, and asks her readers to agree with her as Finn, an engaging young man with bipolar depression, loses a valiant effort to keep himself alive in All the Bright Places. Subtle shifts in language and sympathetic storytelling prompt readers to understand that Finn and others like him don’t kill themselves, but are victims of an often fatal psychosocial disease. Books like Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give and Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down feature ripped-from-the-headline accounts of black teens shot by police officers, in order to humanize the victims who quickly became depersonalized national symbols of a systemic problem, as well as to consider how such deaths affect individuals and inspire community action. Similarly, widespread environmental and political problems become personalized through deaths precipitated by the effects of climate

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change and flawed governmental interventions, such as those found in Sherri L. Smith’s Orleans and Don Brown’s nonfiction graphic novel, Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. Each of these books translates a social problem that has resulted in unjust death into a personal one so that readers experience a more immediate connection; the intent is to create empathy and awareness that will be strong enough to lead to social action. But, as I noted, the effect may in fact be paradoxical. The characters who die in these books are those who represent threats to complacency on the one hand, or present problems too big for individual agency on the other. In Tiffany D. Jackson’s Monday’s Not Coming, for instance, protagonist Claudia’s best friend Monday has disappeared, and no one but Claudia seems to be worried about her. As the novel unfolds, readers learn that Monday’s mother is an abusive addict, desperately afraid of losing her children and of the encroaching gentrification of her Washington, DC, neighborhood, and that while Claudia’s mother, school personnel, and social workers have all tried to intervene, their efforts have been unsuccessful. So, though readers can be devastated by Monday’s fate, they have no entry points to imagine making a difference when all other systems of support have failed. The title, Monday’s Not Coming, is thus a projection of the lack of a future for people like Monday. In a similar vein, the secondary character, Rowan, in Peter Brown Hoffmeister’s Too Shattered for Mending is homeless, abused, and beginning to get involved in the drug trade that she has valiantly tried to resist; though she manages to save the main characters from their grim fates, her own death is inevitable as a result of the risks she takes to secure the future of others. The issues here are racial and economic injustice respectively, the problems are systemic, and the outcomes grim indeed. That these characters are both girls seems to be no accident as well, but a persistent pattern that surfaces an ideology of the “girl” in contemporary culture. A full exploration of that mythology is beyond the scope of this essay, so suffice it to say that the specter of the dead girl haunts and distorts the reality of the living in YA literature. Lost in the woods, asleep on a bier or in a glass coffin, the figure of the girl has long been a multivalent signifier and cognitive construct, most often associated with passive vulnerability, emotional sentimentality, and even childhood itself. In contemporary YA fiction, the “girl” transmogrifies into any person whose feminized presence poses a queer threat to agential adulthood. Therefore, she must die or be killed, as she is in scores of YA novels, sometimes returning as a ghost to bear witness to her violent death (e.g., Carter, I Stop Somewhere; Suma, 17 & Gone) or to punish the perpetrator (e.g., Blake, Anna Dressed in Blood), sometimes appearing as a dead body that prompts therapeutic empathy for a survivor (e.g., Mitchell, All the Things We Do in the Dark). Alternately, if she is allowed to live, she must become a killer herself, not so much in an act of positively inflected female agency, but in response to a social order that renders the feminine subject as its abject limit and perverse support (e.g., Roth, Divergent; Collins, The Hunger Games).

Death and the Posthuman A final pattern (ironically, a pattern that resists finality) can be found in the various ways YA literature explores the idea of posthumanism. Posthumanism takes many forms and encompasses many definitions, from material considerations of human–machine or human–animal hybridity to a metaphysical contemplation of the implications of taking human ways of being as the evaluative measure of all forms of embodiment and subjectivity. Explorations of all these definitions can be found in the corpus of YA literature but perhaps, given our starting point that teens are confronting and defending against the new knowledge of their own mortality, we should focus our attention on what YA literature has to say about these questions: If to be human is to be mortal, and yet this condition is the thing we seek to defend against, then what 113

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possibilities and threats are afforded to us by becoming more than, or other than, fully human? Is death final? Or do humans pass into other forms of existence after death? Obvious treatments can be found in books like the Twilight series (Meyer) and other fantasies wherein humans live in a world populated by ghosts, zombies, vampires, angels, and demons who transcend death. Because YA literature is predominantly secular, questions about life after death that have traditionally been addressed through religious inquiry are often metaphorized through such figures. Despite this, however, most of these texts offer warnings like those found in The Silver Kiss: that life after death is compromised by a lack of rest or of moral limits imposed by traditional ideologies of a final judgment, so that seeking to live on after natural death is usually a bad idea. Other explorations of posthumanism are found in science fiction, often with the same aim of preserving life after natural death. In Mary Pearson’s The Adoration of Jenna Fox, a girl’s consciousness has been downloaded into a computer, enabling her to awaken in a cyborg body after a car crash that should have been fatal. In John Corey Whalen’s Noggin, a boy with cancer opts to have his head cryogenically frozen until the technology is available for it to be transplanted onto a cancer-free body five years later. In Peter Dickinson’s Eva, a girl’s brain is transplanted into the body of a chimp when her own body is crushed in an accident. In each of these novels, the characters experience alienation as they try to figure out what it means to be human–other hybrids, but despite the difficult adjustments, the message seems to be that life as cyborgs is better than death. Similarly, after the first wave of hunger for human flesh caused by tainted meat results in massive carnage in Sean Beaudoin’s The Infects, the zombies calm down and organize, and there is a suggestion that perhaps their ways of being in the world are the next wave in human evolution, and might even make room for people with certain kinds of neurodiversity to thrive. Less hopeful messages can be found in Andrew Smith’s The Alex Crow and M. T. Anderson’s Feed. In the latter, a malfunctioning microchip implant leads to a character’s death, while perfectly functional ones induce stupidity and neoliberalism as well as unsightly lesions. The Alex Crow offers a more complex exploration of what could happen if, as Luxmoore speculates, “we’ve discarded our religious fantasies of immortality only to replace them with medical and technological fantasies” (13). The book follows the interrelated fates of Ariel, a fifteen-year-old Middle Eastern boy who should have died when a group of soldiers massacred his town but was saved by a jammed gun; a group of boys at a camp for teens with technology addictions; a humanoid creature frozen in ice, recovered by an arctic expedition in the nineteenth century and then resuscitated in the twenty-first; a reanimated dead crow who is clinically depressed; a female psychologist with a plan to annihilate the male of the species; and a homicide bomber whose implanted microchip is malfunctioning as he heads toward the camp. As the bizarre threads come together, it becomes clear that while people are doing everything we can to bring about our own destruction, there are fates worse than death, especially if those fates mean losing the very things that make us human.

Final Thoughts My claim throughout this essay has been that to theorize death in YA literature, we need to know something about its intended readership and the kind of literature it is, including the ideological implications of the questions it poses. Regarding teen readers, it is important to understand that their brains work differently than those of children and adults, and that their identities and concerns emerge in dialogic response to the culture. Regarding the literature, I would emphasize that the ideological and thematic questions I have presented here rarely 114

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work in isolation; most YA texts offer complex explorations, and both implicit and explicit messages regarding the nature and function of death, while telling their deeply affecting stories. But while some texts do in fact trace arcs of development for their characters through KüblerRoss’s stages from denial to acceptance of death as an inevitable part of life or even a restful reward for a life well lived, I would argue that more YA texts, especially in the past few decades, stop short of acceptance, focusing instead on various kinds of posthuman denial and seeking to trigger anger at social injustice, lay blame on perpetrators, and bargain frenetic activity as a hedge against inevitable annihilation. YA texts ultimately present opportunities for conversations and insights that teens need – which adults are too often reluctant to address directly – so that readers can come to their own conclusions about how to approach (what may or may not be) their final fate.

Note 1

The reasons and mechanisms for this are complex, of course, ranging from brain development to media culture to market economies, all of which require constant innovation in order to generate and sustain interest as well as grow.

Works Cited Anderson, M. T. Feed. Candlewick, 2002. Beaudoin, Sean. The Infects. Candlewick, 2012. Bick, Ilsa J. Ashes. Egmont, 2011. Blake, Kendare. Anna Dressed in Blood. Tor, 2011. Brown, Don. Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2015. Burke, Michael. Literary Reading, Cognition, and Emotion: An Exploration of the Oceanic Mind. Routledge, 2010. Carter, Te. I Stop Somewhere. Macmillan, 2018. Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic, 2008. Cormier, Robert. The Chocolate War. Random House, 1974. Dickinson, Peter. Eva. Random House, 1988. Donaldson, Jennifer. I Know You Remember. Razorbill, 2019. Green, John. The Fault in Our Stars. Penguin, 2012. Harter, Susan. The Construction of the Self: Developmental and Sociocultural Foundations. Guilford, 2012. Henderson, Lauren. Kiss Me Kill Me. Delacorte, 2008. Hinton, S. E. The Outsiders. Penguin, 1967. Hoffmeister, Peter Brown. Too Shattered for Mending. Knopf, 2017. Jackson, Tiffany D. Monday’s Not Coming. HarperCollins, 2018. Kitchener, Caroline. “Why So Many Adults Love Young-Adult Literature.” The Atlantic, 1 Dec. 2017, www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/12/why-so-many-adults-are-love-young-adultliterature/547334. Accessed 15 July 2020. Klause, Annette Curtis. Blood and Chocolate. Delacorte, 1997. Klause, Annette Curtis. The Silver Kiss. Delacorte, 1990. Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Columbia UP, 1982. Kübler-Ross, Elizabeth. On Death and Dying. Routledge, 1969. Luxmoore, Nick. Young People, Death, and the Unfairness of Everything. Jessica Kingsley P, 2012. eBook collection (EBSCOhost), hollins.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx? direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=499327&site=ehost-live&scope=site. Accessed 15 July 2020. Lynch, Chris. Hothouse. HarperCollins, 2010. Magoon, Kekla. How It Went Down. Macmillan, 2014. McDaniel, Lurlene. “Farewell to my Readers.” www.lurlenemcdaniel.com/home. Accessed 15 July 2020. Meyer, Stephenie. Twilight. Little Brown, 2005. Mitchell, Saundra. All the Things We Do in the Dark. HarperTeen, 2019.

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Karen Coats “The Most Devastating Deaths in the Harry Potter Stories.” Pottermore, www.pottermore.com/features/ harry-potter-most-devastating-deaths. Accessed 15 July 2020. “New Study: 55% of YA Books Bought by Adults.” Publishers Weekly, 12 June 2012, www. publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/53937-new-study-55of-ya-books-bought-by-adults.html. Accessed 15 July 2020. Niven, Jennifer. All the Bright Places. Penguin, 2015. O’Brien, John M., Carol Goodenow, and Oliva Espin. “Adolescents’ Reactions to the Death of a Peer.” Adolescence, vol. 26, no. 102, 1991, pp. 431–40. Pearson, Mary E. The Adoration of Jenna Fox. Macmillan, 2008. Reynolds, Jason. The Boy in the Black Suit. Simon & Schuster, 2015. Reynolds, Jason. Long Way Down. Simon & Schuster, 2017. Roth, Veronica. Divergent. HarperCollins, 2011. Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Bloomsbury, 1998. Smith, Andrew. The Alex Crow. Penguin, 2015. Smith, Andrew. Grasshopper Jungle. Penguin, 2014. Smith, Sherri L. Orleans. Penguin, 2013. Suma, Nova Ren. 17 & Gone. Penguin, 2013. Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give. HarperCollins, 2017. Trites, Roberta Seelinger. Disturbing the Universe: Power and Repression in Adolescent Literature. U of Iowa P, 2000. Violi, Jen. Putting Makeup on Dead People. Hyperion, 2011. Whalen, John Corey. Noggin. Simon & Schuster, 2014.

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11 DEATH AND MOURNING IN GRAPHIC NARRATIVE José Alaniz

Often combining words and pictures in sequential panels, comics represents “an art form long accustomed to rendering time as space, characters as multiplicities, and the disputed frontier between self and not-self as a permeable zone open for exploration” (Witek 230). Some scholars such as Tanya Kam argue that such features make comics “ideal for thanatography.” In her words, comics “describes the complicated process of aging, mental and physical atrophy, and isolation with visual immediacy and intimacy” (218). Indeed, the representation of debility, dying, death, loss, and mourning has figured prominently in graphic narrative since the modern emergence of the medium in the late nineteenth century. Turn-of-the-twentieth-century comic strips had no shortage of exaggerated mayhem and slapstick, which often blurred into startling violence. Richard Outcault’s Hogan’s Alley (1895–98) featured fisticuffs, accidents, injuries to children, and a running gag in which a boy falls from atop a building. Comics’ first long-form narrative, Frederick Burr Opper’s Happy Hooligan (1900–32), highlighted crashes, runaway cars, bruised bodies, and other havoc on urban streets. Nonetheless, Jared Gardner resists reading the era’s comics as further evidence of the “shock of modernity” thesis advanced by, among others, sociologist Georg Simmel, maintaining instead that works like Outcault’s and Opper’s underscored the “modern body’s resilience in the face of these same forces, its ability to bounce back, to recover, and to find humor and humanity in the midst of these inhuman conditions” (Projections 11, emphasis in original). The early newspaper strip comics were expressing a nervous laughter over the persistent traumas in an industrializing era of rampant factory, train, car, and trolley accidents. Outcault’s “An Old-Fashioned Fourth of July in Hogan’s Alley” from July 5, 1896 (Outcault 25) captures such a mood of frivolity amid chaos and danger: fireworks explode and a tenement burns while lead character the Yellow Kid beams a joyous smile. Similarly, one may read the absurdist goings-on against oneiric landscapes in both Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland (1905–26) and George Herriman’s Krazy Kat (1913–44) as afterlife narratives. Bloody, even grisly, deaths persisted in the strips well into the twentieth century: for example, in the adventure series Captain Easy (1933–88) by Roy Crane and in Chester Gould’s crime series Dick Tracy (1931). But a more “weighty” type of comics demise – which decisively demonstrated the affectual power of the medium – occurred in 1929, when Mary Gold, from Sidney Smith’s popular series The Gumps (1917–59), succumbed after a lingering illness. Legions of fans protested via letter; some even sent flowers for the funeral. A Tennessee newspaper wrote: “Mary Gold died last night. She was the creation of the imagination … Yet, strangely enough, she 117

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seemed more real to hundreds of thousands of readers of The Gumps than those persons whom they are wont to meet in everyday walks of life” (qtd. in Gardner, Projections 53). Gardner suggests that daily serialization (a twentieth-century innovation of the strips) led to greater readerly involvement and even vicarious grief (56). Similar outpourings of emotion accompanied the October 1941 death of Raven Sherman in Milton Caniff’s comic strip Terry and the Pirates (1934–73), which Francisco Saenz de Adana links to anxieties related to the impending war. Comic strip deaths since have followed a similar pattern, from Andy Lippincott’s (due to AIDS) in Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury (1970) in 1990, to that of Lisa Moore from breast cancer in Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winterbean (1972) in 2007 (Batiuk). The latter detailed the character’s physical decline in frank detail, including her mastectomy, chemotherapy, remission, and relapse. Animal deaths, too, have prompted impassioned readerly responses. In 1995, Lynn Johnston’s For Better or For Worse (1979) saw the heroic demise of the Patterson family dog, Farley. Of the more than 2,500 letters addressing the incident that Johnston received, many shared their pain over losing beloved pets. “… [I] find the subject appalling, particularly since I’m dealing with the imminent demise of a 15 year old Labrador,” one reader wrote. “Comics are for escapism, Ms Johnston. They’re not supposed to be a slap in the face with reality” (Lynn Johnston Collection). Such reactions led Johnston to “compromise” with fan demands that Farley return, by having the dog appear in ghostly form in an April, 1995 Sunday strip – a visualization of fantasy meeting the reality principle (Johnston 189). Years later, UK cartoonist Nick Abadzis encountered a like reader response to his graphic novel Laika (2007); he later indulged fans with several alternate “happy endings,” in which the Soviet space dog does not die, via his blog (Alaniz, “Mourning the Animot”). In one of graphic narrative’s most popular genres, superheroes, death often serves as a launch point: the loss of their parents initiates the narrative arcs of both Jerry Siegel/Joe Schuster’s Superman (1938) and Bob Kane/Bill Finger’s Batman (1939). The pattern continued in the second-phase “Silver Age” era of the 1960s with the killing of Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben in Stan Lee/Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man stories (1962). Death, like disability, thus lies at the very heart of the quasi-eugenicist superhero genre, as its structuring, oft-disavowed other (Alaniz, Death). That disavowal has taken many forms over the genre’s decades-long history: superheroes and villains died in dreams, hallucinations, misunderstandings, “imaginary stories” (see the paradigmatic “Death of Superman” [Superman Vol. 1 #149, Nov. 1961, Siegel/Swan], in which the hero is brutally murdered with a Kryptonite beam by arch-villain Lex Luthor), or alternate universes outside “core” continuity. When “real” death occurred, it would afflict “normal” supporting characters (see the landmark “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” [Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #121, June 1973, Conway/Kane]). Markers of mortality pervade (read: haunt) the superhero genre, in the guise of visual motifs such as the “pietà pose,” showing heroes with deceased comrades or loved ones in their arms (see Batman Vol. 1 #156, June 1963, Finger/Moldoff for an early example) and the piles of bodies adorning many issue covers since the 1980s (Cardoso). The genre’s most sustained engagement with death to this day remains the landmark 1982 graphic novel The Death of Captain Marvel by Jim Starlin, in which the protagonist dies – radically – of cancer. The wave of revisionist superheroes, swept in by Alan Moore et al.’s Miracleman (aka Marvelman, 1982), Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen (1986), and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (1986), led to the era of “grim and gritty” ultraviolence of the 1990s/2000s, exemplified by the Marvel Comics characters Wolverine and the Punisher, and the DC miniseries Infinite Crisis (2005), as well as the output of independent publishers such as Image and the DC imprint Wildstorm (e.g., Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s The Authority, 1999). The repeated use of killed or maimed female paramours for purposes of accentuating male heroes’ 118

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personal development in this period prompted writer Gail Simone to name her 1999 website “Women in Refrigerators” after the trend (the phrase refers to an actual 1994 Green Lantern story in which the hero discovers his murdered girlfriend in a refrigerator). Undead versions of heroes proliferated in the new century in such series and “events” as Marvel Zombies (Marvel, first series 2005) and Blackest Night (DC, 2009), as yet another strategy to superficially explore themes of mortality without risking core corporate properties. The “undead” fad, along with an explosion in the number of alternate versions of superheroes (e.g., Marvel’s Spider-Verse storylines), represents a continuing resistance to death in superhero serials in an age of what Henry Jenkins terms “multiplicity” in the genre. By and large, the subject of mortality in twenty-first-century superhero comics has ossified into a sort of stale joke. Any death of a hero, no matter how dramatic and “final,” is presumed by readers to signify at most a hiatus crowned by triumphant return. (In this regard the genre fulfills in most literalist fashion Ernest Becker’s modernity-upholding “denial of death” thesis.) Since DC’s media-hyped, months-long 1992-93 “Death of Superman” storyline, fans have seen the deaths of Captain America, Johnny Storm of the Fantastic Four, and Batman, among countless others. All eventually returned to the land of the living. In a clever metafictive turn, writer Grant Morrison made Superman, as part of his funeral oration for slain Justice League of America comrade Martian Manhunter, utter the phrase “pray for resurrection” (Final Crisis #2, August, 2008, Morrison/Jones). Since the mid-1980s, rise in readerly and critical regard for seminal works of nonfiction and autography such as Art Spiegelman’s Maus (1986/1991), David Wojnarowicz’s and James Romberger’s Seven Miles a Second (1996), Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (2000), Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Goražde (2000), and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home (2006) have all confronted death in war, genocide, and suicide. Japanese comics author Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen, a 1973 series based on his experiences as a survivor of the Hiroshima bombings, and Will Eisner’s A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories (1978) served as important precursors. Capitalizing on the “intrinsic affinity between the comics form and the phenomenological situation of the narrativizing self ” which “spatialize both physical and psychic experience” (Witek 228), graphic narrative in the new century has often centered on personal loss, in such works as Brian Fies’s Mom’s Cancer (2006); Gilles Rochier’s Ta Mère La Pute (2011, France); Sarah Leavitt’s Tangles (2012); Anders Nilsen’s and Cheryl Weaver’s Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow (2012); Hanneriina Moisseinen’s Father (2013, Finland); Gipi’s S. (2014, Italy); Tom Hart’s Rosalie Lightning (2015); Leela Corman’s “The Wound That Never Heals” (2015); Marnie Galloway’s Particle/Wave (2016); Kelly Froh’s Senior Time (2016); and Mita Mahato’s In Between: Poetry Comics (2017). Some artists trace a death’s intersection with the larger sweep of history, as in Abadzis’s Laika (2007, UK); Alissa Torres’s and Sungyoon Choi’s American Widow (2008); and Nina Bunjevac’s Fatherland (2014). The preponderance of true-life subject matter belies the fact that comics as a medium complicates any straightforward notion of “nonfiction.” As Gardner writes, “With comics, the compressed, mediated, and iconic nature of the testimony (both text and image) denies any collapse between autobiography and autobiographical subject … and the stylized comic art refuses any claims of the ‘having-been-there’ truth” (“Autography’s Biography” 12). Rather, as Charles Hatfield puts it, “The interaction of word and picture – that basic tension between codes – allows for ongoing intertextual or metatextual commentary” (127) which leads not to a mimetic but an “ironic” authentication (125–26). Elisabeth El Refaie, in turn, highlights the social, “dys-appearance” model of the disability/illness experience and its overlaps with self-portraiture in autography (62). Let us take as an example of thanatographic nonfiction comics Roz Chast’s celebrated memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (2014), about the decline and deaths of 119

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her parents. Chast, a longtime New Yorker cartoonist, takes an episodic approach to the subject, tracing her mother and father’s aging through vignettes that foreground their folksy idiosyncrasies and profound death denial. A portrait shows the smiling George and Elizabeth Chast, in winter clothes, comfortably ensconced in a couch on skis slowly sliding down a snowy mountain, with a caption that reads in part, “Things were going downhill, but for many years, the decline was blessedly gradual” (27). Such imagery typifies what Kam calls Chast’s “stereotypical” depiction of death (220); she cites a cartoon grim reaper figure who proclaims, “What’s this??? The Chasts are talking about me! Why, I’ll show them!!!” (10, emphasis in original). Chast’s use of competing visual registers, such as family photos and in particular a series of realistic drawings of her mother on her deathbed near the end of the memoir, complicate and lend gravitas to her “light-hearted” treatment of the theme. The series recalls Elisabeth Bronfen’s discussion of the Swiss painter Ferdinand Hodler’s sketches of his dying lover Valentine Godé-Darel; for Bronfen, the highly “aestheticized” works map onto the artist’s own processes of grief (45). Similarly, Kam argues that Chast’s change in style “emphasizes how the Roz character evolves, becoming strong enough to accept death as more than a onedimensional foe” (230). G. Thomas Couser focuses on a similar stylistic turn from “cartoony” to “realistic” in Leavitt’s Tangles, at the moment when the author’s mother is dying. For him this serves as proof that abstract, stylized visual modes do not suit the grand subject of death. “Only at this point,” he writes, “does her mother’s image draw me in; only at this point does she become a particular person; only at this point, then, am I emotionally engaged” (364). He critiques Chast’s memoir along similar lines: “There is a disjunct between her characteristic style and her subjects” (372fn). Going further than most, Couser pronounces what he calls “visual abstractions” – indeed, any deviation from what he deems a realistic style in comics about death and debility – “counterproductive” (356). However, contention over the “propriety” of particular art styles and approaches to given subjects in graphic narrative, such as those voiced by Kam and Couser, seem very much at odds with the verbal-visual heterogeneity of an art form long-accustomed to talking animals, cosmic battles between superhumans, and so on: in short, fantasy of innumerable sorts. And not only in fantasy: Spiegelman’s Maus, the most critically acclaimed of all graphic memoirs (winner of a special Pulitzer Prize), depicts the Holocaust through the very “visually abstract” device of Germans as cats, Jews as mice, Americans as dogs, and so on. In other words, “ironic” authentication. In short, “realist” fixations such as Couser’s not only sell short the capacities of the comics medium (and of comics readers’ level of engagement), but also have a tendency to define “realism” much too narrowly, as mere surface resemblance to a subject. I would go further, to argue that Chast’s cartoon idiom (itself derived from a rich tradition of caricature) treats death more “realistically” precisely through its “visual abstractions,” by injecting levity into the theme; the silly “grim reaper” marks the complexity of the death/dying experience (which does have its humorous moments), while the stark deathbed portraits of her mother, powerful in their own right, nonetheless partake of a by-now conventional “weighty” and somber treatment of the dying body, as Bronfen’s discussion of Hodler’s early twentieth-century sketches shows. The mid-2000s saw the emergence of Graphic Medicine, a movement of UK- and USbased healthcare practitioners, scholars and artists producing comics and scholarship on experiences related to disability, illness, debility, death, and caregiving from the standpoint of medical patients, physicians, and family (Williams et al.). Works of Graphic Medicine often depict the dying process and its aftermath, as seen in Ross MacIntosh’s Seeds (2011), on his father’s journey through hospice; Dana Walrath’s Aliceheimers: Alzheimer’s Through the Looking 120

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Glass (2013); M. K. Czerwiec’s Taking Turns (2017), on her work as a nurse in an HIV/AIDS care unit at the height of the epidemic; and Mayra Crowe et al.’s The Gift (2018), which deals with organ transplantation after death. Though not all Graphic Medicine productions fall into this category, some scholars (including from disability studies) have drawn attention to the problematic aspects of uncritically examining physical and mental difference through the perspective of healthcare, either exclusively or even primarily. As Susan Squier warns, “if we choose to discuss only those poems or short stories that can illustrate a medical issue, we are implicitly accepting – and thus endorsing – the medical frame” (338, emphasis in original). Recent scholarship on death and dying in graphic narrative takes many forms, from Hillary Chute’s exploration of the medium’s depiction of violence (2016), to Michael Chaney’s linkage of personal loss to the Anthropocene in Richard McGuire’s 2015 experimental graphic novel Here (2016), to Harriet Earle’s study of trauma in the post-9/11 era (2017), to Brian Cremins’s work on nostalgia and the elegy in Walt Kelly’s comic strip Pogo (2018). As exemplified by Emil Ferris’s graphic novel My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (2017), with its harrowing depiction of the protagonist’s mother’s last days, as well as Nicole Georges’s memoir Fetch: How a Bad Dog Brought Me Home (2017), which traces her canine companion’s life until the difficult time comes to put her down, artists continue to use the unique meaning-making strategies of comics to moving effect, for the exploration of the human and animal encounter with death.

Works Cited Abadzis, Nick. Laika. First Second Books, 2007. Alaniz, José. “‘The Most Famous Dog in History’: Mourning the Animot in Abadzis’ Laika.” Seeing Animals: Visuality, Derrida, and the Exposure of the Human, edited by Sarah Bezan and James Tink. Lexington Books, 2017, pp. 39–64. Alaniz, José. Death, Disability and the Superhero: The Silver Age and Beyond. UP of Mississippi, 2014. Batiuk, Tom. Lisa’s Story: The Other Shoe. Kent State UP, 2007. Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Bronfen, Elisabeth. Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity, and the Aesthetic. Routledge, 1992. Bunjevac, Nina. Fatherland: A Family History. Ici Méme, 2014. Cardoso, André Cabral de Almeida. “The Pile of Bodies in Graphic Narratives: Variations on an Image.” Ilha do Desterro: A Journal of English Language, Literatures in English and Cultural Studies, vol. 68, no. 3, September-December 2015, pp. 99–114. Chast, Roz. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? Bloomsbury, 2014. Chaney, Michael A. Reading Lessons in Seeing: Mirrors, Masks, and Mazes in the Autobiographical Graphic Novel. UP of Mississippi, 2016. Chute, Hillary L. Disaster Drawn: Visual Witness, Comics, and Documentary Form. Belknap Press, 2016. Corman, Leela. “The Wound that Never Heals.” Nautilus, no. 23, 16 April 2015. nautil.us/issue/23/ dominoes/ptsd-the-wound-that-never-heals. Couser, G. Thomas. “Is There a Body in This Text? Embodiment in Graphic Somatography.” a/b: Auto/ Biography Studies, vol. 33, no. 2, 2018, pp. 347–373. Crowe, Mayra, et al. The Gift: Transforming Lives Through Organ Donation. University of Dundee, 2018. Cremins, Brian. “Walt Kelly’s Bridgeport.” Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society, vol. 2, no. 1, 2018, pp. 1–17. Czerwiec, M. K. Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371. Pennsylvania State UP, 2017. Earle, Harriet E. H. Comics, Trauma, and the New Art of War. UP of Mississippi, 2017. Eisner, Will. A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories. Baronet Books, 1978. El Refaie, Elisabeth. Autobiographical Comics: Life Writing in Pictures. UP of Mississippi, 2012. Fies, Brian. Mom’s Cancer. Abrams Books, 2006. Froh, Kelly. Senior Time. Cold Cube Press, 2016.

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José Alaniz Galloway, Marnie. Particle/Wave. So What Press, 2016. Gardner, Jared. “Autography’s Biography, 1972–2007.” Biography, vol. 31, no. 1, 2008, pp. 1–26, 221. Gardner, Jared. Projections: Comics and the History of Twenty-First-Century Storytelling. Stanford UP, 2012. Gipi, S. Coconino P, 2014. Hart, Tom. Rosalie Lightning. St. Martin’s P, 2015. Hatfield, Charles. Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature. UP of Mississippi, 2005. Jenkins, Henry. “‘Just Men in Tights’: Rewriting Silver Age Comics in an Era of Multiplicity.” The Contemporary Comic: Book Superhero, edited by Angela Ndalianis. Routledge, 2009, pp. 16–43. Johnston, Lynn. Remembering Farley: A Tribute to the Life of Our Favorite Cartoon Dog. Andrews and McMeel, 1996. Kam, Tanya. “Comic Thanatography: Redrawing Agency, Dialogism, and Ethics in Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society, vol. 2, no. 2, 2018, pp. 215–235. Leavitt, Sarah. Tangles. Skyhorse, 2012. Lynn Johnston Collection. The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. MacIntosh, Ross. Seeds. Com.x, 2011. Mahato, Mita. “Universalism Revisited: The Cartoon Image, My Mom and Mii.” Comics Forum, 12 Sept. 2013. comicsforum.org/2013/09/12/universalism-re-visited-the-cartoon-image-my-mom-and-miiby-mita-mahato. Mahato, Mita. In Between: Poetry Comics. LSU Press, 2017. Moisseinen, Hanneriina. Isä [Father]. Huuda Huuda, 2013. Nakazawa, Keiji. Barefoot Gen. Weekly Jump [Shueisha], 1973–1987. Nilsen, Anders, and Cheryl, Weaver. Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow. Drawn & Quarterly, 2012. Outcault, R. F. R. F. Outcault’s The Yellow Kid: A Centennial Celebration of the Kid Who Started the Comics. Kitchen Sink Press, 1995. Rochier, Gilles. Ta Mére La Pute. Six Pieds Terre, 2011. Sacco, Joe. Safe Area Goražde. Fantagraphics Books, 2000. Saenz de Adana, Francisco. “Attachment and Grief: The Case of the Death of Raven Sherman.” Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, vol. 9, 2018, pp. 1–16. www.tandfonline.com/loi/rcom20. Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis. L’Association, 2000. Spiegelman, Art. Maus. 2 vols. Pantheon, 1986/1991. Squier, Susan Merrill. “Beyond Nescience: The Intersectional Insights of Health Humanities.” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, vol. 50, no. 3, 2007, pp. 334–347. Torres, Alissa, and Sungyoon Choi. American Widow. Villard, 2008. Walrath, Dana. Aliceheimers: Alzheimer’s Through the Looking Glass. Harvest, 2013. Williams, Ian, et al. Graphic Medicine. Penn State College of Medicine, 2007. www.graphicmedicine.org. Accessed 2 Jan. 2020. Witek, Joseph. “Justin Green: Autobiography Meets the Comics.” Graphic Subjects: Critical Essays on Autobiography and Graphic Novels. U of Wisconsin P, pp. 227–230.

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12 DEATH AND DOCUMENTARIES Heuristics for the Real in an Age of Simulation Benjamin Bennett-Carpenter

One of the starkest realities of the real world is death. Perhaps it comes as no surprise, then, that death is a primary topic of documentaries, with scholarly attention regularly being devoted to connections between film and mortality (e.g., Mulvey; Wilson; Aaron), bringing to mind particular documentaries such as Nuit et brouillard (Night and Fog, 1955), The Day After Trinity (1980), Grizzly Man (2005), The Act of Killing (2012), and others. The rhetorics of considering “death” and “documentary” together offer rich and contested intellectual ground in the midst of powerful, complex phenomena that constitute our very lives. For example, death as a term varies significantly when used in vernacular rhetoric versus when employed in specialized contexts such as law, medicine, or biology (cf. other chapters in this volume of The Routledge Companion to Death and Literature). “Documentary” could likewise mean a variety of things, from documentary film and television to the instant footage on social media. Perhaps many think first of the medium and genre of documentary film/television, but “documentary” may also include all its forms (in any medium). Most recently in the age of YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media, the raw visual and audio recordings taken by mobile devices may be the most immediate form of documentary in the twenty-first century.1 While Paul Otlet suggested that anything could be a document (Ferraris 7; cf. Briet; Buckland, “What is” and “Documentality”), Trinh Minh-ha observed, “There is no such thing as documentary” (90). Others turn to John Grierson’s classic description of documentary film as a “creative treatment of actuality” as the place to start (Grierson 8; Hardy 13). As I suggest in Death in Documentaries: The Memento Mori Experience, the entire experience of documentaries points to the mortal condition, where the genre operates as an especially apt form of contemporary memento mori experience. As technologies and audiences become more sophisticated in an age of simulation, documentary increasingly operates as a heuristic rather than simple documentation of the real. Documentary practitioners employ methods in which the possibility for consciousness of death becomes an implicit effect. To say that historically celluloid-based film, beginning with photography, seems to have a close connection to death has become a truism. This close connection may come through the selection of content, but is also historically linked to medium (Bennett-Carpenter 8). For example, Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida offers the Portrait of Lewis Payne (1865) by Alexander Gardner with the caption “il va morir” – “he is going to die” (96). The important point is not just 123

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that the figure in the photograph is about to be executed; nor is the sense of any figure in any photograph being dead (or to be dead in the future) the full extent of the film-and-mortality connection (cf. Ruby). Rather, as Laura Mulvey and many others have pointed out, there is a material connection between historically celluloid-based film and empirical reality, including empirical death; that is, documentary film functions as a death index, pointing to death.2 In a digital age, this potent connection between mortality and film continues to operate as an effect. As I suggest in Death in Documentaries, the genre offers an opportunity to inform viewers about a fundamental, definitive truth of our existence: i.e., that we are mortal, that individual life is limited, and that we will die. Documentaries offer this stark fact in various measures of terror, pleasure, or otherwise raw or facilitated sensation that invoke both the mundane and the sublime, presenting moments of possibility for viewers to be existentially moved in regard to the hard facts of mortality. A provocation (usually implicit) emerges in documentaries: remember, you are mortal; remember, you must die. This existential instruction is not simply an aspect of documentaries about death; rather, I suggest that it may be a basic quality of documentary experience.

Basics of Documentary Rooted in documentary-as-writing, the documentary era at-large arguably fully emerged with the development of celluloid-based film in the form of still photography and later the “moving picture” or cinema, early examples being the work of the Lumière brothers (e.g., Arrivée d’un train).3 Paralleling this development in photographic arts and cinema were the emerging methods and tools of science, where visual forms of documentation provided data and evidence for increasingly establishing an understanding of how the natural world works (e.g., X-rays, photographs of species, nature films), and to some extent how the social world works (e.g., ethnographic studies). Documentary work as a whole in all its forms thus was and is integral to research across disciplines and fields, in the sciences, anthropology, museum studies, library and information science, medicine, law, communication, economics, education, and literature. While documentary film is closely tied to scientific documentation (Boon; cf. Day), it is also intimately linked to a “cinema of attractions” (Gunning). From its earliest days, documentary film drew upon traditions of the carnival sideshow and the theater, wherein its functions were to entertain, fascinate, and facilitate wonder and awe (Nichols, Introduction 3rd ed. 90ff.). This meant that fiction, imagination, and raw sensation were and are a part of documentary work as well as realism. From Grierson’s early 20th-century description of documentary as the “creative treatment of actuality” (Grierson 8; Hardy 13; emphasis added) to the deliberate staging of scenes in Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922), the composed and fabricated dimensions of documentary make it, as some may argue, another form of fiction (Nichols, Introduction 3rd ed. 9; Winston 103, 120). Conventions of documentary may be adopted and played with to varying ends: for example, to produce “mockumentaries” (e.g., This is Spinal Tap, 1984); to create documentaries that deliberately lie and produce a fake “reality”;4 to produce a documentary effect within other genres (e.g., The Grapes of Wrath, 1940), sometimes with irony and/or humor (e.g., The Office, 2001–03); to serve the purposes of propaganda (e.g., Triumph of the Will, 1934); or to engage the surreal or avant-garde (e.g., Man with a Movie Camera, 1929; Las Hurdes, 1933). Amidst all the ways to understand documentaries, a powerful insight into their workings may be to see them within the context of a classic rhetorical tradition that has been updated for the present era. Bill Nichols has suggested that “[r]hetoric in all its forms and all its purposes provides the final, distinguishing element of documentary” (Introduction 1st ed. 97–98; cf. “The Question of Evidence”). In this context, rhetoric, which may be both distinguished from 124

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and also include poetics, is not to be confused with the use of words in place of substantive action, nor is it merely a form of argument. Rather, rhetoric here is what Aristotle classically described as finding all the available means for persuasion in any given situation (“Art” of Rhetoric 1.2.1) – a line of reasoning that has been taken up by Kenneth Burke, Wayne Booth, and present-day communications scholars – and now generally is understood as employing all available means of effective communication as a form of transformative action. In broad strokes, this is what documentary films do: they employ all available means, within the limits and possibilities of their medium and genre, to bring about transformative action through this particular form of effective communication. Documentaries offer an opportunity of a simulated experience of the real world in which truths about that world – such as the fact that we must die – may be received through instruction, sensation, and emotional appeal.

Distinguishing Reality from Irreality Among the many ways to describe documentary as a simulated experience of the real world, its basic experience is that of offering viewers an opportunity “to determine and distinguish reality from irreality, including one’s empirically real place in the cosmos (human society and conventions included)” (Bennett-Carpenter 122). Documentaries invite the question: What really is the case? Addressing the empirical rather than imaginary world, documentaries invite viewers to consider the distinction between history and imagination (cf. Nichols, Introduction 3rd ed. 5–10). When watching a fictional feature film, for example, viewers understand that they may be engaging a range of potential narratives from the realistic to the fantastic. In most cases, though, feature films deal with the space of the imaginary. By contrast, when viewers engage with documentary, they generally understand that information is being transmitted to them from, and in regard to, the empirical world. For example, in the classic science documentary Powers of Ten (1968/1977) by Charles and Ray Eames, the idea was to impart a lesson about scale in the empirical world, where this particular spot on a picnic blanket on the lakeshore of Chicago is at human scale within the vast inner and outer scales of the physical cosmos (cf. BennettCarpenter 56–70). Originally created for university physics classrooms, the Eameses employed hand-drawn pictures and 1970s-era special effects, but the goal was to teach a lesson about the empirical world. The purpose of exercising one’s imagination in this case is thus in service of recognizing the real as it is known and experienced by human beings. Such distinctions between the imaginary and empirical have been complicated in the digital age, with digital technologies fostering tensions between the genre and the medium. For example, in the recent Netflix nature documentary narrated by David Attenborough, Our Planet (2019), some or many of the images likely invite questions such as: Is that real? And, after all, what is real? While Our Planet features standard shots such as the bird’s-eye view, with the camera soaring above the landscape from a helicopter, or close-ups of the faces of seals or polar bears framed as portraiture, there are also new-for-documentary shots that employ high-speed drones and powerful digital cameras that make some scenes look animated.5 Is one seeing real life, in an empirical sense of that question? Or has the picture been fabricated or manipulated? To what degree and how? In an age of simulation, documentaries become occasions for inquiry rather than immediate visible manifestations of evidence. Still, in terms of viewers’ reception of visual material, the methods, attitudes, and consciousness/reception of moving pictures may hold fast to “documentary” versus the imaginary or fictional – but now with more reliance on extra-cinematic contexts and material evidence (cf. Sobchack, Carnal Thoughts). For example, in terms of “evidence” of the real or true, individuals may lean toward DNA or other forensics, to the tactile (e.g., textiles), the embodied, 125

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or the interpersonal (that which is live, immediate, personal, and/or interactive), keeping in mind that all such “evidence” still becomes a part of a composed narrative or argument and is not immediately “self-evident.” For instance, a primary reason why people watch the popular US documentary television series, Forensic Files (1996–2011) – comprised of highly composed storytelling with effusive music and narration by vocal pathos-master Peter Thomas – has to do with the fact that these are real cases of real people who actually died. Their manners of exiting this mortal world are often stranger than fiction, but fiction they are not. This, then, is a key distinction between documentaries and fiction films: documentaries are understood to be composed representations of the empirically real rather than the imaginary.6

Contemplating Responses to Mortality Documentary film experience further invites viewers “to contemplate appropriate responses to the mortal condition, including taking responsibility for one’s life and inhabiting one’s social/cultural [/political] situation and activity with others (including identity, work, and relationships)” (Bennett-Carpenter 122). As viewers sit before a screen, they recapitulate the experience of spiritual devotees of old who sat before holy texts or icons to contemplate divine truths, except now the images may be documentation of the empirical world. The primary truth may not be supernatural or metaphysical but, rather, super-natural – that is, a hyper sense of the natural world, including the physical and social world. Fellow human beings die before our eyes onscreen in documentaries: in war footage, one sees a soldier cut down; in news footage, viewers witness the aftermath of a bombing, or see a corpse lying on the ground after an accident. In all these cases, viewers know the people are dead; the “gift” and “miracle” of life was cut short. Even documentation of a long life that comes to a natural end points to the limits of mortal existence. In the context of such imagery, an opportunity arises for an extra-cinematic response in the real world (Sobchack, Carnal Thoughts): What will one do? How will one be? In An Inconvenient Truth (2006), one sees the potential effects of global warming on the world’s coastlines: aware, sensitive viewers become alarmed at the possible impending devastation, including the threat of mass deaths. This film calls for action to change behavior … or else. One observes the effects of Morgan Spurlock’s all-fast-food diet (over a 30-day period) in Super-Size Me (2004), watching the narrator/filmmaker speed up his mortal state with a suggestion of obesity-as-mementomori. Spurlock’s documentary similarly calls attention to changing our existing (dietary) habits … or else. Al Midan (The Square, 2013) documents the uprisings in Egypt and what happened in response to them, leaving viewers to decide if and how we ourselves would choose to respond: What is one’s definitional position in relation to those designated as “other/s”? How will we spend our time and energy in this (relatively short) mortal life? Does one’s life make a positive or negative difference? How does our act of documentary viewership affect our relationships, if at all?

Memento Mori, Memento Vivere I suggest that documentary experience also may create a space “to move individuals into distinctive human experience, including of love or friendship and appropriate acceptance, courage, or productive defiance toward mortality” (Bennett-Carpenter 122). One baseline for this experience is one’s position on a grid of varying responses to mortality that crosses feeling (affect) with one’s idea (cognition) of mortality. Among the varied ideas of death, three main streams may be described: death-as-termination, death-as-transition, and death-as-unknown/uncertain, 126

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each of which can generate positive, negative, or neutral/ambivalent responses. The meeting of one’s particular idea of, and emotional response to, death forms a critical existential context for one’s documentary experience. In this existential context, documentaries function not merely as death indexes but also as occasions for renewed life. If documentaries operate as an especially apt form of memento mori, then they may also potentially function as memento vivere – “remember to live.” Memento mori has traditionally meant either “repent”/“turn your life around” or carpe diem, “seize the day” because life is short. Thus, contemplation of death may provide opportunity to pivot one’s life around quintessentially human experiences of love and/or friendship, and the distinctive marks that particular humans leave on the world. For example, in Wim Wenders’s Buena Vista Social Club (1999), the rich pleasures of the island-nation Cuba’s music surges into one’s viewing/listening space. Here is one way – among countless others – to be so richly human on this little planet of ours in the mysterious cosmos. Yet a strong implicit premise of the film (beyond its explicit scope) is also the impending demise of the musicians as they age. Wenders and music producer Ry Cooder document a distinctive human contribution – the Buena Vista Social Club music and musicians – as a (mortal) snapshot in time that captures something before it is gone for good. The experience of this documentary work for the filmmakers and viewers inspires individuals toward human and creative courage. Countless examples may be offered of documentaries that create such space to inspire life, work, and relationships in the context of one’s awareness of our own mortality. From Jennie Livingston’s Paris Is Burning (1990) to Derek Jarman’s Blue (1993), from Rob Epstein’s The Times of Harvey Milk (1984) to Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World (2007) or Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui’s McQueen (2018), each viewer will have their own particular documentary that functions as the old Zen Buddhist adage suggests of the finger pointing to the moon. A particular documentary functions as an index to a particular illumination.

Analyzing Death in Documentaries In this final section, I identify five potential levels of analysis for addressing the varied ways in which death has been dealt with in particular documentary works (cf. Bennett-Carpenter 127ff.). First, one may identify a specific death item: a word, image, or symbol – such as the word “death,” an image of a corpse or dead flowers, or a particular memento mori item like a skull or a timepiece (128). For example, in the opening credits of (and interspersed throughout) McQueen), the documentary about the life and work of fashion designer Lee Alexander McQueen, viewers see enormous, bedazzled skulls. These skulls are very prominent death’s heads that invoke the work of Damien Hirst and Pablo Picasso and point toward relatively imminent death. The documentary goes on to show testimony of McQueen’s suicide. Identifying death within a work may also include what one may think of as a supposed “snuff ” film, a beheading video, or any film or footage that includes imagery of actual corpses (e.g., Thomas Edison’s Electrocuting an Elephant, 1903, and Forensic Files). Identifying death within a work may also include any memento mori reference such as a tombstone, a portrait, a cigarette, or a flurry of bubbles (Bennett-Carpenter 128). As an especially apt form of contemporary memento mori, documentaries work out of and in connection with not only empirical, scientific traditions but also a deep and wide art historical tradition. This tradition employs emblems of transience: from vanitas symbols such as books, flowers, and bubbles, to portraiture where one finds figures of humans once living and now dead. Second, one may identify the idea of death within a work of documentary (BennettCarpenter 129). In Davis Guggenheim’s An Inconvenient Truth, the idea of mass death because of 127

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environmental destruction, and rising sea levels in particular, is strongly implied by effective computer graphics. No corpse or process of immediate dying is shown, but the ideation of mortality is firmly indicated. One common way of encountering death in documentaries is by way of inference. Suggestive text, sound, and/or imagery are employed, pointing to a logical conclusion of death or something or someone being dead. Visually literate viewers tend to accurately infer moving shapes of color on a map in An Inconvenient Truth, taking the expanding blue color to mean flooding and the extent of the color across the screen to imply physical devastation, including mass migration and potentially human and non-human deaths. Viewers are invited to categorize what they see into the cognitive files of “living” or “non-living” or “dead” to discover this particular reality for themselves. Third, in addition to literal and ideational references, one may attend to “material or semiotic references” to mortality (Bennett-Carpenter 127). For example, aside from the direct verbal reference in the title Working Man’s Death (2005), it is difficult to avoid interpreting the opening scenes of workers digging in the dirt as analogous to digging their own graves. Inserts of historical footage carry an aura of working people now long dead. Death references are also evident in the open-air market scenes, with bulls, cows, and goats being graphically slaughtered onscreen before one’s eyes. Yet documentaries with no explicit death content may nonetheless carry that experience for particular viewers. For example, for this author, born in the early 1970s, any film from the late 1970s and the 1980s carries not only a certain nostalgia of a unique time of childhood but also an existential pathos steeped in mortality. Such documentary viewing experiences may be idiosyncratic to particular viewers depending on when and where they were born, and the experiences that have characterized their lives. Yet virtually every film (including fiction) of a particular era may have a documentary function, being materially connected to that particular time and those particular places. In historically celluloid-based film, this material connection is based in the reaction of light to chemically treated materials and the chemical development processes of an old-school darkroom. This connection carries over into the digital age as an effect; when viewers see films, they more often than not are seeing documentation of a spacetime now dead (or soon to be), reminiscent of Barthes’s caption of the photograph by Alexander Gardner. In this sense, all films are Portraits of Lewis Payne, so to speak. Fourth, one may explore “death” as a trope or convention “in, or related to, the viewing of a specific documentary film, segment of film, or portion of footage” (Bennett-Carpenter 127). Take, for instance, Andy Warhol’s eight-hour experimental documentaries, Sleep (1963) and Empire (1964). In Sleep, one observes an inert individual, a classic metaphor for death: is this someone sleeping or a “corpse”? Empire moves a bit further away from the direct reference, but not by much: the Empire State Building in New York City takes on various references, including that of a “candle” in the dark, with the atmosphere facilitating the feeling of transience or impermanence: Is that just a building, or is mortality suggested? A final way that death may be analyzed in relation to specific works is through the exploration of mortality-as-experienced (Bennett-Carpenter 127). Any documentary work can be experienced as a mortality-awareness trigger for a particular individual: for example, in the explicit references to death that one finds in news footage (Zelizer; Fishman). Such triggers may also be idiosyncratic: a treasured photograph of a loved one who has passed, a sampled reel of home video, a particular scent that leads one to contemplate a deceased loved one, and so on. Perhaps a stitch in a garment, cut just so and – there it is – something called to memory, and this mortal coil is felt and understood in the moment. Death awareness and references to death-asexperienced are idiosyncratically shaped by our particular environments and backgrounds owing to personality, families of origin, political circumstances, cultural traditions, and specific 128

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forms of training. Idiosyncratic, too, may be a renewed self-awareness, denial, distraction, defiance, and/or courage regarding life as each individual encounters particular documentaries. Yet across idiosyncrasies, documentaries offer opportunities for a common discovery even in a digital age of the hyper-real: mortality as real.

Notes 1

2 3

4 5 6

Since the time of writing this chapter, much has taken place nationally, internationally, and globally, that stands as pertinent to this topic: particularly, the realities of COVID-19 (in both representation of its effects and the inability, or limited ability, to picture it, e.g., the Johns Hopkins University & Medicine COVID-19 map); and the rise in awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement after multiple recent high-profile murders - with the mobile phone footage of George Floyd’s killing operating as a primary catalyst for renewed action. See Bennett-Carpenter 108ff.; cf. Rotha; Kracauer; Bazin; Aitken, The Encyclopedia and Documentary Film. Bill Nichols outlines the “major nonfiction models for documentary film” in terms of investigation/ report, advocacy, history, testimonial, travel writing, sociology, visual anthropology/ethnography, first person essay, poetry, diary/journal, biography or group profile, and autobiography (Introduction 3rd ed. 106–7; see also 156–57 for “modes” and specific examples of documentaries that fit these models and modes). See Nichols, Introduction 3rd ed. 106–107; cf. the recent “deepfake” videos. With drones, the point of view has changed because the camera is not limited to the human hand or a fixed perspective, inviting the reality question because of new perspectives facilitated by this technology. The label documentary is itself contested, negotiable, and dependent upon a particular work’s reception, including its cultural context (cf. Cowie; Plantinga; Bennett-Carpenter). Vivian Sobchack (Carnal Thoughts; “Phenomenology”) uses the term “documentary consciousness” to frame such reception, whereby viewers, readers, or consumers of a work accept the conventions of what one thinks of as “documentary,” or a documentary function within or related to another work (e.g., in a novel). Many contemporary viewers who consume a multitude of images on a daily basis have become far more skeptical toward reality- and truth-claims. Or, by contrast, they adopt only the “reality” within their own media-consumption “bubble.” In a post-celluloid, media-saturated age, critical viewers regularly question the authenticity of the images they see.

Works Cited Primary Sources The Act of Killing. Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, Anonymous, and Christine Cynn. Final Cut for Real, 2012. Al Midan [The Square]. Directed by Jehane Noujaim. Noujaim Films, 2013. Arrivée d’un train [Arrival of a Train]. Directed by August and Louis Lumière. Société Lumière, 1895. Blue. Directed by Derek Jarman. Basilisk Communications Ltd., 1993. Buena Vista Social Club. Directed by Wim Wenders. 1999. The Day After Trinity. Directed by John H. Else. KTEH, 1980. Electrocuting an Elephant. Directed by Thomas Edison. Edison Studios, 1903. Empire. Directed by Andy Warhol. Warhol Films, 1964. Encounters at the End of the World. Directed by Werner Herzog. Discovery Films, 2007. Forensic Files. Directed by Michael Jordan, et al., narrated by Peter Thomas. Trifecta Entertainment and Media, 1996–2011. The Grapes of Wrath. Directed by John Ford. 20th Century Fox, 1940. Grizzly Man. Directed by Werner Herzog. Lions Gate Films, 2005. An Inconvenient Truth. Directed by Davis Guggenheim. 2006. Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan [Land Without Bread]. Directed by Luis Buñuel. 1933. Man with a Movie Camera. Directed by Dziga Vertov. 1929. McQueen. Directed by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui. 2018. Nanook of the North. Directed by Robert Flaherty. 1922. Nuit et brouillard [Night and Fog]. Directed by Alain Resnais. 1955.

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Benjamin Bennett-Carpenter The Office. Directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. 2001–2003. Our Planet. Directed by Adam Chapman et al. 2019. Paris Is Burning. Directed by Jennie Livingston. 1990. Powers of Ten. Directed by Charles and Ray Eames. 1968/1977. Sleep. Directed by Andy Warhol. 1963. Super-Size Me. Directed by Morgan Spurlock. 2004. This Is Spinal Tap. Directed by Rob Reiner. 1984. The Times of Harvey Milk. Directed by Rob Epstein. 1984. Triumph of the Will. Directed by Leni Riefenstahl. 1934. Working Man’s Death. Directed by Michael Glawogger. 2005.

Secondary Sources Aaron, Michele. Death and the Moving Image: Ideology, Iconography, and I. Edinburgh UP, 2014. Aitken, Ian. “Physical Reality: The Role of the Empirical in the Film Theory of Siegfried Kracauer, John Grierson, André Bazin and George Lukács.” Documentary Film, edited by Ian Aitken. Routledge, 2012, pp. 19–37. [Originally published in Studies in Documentary Film, vol. 1, no. 2, 2007, pp. 105–121.] Aitken, Ian. “Realism, Philosophy, and the Documentary Film.” The Encyclopedia of the Documentary Film, edited by Ian Aitken. Routledge, 2006. Aristotle. The “Art” of Rhetoric, translated by John Henry Freese. Loeb Classical Library/Heinemann, 1959. Balsom, Erika, and Hila Peleg, editors. Documentary Across Disciplines. MIT Press/Haus der Kulturen der Welt, 2016. Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, translated by R. Howard. Hill and Wang/ Noonday, 1981. Bazin, André. What Is Cinema? Vol I, translated by H. Gray. U of California P, 1967. Bennett-Carpenter, Benjamin. Death in Documentaries: The Memento Mori Experience. Brill, 2018. Boon, Timothy. Films of Fact: A History of Science in Documentary Films and Television. Wallflower, 2008. Briet, Suzanne. What Is Documentation? [Qu'est-ce que la documentation?] 1951, translated and edited by Ronald E. Day, Laurent Martinet, and Hermina G. B. Anghelescu. Scarecrow Press, 2006. Buckland, Michael K. “Documentality Beyond Documents.” The Monist, vol. 97, no. 2, 2014, pp. 179–186. Buckland, Michael K. “What Is a ‘Document’?” Journal of the American Society for Information, vol. 48, no. 9, 1997, pp. 804–809. Cowie, Elizabeth. Recording Reality, Desiring the Real. U of Minnesota P, 2011. Day, Ronald E. Indexing It All: The Subject in the Age of Documentation, Information, and Data. MIT Press, 2014. Ferraris, Maurizio. Documentality: Why It Is Necessary to Leave Traces. [Documentalità: Perché è necessario lasciare trace, 2010, Gius: Laterza & Figli.] translated by Richard Davies. Fordham, 2013. Fishman, Jessica. Death Makes the News: How the Media Censor and Display the Dead. NYU Press, 2017. Grierson, John. “The Documentary Producer.” Cinema Quarterly, vol. 2, no. 1, 1933, pp. 7–9. Gunning, Tom. “The Cinema of Attractions: Early Film, Its Spectator, and the Avante-Garde.” Early Cinema, edited by T. Elsaesser. British Film Institute, 1990. Hardy, Forsyth, editor. Grierson on Documentary. U of California P, 1966. Kracauer, Siegfried. Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality. 1960. Introduction by Miriam Bratu Hansen. Princeton UP, 1997. Mulvey, Laura. Death 24x a Second: Stillness and the Moving Image. Reaktion, 2006. Nichols, Bill. Introduction to Documentary. 1st edition. U of Indiana P, 2001. Nichols, Bill. Introduction to Documentary. 3rd edition. U of Indiana P, 2017. Nichols, Bill. “The Question of Evidence, the Power of Rhetoric, and Documentary Film.” The Documentary Film Book, edited by Brian Winston. British Film Institute/Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, pp. 33–39. Otlet, Paul. Traité de documentation: Le livre sur le livre, théorie et pratique. Editiones Mundaneum, 1934. Plantinga, Carl. “The Limits of Appropriation: Subjectivist Accounts of the Fiction/Nonfiction Film Distinction.” The Philosophy of Documentary Film: Image, Sound, Fiction, Truth, edited by David LaRocca. Lexington, 2017, pp. 113–124. Rotha, Paul. Documentary Film: The Use of the Film Medium to Interpret Creatively and in Social Terms the Life

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Death and Documentaries of the People as It Exists in Reality. 1935. In collaboration with Sinclair Road and Richard Griffith. 3rd edition. Farber and Farber, 1952. Ruby, Jay. Secure the Shadow: Death and Photography in America. MIT Press, 1995. Sobchack, Vivian. Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture. U of California P, 2004. Sobchack, Vivian. “Toward a Phenomenology of Nonfiction Film Experience.” Collecting Visible Evidence, edited by Jaime M. Gaines and Michael Renov. U of Minneapolis P, 1999, pp. 241–254. Trinh, T. Minh-ha. “The Totalizing Quest of Meaning.” Theorizing Documentary, edited by Michael Renov. Routledge, 1993, pp. 90–107. Visible Evidence [organization/conferences]. 1993–present. Information at http://www.visibleevidence.org. Wilson, Emma. Love, Mortality, and the Moving Image. Palgrave, 2012. Winston, Brian. Claiming the Real: The Griersonian Documentary and Its Legitimations. British Film Institute, 1995. Zelizer, Barbie. About to Die: How News Images Move the Public. Oxford UP, 2010.

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13 DEATH AND THE FANCIULLA Reed Way Dasenbrock

Death has of course long been a – perhaps the – central subject of literature. This essay focuses on drama, defining opera as musical drama. The two reigning forms of drama from Classical literature until the present are tragedy and comedy, and the presence or absence of death is precisely what separates the two. Yet who dies varies across time, and it matters who dies. To put it very simply, in classical tragedy, an important man dies; in the quintessential tragic operas of the nineteenth century – those of Verdi and Bizet and Puccini – an apparently unimportant woman dies.1 I see Shakespeare’s plays, most obviously Romeo and Juliet, as the key moment leading to the modern, female-centered tragedy found in nineteenth-century opera, perhaps one reason why Shakespeare is such an important source for operatic composers. The central premise of this essay is that the shift across the millennia should be seen as part and parcel of a momentous positive shift in the status of women. I grant the paradoxical sound of this: Why would the portrayal of women dying mean their status was improving? Unpacking that paradox – I hope in a convincing manner – will also lead us to revisit some well-established lines of thought about the representation of women.2 But first, Aristotle. Although Aristotle’s description of tragedy in the Poetics doesn’t capture every aspect of Classical tragedy, its description of what constitutes tragedy has been perhaps as influential as the plays themselves in Western culture. Although Aristotle is famous for saying that action is more important than character, his definition of tragedy begins by focusing on the character of the protagonist: “tragedy attempts to imitate men who are better and comedy men who are worse than those about us” (Aristotle 71). Better in what sense? Better primarily in his station in life, for as he goes on to say, it would be “abominable” to watch “good men falling from good fortune to bad fortune,” whereas watching “very wicked men fall[ing] from good fortune to bad fortune” “is neither pitiable nor fearful” (85–86). The proper subject of a tragedy, therefore, is “the man who occupies the mean between saintliness and depravity,” and the subject of tragedy is the fall of this man from a position of “high reputation and good fortune” because of error or a flaw, a fall that causes pity and fear in the audience. Though the tragic protagonist does not have to be a man, as actual classical tragedies show, for Aristotle the proper protagonist is male, as Aristotle clarifies when he discusses that it is important that a tragic protagonist be good: “There is goodness in every type of person, for a woman is good and so is a slave, though one of these is perhaps inferior, the other paltry” (89). But such inferiority as Aristotle ascribes to women risks the possibility that the fall of the 132

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protagonist will not arouse the fear and pity tragedy requires, because the fall of an inferior person will not be from such a great height. If the nature of the protagonist is one crucial difference between tragedy and comedy, the difference between tragedy and epic – which in Aristotle’s view establishes the superiority of tragedy – is the coherence of the action or plot. The best epic for Aristotle is focused on a single action and is not episodic, but no epic can be as compact as a tragedy, constituted as it is of a single action, “a tying of the knot, or complication, and an untying of it, or solution” (95). Now, it is worth commenting that Aristotle never defines death as the closing action of a tragedy, but rather, as in the passages I have already quoted, a fall or a solution. Yet the fall of a great man in classical tragedy does lead to his death, and death always represents the untying of the knot or the solution to the complication. Aristotle doesn’t need to spell this out because in his culture, death with at least a degree of honor would always have been preferred to survival with dishonor. That preference, of course, soon clashes in the Christian era with the view that suicide is not an honorable solution but rather a mortal sin – one reason why “Christian tragedy” seems considerably more problematic as a generic/thematic category than Christian epic.3 So it should occasion no surprise that when drama re-emerges in the Renaissance and people begin to write tragedies again, these are frequently set in the Classical period. Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, to cite one familiar and apposite example, is clearly a tragedy well informed by Aristotelian genre theory. As has sometimes been noted, the play should really be called Brutus, as the death of Julius Caesar early in the play initiates the real action rather than in any sense closing it. The action of the play is the fall of Brutus, not the fall of Julius Caesar, with the decision by Brutus to join the conspiracy against Caesar being as prominent in the play as the assassination itself. This is because Brutus’s motives for joining the conspiracy represent the complication most succinctly: he and other republicans thought that if they murdered Caesar, the Republic could be saved. The operation was successful but the patient died, in the sense that their having to resort to murder and armed conflict in order to “save” the Republic was the Republic’s death blow, as it initiated a new cycle of wars that necessarily led to one party winning, setting up precisely the dictatorship or imperial rule that they hoped to prevent. When their party lost, both Brutus and Cassius committed suicide rather than be taken by Mark Antony and Octavius, and given this, Brutus is described by Mark Antony as “the noblest Roman of them all” (5.5.74). Julius Caesar sticks close to its sources in Plutarch’s Lives, unusually close for a Shakespearean play, just as it sticks close to Aristotelian precepts, but that makes the swerves from Plutarch when they do occur even more interesting. One important shift for our theme here is that neither Brutus nor Cassius is the first noble suicide in the play: Brutus’s wife, Portia, beats them both to it, immolating herself in Act IV as an alternative to capture by the Caesarian forces. Shakespeare takes this story from Plutarch’s life of Brutus, one of the key sources for the play, but intriguingly, Plutarch represents this story as probably not true, as it is contradicted by a letter of Brutus’s in which Brutus states she died from disease (240). Is this comparatively rare revision of his source a way for Shakespeare to hint that Portia was superior to her husband in nobility, in that she kills herself without needing any assistance, even if only an “inferior” woman? Roughly contemporaneous with Julius Caesar (although a few years earlier) is a far more revolutionary transformation of the genre of tragedy, a play that has seeped so thoroughly into our culture that we in general fail to understand just how revolutionary it was in the context of the 1590s. Shakespeare opens Romeo and Juliet in a distinctly comic mode, not just in the byplay between the Montague and Capulet serving men that leads to the brawl in the opening scene, but more tellingly by the figure Romeo strikes throughout the first act. No brawler, he is a lover, indeed a love poet, whose romantic musings about the fair Rosaline place us in a 133

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Petrarchan landscape that seems far indeed from the landscape of tragedy. About the only requirement for an Aristotelian tragic hero that he meets is that he is male: although of what might pass for noble status in a small Italian city-state, he is no great man whose fall will arouse pity and fear since he is not great and he has no great distance to fall. But of course the play is not called “the tragedy of Romeo,” but rather The Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet, and Juliet doesn’t meet a single one of Aristotle’s requirements: she is not just an “inferior woman,” she is a fourteen-year-old adolescent. Yet the meeting of these two unprepossessing figures generates a tragic plot that has resonated across the subsequent centuries, probably exceeding Shakespeare’s more conventional tragedies focused on kings, princes, and great men in its popular appeal despite the fact that the protagonists both utterly fail to meet the traditional requirements for the character of a tragic hero. What needs to have changed in the cultural horizon for Romeo and Juliet to have been considered a tragedy? Quite a few things, and they are worth itemizing. What is tragic in a modern, post-classical perspective about Romeo and Juliet is not just the conventional sign of the tragic genre, the fact that both die: the fact of dying may be necessary for a tragedy, but it is surely not sufficient. It is the fact of their love that makes their death tragic. This is where the Italian setting of the play is germane, for Romeo and Juliet is unthinkable without the culture of the Italian love lyric descending from Petrarch to Shakespeare’s time. Petrarchan love is at one level played for laughs in Act I, for Romeo’s excessively textual and self-absorbed “love” for Rosaline is shot full of the clichés of Petrarchan poetry. Yet Petrarch and the cultural context from which he springs had a much deeper effect on Western culture than the set of conceits that were so exhausted by Shakespeare’s time, what Sidney referred to as “poor Petrarch’s long deceased woes” (425). After Petrarch, to put it simply, our sense of human fulfillment included a – perhaps the – central place for love, and love was defined as an abiding, lifelong passion for a person of the opposite sex. (A few lyric poets in this tradition, pre-eminently Michelangelo and Shakespeare himself, challenge this normative heterosexism, but that challenge takes several centuries to escape a coterie effect.) This love, despite the Christian context, is eros, not caritas, but it is an eros focused on a single beloved. Only if we feel we deserve love, and only if we feel that true love is life long, will we be able to consider Romeo and Juliet a tragedy. The first person plural in that sentence is key: the love celebrated in Renaissance lyric culture is reciprocated, as Petrarch’s presumably unidirectional passion for Laura is modulated, both in the works of Italian women writers such as Gaspara Stampa and Veronica Gambara, who freely own to passionate attraction to the men to whom they write; and in the Protestant transformation of the Petrarch lyric by Shakespeare’s coevals such as Sidney and Spenser as well as by Shakespeare, at least in the “Dark Lady” sonnets. Reciprocated heterosexual love means that women have and express passion for men just as men do for women. The difference between the callow Romeo of Act I and Romeo by the end of the play is less that he loves than that he is loved, that Juliet loves him as deeply and as profoundly as he loves her. Actually, if one were to measure the matter, she loves him far more deeply, since she is prepared to “die” in order to be with him when she takes Friar Lawrence’s potion, an act of courage not reciprocated by Romeo. If heroism is a function of action, she is the hero because she acts, whereas Romeo merely reacts. And when they both actually die in Act V, I think we tend to evaluate their suicides differently: Romeo dies because he is in despair at the thought of a life without her (an act of weakness), whereas she dies in order to join him (an act of strength). The fact that these suicides are not condemned is one indication that we are in a Renaissance landscape in which the legacy of Classical culture has weakened the absolute hold of Christianity, but the nature of the suicides – dying for love rather than to preserve honor – also serves to establish an important departure from both. 134

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Romeo and Juliet thus infuses much of the cultural energy of the Renaissance love lyric into drama in a way that permanently enlarges the potential of the genre of tragedy. It is true that he never writes another tragedy quite like Romeo and Juliet, and that the main line of Shakespearean tragedy described in classic terms by A. C. Bradley (who doesn’t discuss Romeo and Juliet) is closer to Aristotelian precepts, at least in terms of the status of the hero. (The unities are only observed in The Tempest.) However, plays that stage deaths and resurrections of daughters and mothers alike (Much Ado about Nothing, Twelfth Night, Pericles, The Winter’s Tale) continue throughout his career, showing that for Shakespeare, tragic death does not have a gender, nor is it confined to royal families. Nor are the tragic deaths in the “major tragedies” exclusively male, either: although no one expends a great deal of pity upon the demise of Queen Gertrude or Lady Macbeth, Desdemona is altogether another matter. Although Othello is clearly the tragic hero of Othello from an Aristotelian perspective, as the play narrates the fall of a great man who clearly has a tragic flaw that destroys him, it is his destruction of her that arouses the most fear and pity in the audience. Of the two, it is pity that I wish to emphasize here and in the discussion that follows. One cannot feel pity without feeling empathy, and one cannot feel empathy with someone without simultaneously assigning full personhood to the object of empathy. The tragic hero who arouses pity therefore is someone fully assigned personhood, but the kind of tragic heroines in Shakespearean and particularly in the operatic tragedies that follows have not been the kind of characters traditionally assigned such full personhood. Creating dramas with the death of such heroines at the cathartic core of the experience is therefore a gesture that radically extends the bounds of empathy for the traditional audience. These are people, too, the tragic playwright and then composer remind us, and that reminder gives those people a status and finally an agency that historically they typically had not had. I am under no illusions that this brief discussion has touched every nuance of Shakespeare’s profound reorientation of tragedy. The point I want to emphasize is that The Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet accomplishes a profound shift in what kind of person can be a tragic hero without changing Aristotle’s more fundamental points concerning the nature of the tragic plot and its effect on the audience. Romeo and Juliet does constitute a single action in Aristotle’s sense – the tying of a complication in that a love is born and a marriage consummated between two people from families in mortal conflict – and the untying of that complication in that virtually everyone dies and the conflict dies out with them. The effect is tragic in that fear and pity do arise, pity far more than fear. And despite the dual naming of Romeo and Juliet as co-equal tragic heroes, I think it impossible not to consider Juliet the nobler and more heroic of the two. Making her death the center of a tragedy responds to Aristotle and the classical tradition in the following way: Women can be good precisely because they are not “inferior” to men. One could paraphrase Shylock and say, “hath not a woman eyes? Hath not a woman hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? […] If you prick us, do we not bleed?” Shakespeare makes a case here (and elsewhere, especially in the comedies that involve women acting as men) for the equality of the sexes, in dramatic power, in heroism, in nobility, precisely if paradoxically by making the death of this young woman the center of his play. Just as Brutus is possibly not the noblest of the Romans because Portia is (a name Shakespeare re-uses for the impossibly canny and masterful protagonist of The Merchant of Venice), Juliet is clearly the noblest of the Veronese, the character whose cultural resonance possibly exceeds any other character in Shakespeare. Perhaps the best evidence for that resonance is her afterlife in the performing arts, as this play is the source for two well-known operas in the nineteenth century, Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Monecchi and Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, as well as possibly the greatest full-length story-ballet of the twentieth century, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, and one of the best-known musicals of our 135

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own time, West Side Story. But as tragedy regains cultural centrality in the nineteenth century, particularly in opera, the ratio between the sexes shifts yet again, not just from the maleoriented world of classical tragedy to the gender-balanced world of Romeo and Juliet but to a period in which tragic death is seen as essentially female. Almost no one dies on the stage of an opera before the advent of bel canto opera in the 1830s, a striking fact given how central the portrayal of death is to our sense of opera as a medium. This sharp contrast to the norms of the Elizabethan stage reflects the indebtedness of opera in the era of opera seria (now most familiar to contemporary audiences in the operas of Handel) to European neo-classical stage conventions. But things changed quickly, and virtually all of the most frequently performed operas of the next century are tragic operas that end with the death of the protagonist. Although there are plenty of operas with high body counts, the works in the tradition that I am concerned with here depict just one or two deaths. If there are two, the two are a male tenor and a female soprano, and in the most iconic of these “dual death” tragedies, Aida and Tosca, the man’s death is externally determined by the state but the woman chooses death, in essence choosing to be with her beloved rather than to continue to live. (In Aida, of course, she literally chooses to be with him, as Aida joins Radames in his tomb from which there is no escape.) This means that the slight but perceptible gap in heroism that I defined between Romeo and Juliet is dramatically expanded in these operas. The woman is the clear hero, as her death is a suicide, his an execution. Moreover, if there is only one death, the person who dies is invariably the female heroine: Gilda in Rigoletto, Violetta in La Traviata, Carmen in Carmen, Mimi in La Boheme, and Cio-Cio San in Madama Butterfly.4 And surely these operas are the crystallization of what we think of when we imagine opera: not simply the most frequently performed operatic works, but the epitome of what is meant by opera and the operatic. In the space that remains I want to make three claims about these operas, and I am aware that I am making these somewhat epigrammatically rather than conclusively proving my case. First, operatic tragedy of this period (roughly from the bel canto period until the death of Puccini in 1924) is the major manifestation of the tragic in European culture after Renaissance drama. Although it is true that much of this takes its source material from spoken drama of the period (from Schiller to Hugo to Puccini’s favorite source, the otherwise forgotten David Belasco), Steiner’s dismissive description of this dramatic literature as “near tragedy” seems right. Yet something happens when these now virtually unread and unreadable plays are transformed into music, and the reason why tragedy seems le mot juste is that catharsis is definitely part of the experience. The physiology of the experience of great opera is something that our far too cerebral theories of aesthetics don’t go very far to explain, as we haven’t advanced much beyond Aristotle’s pioneering explorations of this matter.5 Second, what changes between the time of Aristotle and Verdi is the nature of the hero: no longer a great man with high status, but rather a young, beautiful woman, usually of low class when not clearly demi mondaine. The tragedy is therefore not that so much accomplishment was undone, but rather that nothing of what could have been accomplished was done. The tragedy is of a lack of fulfillment, and it is a tragedy caused not by the action of the hero but instead despite those actions. Furthermore, although the high emotions and high voices of the operatic stage constitute a special case, I would assert nonetheless that when the term tragedy is used today, we tend to be in La Boheme mode far more than Oedipus Rex. The shooting of a high school student hiding in the cafeteria when a deranged white supremacist sprays bullets across the room: tragic. The fall of Richard Nixon or Tony Blair: what the bastard had coming to him. Not that Tosca or Carmen or Aida would ever hide, which leads to my final point. Putting the changed nature of the tragic hero together with the genuine catharsis that her death produces in the audience, one comes to the final point, which is that this shift in genre is 136

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only possible with a profound shift in the way the culture as a whole thinks about female agency. The tragic worldview differs radically from the fundamentally optimistic view of Christianity, as George Steiner has seen so clearly. But it differs even more dramatically from the feel-good avoidance mechanisms of contemporary culture, in which everyone deserves only good things and death is to be kept as far away as possible. The tragic worldview says that bad things will happen, and they will happen to good people, and it does not try to rationalize those bad things by references to God’s plan. Still, this does not mean that we have no choice about what will happen: our choice is less how to live than how to die. To put it another way, knowing how to die shows that one has known how to live. A good death is one that reclaims agency and shows that the life that one has lived has been of high value. The final act of the great operatic tragedies do exactly that, in a variety of different ways: one can choose to die with one’s lover, as Aida does; one can choose to die for one’s lover, as Gilda does; one can choose to die for one’s child, as Cio-Cio San does. Neither Mimi nor Violetta precisely chooses to die, but they face death reunited with their lovers and are willing to accept a short life well lived over a longer, meaningless existence. Of all these heroines, Carmen – the only mezzo in this list – strikes a more modern note: she doesn’t choose death but she is willing to die, indeed to be murdered, rather than make any compromise in how she will live. Tosca – with Carmen, the most modern of these doomed heroines – is willing to kill to save her lover as well as to die when her effort fails. She and Carmen supremely attain an existential freedom through their actions beyond that of the others, and they represent the endpoint of this transformation of the tragic hero that I have sought to trace in this discussion. Tragedy has long been seen as the greatest art form because it asks us to contemplate what we usually choose to ignore: the fact that we will die. Nobility in the Classical period came from embracing that truth and choosing how to die. But that nobility, in the clearly patriarchal and classist world of ancient society, was available only to high-status men. By the time of these operas, that patriarchalism and that classism had not abated, and it has not abated yet. (The behavior of the Duke of Mantua or Don José or Scarpia or Pinkerton should remind us of that if we need any reminders.) However, nobility was no longer a property of being noble, in the classist sense, and being a hero was no longer a property of being male. These heroines, the true heroes of these tragedies, have won for themselves a space to act, to choose, which was far greater than that available to women before them, as the female hero becomes the norm, not the intriguing exception to the rule. They inspire us with their power, with their courage, with what they do. They die, the audience cries, they come back to life, the audience applauds, but then the audience returns to the world outside the theater different from when they came in: with their certainties about roles and responsibilities, with their judgments about what is proper behavior for men and women, with their values about what and who to value, shaken – perhaps just a little, but shaken nonetheless.6 If the choices that face women today are not as stark as those that were faced by Juliet and Carmen and Tosca, these works of art with their tremendous cultural range and resonance are part of the reason why. True heroism doesn’t just come from the well-born male; it can come from every corner of society and from every part of life. To watch these women die is to learn something not just about how to die but also about how to live.

Notes 1

Of course, this establishes as a fundamental assumption of this essay that tragedy is a useful category for these operas. Not everyone has seen the connection: Linda and Michael Hutcheon say, for instance, that “we will not invoke the classical notion of tragedy – because the portrayal of death in the operas we will be looking at is not, in fact, conventionally tragic at all” (Opera: The Art of Dying 11).

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2 3 4

5 6

Bushnell’s substantial A Companion to Tragedy doesn’t even have “opera” in the index, just two references to “Wagnerian opera” in the context of a discussion of Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy. Herbert Lindenberger’s minority opinion is closer to my own view: “tragic opera, one might say, pushes the Aristotelian notion of catharsis far beyond what a spectator of earlier forms of tragedy could have imagined” (46). In The Death of Tragedy, George Steiner splits the difference: “in the second half of the nineteenth century, opera puts forward a serious claim to the legacy of tragic drama. This claim is inherent in all grand opera, but it is rarely sustained” (284). Although Steiner calls Wagner’s work “near tragedy,” his emphases – just like his title – reflect Nietzsche’s arguments in The Birth of Tragedy (89 ff) that Wagner represents a rebirth of tragedy and a return to its pre-Socratic and anti-rational values. Nietzsche, of course, in such later works as The Case of Wagner and Nietzsche contra Wagner became convinced that Wagner in his focus on Germanic myths had ignored his advice “to hold fast to our radiant leaders, the Greeks” (The Birth of Tragedy 110); these discussions don’t touch on the issue of tragedy. My focus here is just Italian and French opera, what the later Nietzsche would call the opera of “good weather,” not the Wagnerian opera of “bad weather.” See my Imitating the Italians (190–207) for a discussion of late Nietzsche’s anti-Wagnerianism and how Joyce uses this in Ulysses. Most obviously, Catharine Clément, Opera, or the Undoing of Women, though I also have Laura Mulvey’s gaze theory in mind as well. In George Steiner’s apposite phrasing, “the Christian view knows only partial or episodic tragedy. Within its essential optimism there are moments of despair; grave setbacks can occur during the ascent towards grace” (332). Or, even more pointedly, “the Christian vision of man leads to a denial of tragedy” (341). My argument here is that the death of the female protagonist has more weight and resonance than the death of the male. Specifically, we care more about the death of the soprano than the death of the tenor. But this is not to say that only women die. Hutcheon and Hutcheon argue against Clément’s view that opera is essentially men watching women die, concluding – in an implicit response to Clément – that “the gender question in opera is more complex than people have suggested” (Opera: Desire, Disease, Death 12). Their discussion depends on that of Michel Poizat, whose “quick autopsy of the heaps of bodies strewn across the opera stage since the beginning of the genre” leads him to conclude that in opera “male and female graves appear with equal frequency” (134). However, he points out that female deaths are more likely to conclude an opera and that many male deaths are of traitors and evil characters so that (especially in the romantic period) heroic deaths tend to be female and they are always characters with high voices (134–36). Poizat offers something of an exception to this generalization, and his intriguing approach focuses on the effect of the voice on the audience. I hope it is clear that I am not arguing that this modified form of catharsis (social awareness through catharsis) is unique to opera, although I find opera a particularly powerful example. Brecht certainly hoped for his audience to leave the theater with different social attitudes than when they arrived.

Works Cited Aristotle. “The Poetics.” Literary Criticism from Plato to Dryden, edited by Allan H. Gilbert. Wayne State UP, 1962, pp. 69–124. Bushnell, Rebecca. A Companion to Tragedy. Blackwell, 2005. Clément, Catharine. Opera, or the Undoing of Women, translated by Betsy Wing. U of Minnesota P, 1988. Dasenbrock, Reed Way. Imitating the Italians: Wyatt, Spenser, Synge, Pound, Joyce. Johns Hopkins UP, 1991. Hutcheon, Linda, and Michael Hutcheon. Opera: The Art of Dying. Harvard UP, 2004. Hutcheon, Linda, and Michael Hutcheon. Opera: Desire, Disease, Death. U of Nebraska P, 1984. Lindenberger, Herbert. Opera: The Extravagant Art. Cornell UP, 1984. Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Visual and Other Pleasures. Indiana UP, 1989, pp. 14–26. Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy, translated by Ronald Spiers. Cambridge UP, 1999. Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Case of Wagner, Nietzsche contra Wagner, and Selected Aphorisms, translated by Anthony M. Ludovici. Russell & Russell, 1964. Plutarch. “Marcus Brutus.” The Lives, translated by John Dryden and A. H. Clough. John D. Morris, vol. V, pp. 186–240. Poizat, Michel. The Angel’s Cry: Beyond the Pleasure Principle in Opera, translated by Arthur Denner. Cornell UP, 1992.

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Death and the Fanciulla Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar. Folger Digital Texts, edited by Barbara Mowat, Paul Werstine, Michael Poston, and Rebecca Niles. www.folgerdigitaltexts.org. Accessed 28 Jan. 2020. Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Folger Digital Texts, edited by Barbara Mowat, Paul Werstine, Michael Poston, and Rebecca Niles. www.folgerdigitaltexts.org. Accessed 28 Jan. 2020. Sidney, Phillip. “Astrophel and Stella.” English Sixteenth-Century Verse: An Anthology, edited by Richard S. Sylvester. Norton, 1984. Steiner, George. The Death of Tragedy. Knopf, 1961.

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14 DEATH, LITERARY FORM, AND AFFECTIVE COMPREHENSION Primary Emotions and the Neurological Basis of Genre Ronald Schleifer I begin a discussion of genre – and especially a consideration of genre in relation to what Stephen Dedalus describes in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as “whatsoever is grave and constant in human sufferings” (204) – with two passages examining literary texts in relation to what each calls “reality,” one from John Frow and one from Regina Barreca. In his book in the Routledge New Critical Idiom series entitled Genre, Frow notes that one definition of aesthetic practices is that they are keyings of the real: representations of real acts or thoughts or feelings which are not themselves, in quite the same sense, real. Shifting texts to another generic context has that kind of effect: it suspends the primary force of the text, but not its generic structure. [“Keying,” Frow notes earlier with reference to Erving Goffman, “is one of the ways animals play by pretending to fight: what looks like hurtful and aggressive behavior is in fact, bracketed, suspended, so that ‘bitinglike behavior occurs, but no one is seriously bitten.’”] (49–50) In what might be taken to be an answer to Frow’s powerful theorization of genre, Barreca argues in her essay “Writing as Voodoo: Sorcery, Hysteria, and Art” that just in case you thought there was no distinction between representation and reality, there is death. Just in case you thought experience and the representation of experience melted into one another, death provides a structural principle separating the two. See the difference, death asks, see the way language and vision differ from the actual, the irrevocable, the real? (174) Barreca’s bringing up death in discussing the power of literary genres is perhaps as shocking as the Bradshaws, in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, excusing their lateness to the party by talking about the death of a young man: “Oh! thought Clarissa, in the middle of my party, here’s death, she thought”; and “what business had the Bradshaws to talk of death at her party?” (279, 280). In a similar fashion, one may ask: What business is there to talk of death in relation to the ways that literary genres help us to “key” – which is to say, to “ground” and “reground” – comprehensible ongoing experience? How does the “mooring” of literary genres, to use a metaphor I take up later, imbricate itself in the blank bewilderment of the absolute facticity of death? 140

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These two passages, as I have said, examine literary texts in relation to what each calls “reality,” which might – but not necessarily – tie itself to death. Reality, Frow argues, can be “keyed,” and by this term (adapted from anthropology by both himself and Erving Goffman) he is describing the ways that “human behavior is rich in analogous forms of bracketing: make-believe and fantasy, aesthetic activity more generally, contests and ceremonials, […] and the ‘regrounding’ of an activity in a context where it means something quite different” (Genre 49–50). (Such “make-believe” bracketing is closely related to the neurological “imagination response” designated by David Huron [16], which I describe later.) Here Frow is arguing the ways that verbal/narrative genres, as he describes them throughout his study, should be understood as discursive structures that “create effects of reality and truth, authority and plausibility” (2). Barreca argues, however, that in the face of the irrevocable reality of death the “reality-effects” of genre, which Frow analyzes, give way to what I might call “non-reality effects” or “supernatural effects” of hysteria, sorcery, and art (as Barreca has it in her title, “Writing as Voodoo: Sorcery, Hysteria, and Art”), which do not create effects of regrounding, but rather those of un-grounding, where meaning isn’t so much transformed by means of genre, but is instead unmoored, detached in what I describe in this essay as emotion in the face of death: hysterical laughter that unmoors comedy, sorcery violence that unmoors melodrama, and overwhelming sublimity that unmoors tragedy. In this essay, then, I examine the relation of death – and particularly the irresistible facticity of death – to the literary or, more generally, to the aesthetic genres of irony, melodrama, and tragedy. I do so by focusing on Samuel Shem’s novel, The House of God, which portrays medical students encountering death and dying on a daily basis for the first time in their lives; the melodrama of John Donne and Dylan Thomas heroically confronting death; and the aweinspiring tragedy of Margaret Edson’s drama Wit. I do so by examining what I am calling the “affective comprehension” accomplished by the “forms” of literary genres in relation to evolutionarily developed defense mechanisms. In this, as I shall argue, I am taking a step back from – but hardly repudiating – Frow’s socio-historical analysis of genre.1 More specifically, I deploy in my argument David Huron’s meticulous neurological study of the power of music, Sweet Anticipation: Music and the Psychology of Expectation, to examine the ways literary genres call upon and reground primal emotions of fear, anger, and surprise – emotions that respond to lifethreatening situations – as the laughter, triumph, and awe that constitute, in basic ways, the affective comprehension of literary genres. These emotions – fear, anger, surprise – take their place among six primary human emotions that a number of psychologists, often following the work of Paul Ekman, have isolated (the others are disgust, happiness, and sadness). Ruth Leys calls Ekman’s catalogue the “Basic Emotions” paradigm (439).

Genre as Etiquette, Language, and a Natural Fact For many years I edited the journal Genre, whose subtitle we changed at the beginning of the 1990s to Forms of Discourse and Culture. We made that change because in the late twentieth century, after the advent and success of continental literary theory in literary studies (namely, structuralism and post-structuralism), there was a notable turn toward the historicism of cultural studies in reaction, I think, to the latent formalism in many of these practices of literary theory. In any case, this turn to cultural studies has certainly inflected the ways in which we study and comprehend the genres that inhabit and, I believe, shape (that is to say, “reground”) our experiences of the arts and even the ordinary everyday genres (i.e., Mikhail Bakhtin’s “speech genres”) that shape the experiences of our social lives. This rethinking of the historical situation of literary and other art genres is nicely articulated in John Frow’s useful study of genre. His “book’s central argument,” Frow notes, 141

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is that far from being merely ‘stylistic’ devices, genres create effects of reality and truth, authority and plausibility, which are central to the different ways the world is understood. […] These effects are not, however, fixed and stable, since texts – even the simplest and most formulaic – do not ‘belong’ to genres but are, rather, uses of them; they refer not to ‘a’ genre but to a field or economy of genres, and their complexity derives from the complexity of that relation. (Genre 2) In this argument, then, Frow suggests that texts do not “belong” to an abstract generic category, but rather participate in a complex relationship between categorical “forms” and historical “manifestations” of phenomena: an “economy,” as he calls it (see Schleifer, Political Economy for a sustained analysis of such a comparable performative understanding of “economy”). Making this suggestion, Frow situates genre within history and culture rather than as “transcendental” formal categories by which phenomenal experience – in this case particular literary and narrative texts – might be explained, understood, and/or apprehended. Still, in making his argument he also posits a comprehensive account of genres in everyday language and literary texts and suggests that there have been four general approaches to understanding and comprehending genre, namely “as a fact of language, as a sociological fact, as a matter of social etiquette, or as something like the natural organism.” “In each case,” he concludes, “the metaphor provides a way of thinking systematically about a form of ordering that is in many ways resistant to system” (57).

Genre as Etiquette Frow himself focuses on genre as “a sociological fact,” but in this essay I would like to touch upon his other categories. A good discussion of genre as etiquette is Amy Olberding’s fine account of the Confucian notion of li. Although li is usually is translated as “ritual,” she translates li as “manners” or “etiquette” in such a way that, I might suggest, it could also be translated as “genre,” insofar as she describes etiquette as social forms that “script” patterns of behavior. Such etiquette, she notes, would, for example, script patterns of human interaction or choreograph the protocols of formal mourning [… and] represent an effort to lend efficacious and beneficial order to commonplace and recurrent human experiences. [Such protocols] arise in sensitivity to human need, be it the need to acknowledge each other as social partners or to organize expression of naturally arising yet perilous emotions such as grief. (425–26) Here Olberding relates the “scripts” of etiquette to what Stephen Dedalus describes as “whatsoever is grave and constant in human sufferings” (Joyce 204). I began this essay by noting that genre attends to constants in human experience in order to link genre more clearly with danger and death. Olberding’s focus on mourning and grief does the same with “etiquette.”

Narrative Genres as a Fact of Language In this essay, however, I focus on Frow’s description of genre as a category of “something like the natural organism,” though first I will also touch upon his categorical description “genre as a fact of language.” In my work with the semiotics of A. J. Greimas, I have tried to demonstrate that Greimas argued that narrative genres – along with what he calls “narrative grammar” – can be understood as strictly parallel to the structure of the sentence. Thus, he describes four agents of narrative – he calls them “actants” – that correspond to parts of speech in the sentence, and suggests that one can define four narrative genres in terms of the relationships among these 142

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narrative agents. The agents he identifies are: the Hero (corresponding to the subject of a sentence), the Wished-For Good or Heroine (corresponding to the object of a sentence), and the Helper and Opponent (each corresponding to adverbs of a sentence). In The Chief Concern of Medicine, Jerry Vannatta and I describe a system of narrative genres based upon my earlier study, “Structures of Meaning: The Logic of Narrative and the Constitution of Literary Genres” (in Culture and Cognition: The Boundaries of Literary and Scientific Inquiry). In Greimas’s understanding, these narrative agents help define four “basic” narrative genres: Heroic Melodrama (Epic): a heroic narrative, where the Hero receives the Wished-For Goods (in myth and tradition, the bride and the kingdom). The Hero conquers the opponent in the process. Tragedy: a tragic narrative, where the Helper receives the Wished-For Goods (both the storied knowledge of what has taken place on the level of the individual destruction of the Hero and the promised reconstruction of the community on the brink of collapse with the destruction of the Hero, which is often accomplished by the Helper). Comedy: a comic narrative, where the Heroine receives the Wished-For Goods (in myth and tradition, the Hero as husband and the estate of marriage). Irony: a more or less “modern” narrative, where the Opponent receives the Wished-For Goods (to destroy them on the level of the individual and to transform them on the level of general value). (Schleifer and Vannatta, Chief Concern 383–84; see also Schleifer et al. 64–95). This schema of four basic narrative genres, then, follows from a sense of conceiving of genre as, in Frow’s terms, “a fact of language.”

Genre as “Something like a Natural Organism” Frow, however, takes the biological metaphor for genre as the most robust metaphorical analogue for genre: “it has been above all the model of the biological species, building on the organic concepts of ‘kind’ and ‘genre’, that has been used to bring the authority of a scientific discourse to genre theory.” However, even while he concludes that “none of this is particularly useful for thinking about the literary or other kinds [of genre], for the good reason that genres are facts of culture which can only with difficulty be mapped onto facts of nature” (Genre 57), nevertheless he goes on to note that such seemingly “scientific” categorization builds upon cognitive notions of “prototype,” which allow categorizations that enable us “to work from what we know best in a sort of concrete and ad hoc negotiation of unfamiliar experiences” (60). It is my argument here, however, that it is useful to think of genres as “facts of nature,” both in terms of responses to “common and recurrent human experiences” and in conceiving of genre in relation to the equally “natural” notion of “facts of language.” That is, one function of genre – perhaps a basic function, as I will be suggesting – does not aim at incorporating the unfamiliar into systems of the familiar, but rather builds upon what is most familiar, namely affective responses to experience that are evolutionarily adaptive and thereby both ubiquitous and, in fact, “facts of nature.” Such building upon what I and my colleague Courtney Jacobs have called “impersonal emotions” ( Jacobs and Schleifer) might allow us to complicate Frow’s contention that genres, as “facts of culture,” do not solely realize themselves in relation to organic concepts. Although this contention may well be true, nevertheless we can also understand that the “realization” of a narrative genre can be understood as fruitfully beginning with conceiving of genre “as something like [a] natural organism” (Frow, Genre 57).

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The Affective Comprehension of Genre What I describe here as “impersonal emotions” Lee Spinks, in a study of the power of affect in literature and politics, calls “inhuman or pre-subjective forces and intensities” (24). Similarly, Eric Shouse calls these affective phenomena “affective resonances independent of content or meaning” (¶ 14). Summarizing these and other scholars focusing on affect across various disciplines, Ruth Leys notes: They suggest that the affects must be viewed as independent of, and in an important sense prior to, ideology – that is, prior to intentions, meanings, reasons, and beliefs – because they are nonsignifying, autonomic processes that take place below the threshold of conscious awareness and meaning. For the theorists in question, affects are “inhuman,” “pre-subjective,” “visceral” forces and intensities that influence our thinking and judgments but are separate from these. Whatever else may be meant by the terms affect and emotion […] it seems from the remarks quoted above that the affects must be noncognitive, corporeal processes or states. For such theorists, affect is, as [Brian] Massumi asserts, “irreducibly bodily and autonomic.” (437; quoting Massumi 28) In her analysis, however, Leys correctly contends that (what I might call) the “romanticization” of the noncognitive in these arguments is misdirected (see particularly 456–57 and 458 n43, for instance; for my pointing out the “romanticism” of these arguments, see Leys’s critique of the “immanent naturalism” in many of these discussions [459]). It is my sense – tutored from semiotics – that such “noncognitive” phenomena are “taken up” almost immediately, almost universally in human experience by semiotic systems and deployed to new and different ends, different purposes. The temporal “gap” described by many scholars focused on affect theory, as Leys nicely demonstrates, reduces the richness of human experience to the poverty of (an unnecessary) positivism. That is, the notion of “impersonal emotions” I describe here is clearly distinct from the notion of “affects as nonintentional states” that Leys critiques (466 n56). Rather, it is useful to comprehend such “impersonal emotions” with similar qualifications that Jacques Derrida brings to the notion of “intention” in speech acts. In the “typology” of iteration, he writes, the category of intention [or, in my argument, the category of “noncognitive affect”] will not disappear: it will have its place, but from that place it will no longer be able to govern the entire scene and system of utterance [or “feeling”] […] The first consequence of this will be the following: given that structure of iteration, the intention [or “noncognitive affect”] animating that utterance [or “feeling”] will never be through and through present to itself and to its content. (192) Finally, what is also apposite in Leys’s systematic critique of “the turn to affect” to my discussion here is that, in developing her critique, she focuses on three experiments, which themselves analyze the laughter (459–61), “the emotion of fear” (463–64 n54), and perhaps – in Massumi’s reference to the “snowman” television experiment (444–52) – the awe I examine in this essay. In his early poetry, W. B. Yeats identifies what he called the “immortal moods” (Essays 195) that he pursues in his poetry, which nicely approximates the “impersonal emotions” I am describing here. Yeats describes the “immortal moods” as emotional states one passes through rather than personal emotional states, idiosyncratically associated with one’s individual self, that one simply expresses.2 “All the powers of nature have their purpose and their place,” Yeats and 144

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Edwin John Ellis write in their 1893 study of Blake, “and a man’s personal feeling when it is a passive vehicle for the creative fire within, makes itself a mere mask for the divine fire” (Blake, Works I:296). In his neurological analysis of what he argues is a key source of the power of music, namely “the psychology of expectation,” David Huron offers an analysis of emotions – he nicely calls it an understanding of “the dynamics of emotion” (1) – that are impersonal in the ways I am describing without being “noncognitive.” In analyzing music, Huron describes three evolutionarily developed emotional responses occasioned by danger: • • •

the “thrills and chills” of frisson (in which “the first order of business is to produce an aggressive display” [33]); the odd “panting” of laughter (which “is a response to an apparent or momentary danger” [32; see 28 for panting]); and the “gasp” of awe (which “is a response to a sustained danger” [32]).

In other words, these three emotional responses to danger are related to what Huron describes as neurologically determined tension, reaction, and appraisal responses to danger. These emotions, he argues, are “strikingly similar” to what “physiologists have identified [as] three classic responses to danger: the fight, flight, and freeze responses” (35). Moreover, they correspond to three of the six primary emotions psychologists have identified: fear, anger, and aweinspiring surprise. Needless to say, the equation of laughter and flight seems the least intuitive of Huron’s identifications. Still, in a note he adds that “further support for the idea that laughter is linked to the flight response is evident in the rough-and-tumble play that is often associated with laughter in humans and other primates” in which “a submissive animal being chased by a more dominant playmate, with the submissive animal laughing” (384). This qualification is important since I focus in this essay on the fearful comedy of irony as well as the blunt melodrama of anger and the blank awe of tragedy. Huron’s catalogue of emotional responses to life-threatening danger seems to skip one of the narrative genres I have catalogued, namely comedy. I return to the comic emotion of happiness at the end of this essay, as well I should. I have made the argument elsewhere that the function of aesthetic phenomena in human cultures is to take up evolutionarily adaptive behaviors and redeploy them to so-called aesthetic ends (Schleifer and Vannatta, Chief Concern 77–82). Such redeployment, I have recently argued, can be understood in relation to the evolutionary category of homology, where similar biological structures – such as the physiology of the bat wing and the human hand – are taken up to different ends (see Schleifer, Political Economy). As I suggested in the introduction to this essay, Frow describes this as the “regrounding” of aesthetic experience. Thus, in analyzing the stimuli that give rise to “surprising events,” Huron notes that “whether the stimulus is visual or auditory in origin,” nevertheless response to those stimuli follow the same neurological pathways. Although Huron doesn’t mention discursive as well as “visual or auditory” stimuli here, he does list “imagination response” as the first of his catalogue of “five response systems [which] arise from five functionally distinct neurophysiological systems” that respond to life-threatening danger: “imagining an outcome,” he notes, “allows us to feel some vicarious pleasure (or displeasure) – as though the outcome has already happened” (17, 8); and he speculates that “the imagination response is probably the most recent evolutionary addition” to these five systems of evolutionarily adaptive responses to life-threatening danger (17). Let me simply reproduce his table (16) of five neurological systems – which are, in fact, physiological manifestations of neurological schemas – that, in his analysis, respond to life-threatening danger.

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Epoch

Biological function

imagination response

pre-outcome

tension response

pre-outcome

prediction response

post-outcome

reaction response

post-outcome

appraisal response

post-outcome

future-oriented behavioral motivation; enables deferred gratification optimum arousal and attention in preparation for anticipated events negative/positive reinforcement to encourage the formation of accurate expectations neurologically fast responses that assume a worst-case assessment of the outcome neurologically complex assessment of the final outcome that results in negative/positive reinforcements

I am suggesting here, then, that we can understand aesthetic genres as the re-deployments of evolutionary adaptive systematic responses to the environment. Brian Boyd, in his evolutionary analysis of storytelling, argues that the adaptive function of discursive narrative is to promote the articulation of social/communal goals within a human community to ends of promoting collaborative action – such as the rhythmic and communal cries of lyric poetry Stephen Dedalus describes – to achieve those goals (see Boyd 42–50). Moreover, one can similarly argue for the adaptive function of music – notably work-songs or cadenced voicing in the synchronized drilling of fighting units – as creating social/communal goals and promoting collaborative action to achieve those goals. Additionally, one could also argue that visual stimuli in social life – religious architecture, iconic representations, clothing design – serve the parallel adaptive functions of promoting shared action. The creation of social bonds, the anthropologist Robin Dunbar has argued, is the adaptive function of “the origin of language.” I have argued that the formal aesthetics of discourse, music, and the plastic arts aim not at promoting social cohesion and social action, but rather at expanding the horizons of sensibility, affect, and cognition. Thus, everyday narrative, as Brian Boyd argues in his study of narrative in the context of evolutionary biology, functions to get the listener or listeners to behave in a certain way by creating a framework for communal action as well as a framework for communal understanding. To this end, the attention that literary narrative requires encourages the discernment of what Jim Phelan calls the “cognitive, emotive, and ethical responses” that narrative provokes and the discernment of “the complexity of the relationship between facts, hypotheses, and theories” (Phelan 14, 15) that art narratives (but also concert music and museum art) set forth. (I should add that in addition the attention focused upon in what one musicologist calls the “museum art” [Hamilton 325] of concert performances and, of course, the museum art of plastic-arts museums themselves, is designed to isolate so-called aesthetic experience from action in the musical and plastic arts.) Here, then, in my argument, is the nature of genre: genres are not defined in the first instance, as Frow argues, “by the actions they are used to accomplish.” They are not in the first instance, as he notes Carolyn Miller argues, “typified rhetorical actions based in recurrent situations” (Frow, Genre 14; Miller 31). Rather, in the first instance we can understand aesthetic genre as a means of increasing “affective comprehension” in engagements with others and with experience in general. That is – again, I have to emphasize, in the first instance – genre takes up evolutionarily adaptive responses to life-threatening events in order to focus and develop the affective and cognitive potentials of those responses to the end of widening experience rather than promoting action. Thus, following Huron, I want to examine genre as allowing us to 146

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more fully experience the following phenomena (by “more fully” I mean with larger and more self-conscious intensity, with greater nuance, with wider fellow-feeling): • • •

the fear and laughter embedded in a flight response to danger; the anger and frisson embedded in a fight response to danger; and the awe and passive suffering embedded in a freeze response to danger.

I have described this distinction between the goals and strategies of the deployments of everyday discursive/narrative events and the deployments of aesthetic discursive/narrative events as the difference between “everyday” narrative and “art” narrative. Everyday narrative is at the heart of clinical medicine. (It is also central to Bakhtin’s and Frow’s distinction between “speech genres” and “literary genres.”) Patients bring “everyday” narratives to their healthcare providers, and the goal of the deployment of these narratives is to promote action in the world. However, training in the “affective comprehension” stimulated by “art” narrative allows healthcare providers to engage their patients more fully, to recognize and act upon the (usually) implicit goals in their patients’ storytelling, and to combine – or at least entertain – the importance of care as well as cure in their work with people who are sometimes fearful, angry, or suffering with their plight (see Schleifer and Vannatta, Chief Concern; Literature and Medicine).

Facing Death in Narrative Genres Fearful Irony In the rest of this essay, I briefly analyze the affective comprehension of literary genres. To do so, I will focus on discursive/narrative events that respond to and “reground” fear, anger, and awe in the face of death. The texts I have chosen to examine are literary works that my colleagues and I have repeatedly chosen in team-teaching a course in “Literature and Medicine” organized by myself and practicing physicians. As such, these literary (“art”) narratives also function as “everyday” narratives, as befits the double task embodied in such interdisciplinary courses. Grounding an essay focused on literary form and death on such texts is not simply arbitrary. We talk in our “Literature and Medicine” classes about how the experience of work in achieving an MD is no more arduous than the experience of work in achieving a literary PhD, with one exception: training in healthcare, unlike disciplined literary study (and also unlike the disciplines of the nomological and social sciences) necessarily involves confrontation of human suffering and death on a daily basis. This confrontation with death, in fact, constitutes the affective base of the texts I examine here, in the laughter of Shem’s House of God, the resistance to death in complicated lyrics of Donne and Thomas, and the awe death inspires in Edson’s terrifying drama. I begin with the fearful laughter of irony in Samuel Shem’s novel The House of God. The House of God is a novel that traces the first year of medical interns in a large metropolitan hospital in the United States. Young, mostly male physicians encounter death and dying on a daily basis, but the novel is filled with cynicism, sexuality (real and fantasized) in the midst of death and dying, and above all with strange laughter. The narrator and main character, Dr. Roy Basch, faces the worst week of the year coming up, “the one between Christmas and New Year’s,” which his girlfriend tells him is “a week of death. Be careful, get ready. It’s going to be terrible.” “A Holocaust,” Roy says; “Exactly. Savage,” Berry replies. But afterward Roy says, “I started to laugh, Berry started to laugh, and soon the bed, the room, the world itself was one gigantic mouth and tongue and tooth engaged in one ellipsoid laugh” (199). In his neurological 147

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analysis of laughter responses to music, Huron isolates one musical strategy (among others), namely “drifting tonality,” which can help us understand the comic humor in response to the fear of death in The House of God. Of “drifting tonality,” he notes that “when shifts of key occur frequently, the sense of tonality itself is lost or ambiguous” (285). Throughout The House of God, Shem continually creates such tonal/semantic shifts, as he does in the preceding example, not only in juxtaposing the Holocaust and laughter, but even in the odd qualitative description of “ellipsoid” laugh, that joins mouth and mirth, so to speak, and may silently recall Joyce’s “ellipsoidal [billiard] balls” from Portrait (192). As I note later, the “mouth-gesture” of laughter described here takes its place with mouth-gestures articulated in melodramatic and tragic affective responses to life-threatening situations. The “tonal drift” here – and in mouth-gestures more generally – shifts between the bodily life of mouth (including the body’s susceptibility to death itself ) and the semiotic/“spiritual” life of gesture. Later, after breaking up with Berry at a New Year’s party, Roy gets drunk and, watching nurses dance with one another, he thinks of “‘The Follies’ at Treblinka.” Then he says: And then I thought about the pictures of the camps, taken by the Allies at liberation. The pictures showed emaciated men peering through the barbed wire, all eyes. Those eyes, those eyes. Hard blank disks. My eyes had become hard blank disks. Yet there was something in back of them, and, yes, that was the worst. The worst was that I had to live with what was in back of them, what I had to live with, the rest of the world must never see, for it separated me from them, as it had just done with my former best friends and with my one long love, Berry. There was rage and rage and rage, coating all like crude oil coating gulls. They had hurt me, bad. For now, I had no faith in the others of the world. And the delivery of medical care? Farce. My first patient of the New Year was a five-year-old found in a clothes dryer, face bloodied. She had been hit by her pregnant mother, hit over and over with a bludgeon of pantyhose stuffed with shards of broken glass. (213–14) Despite a small number of passages like this – filled with pathos, anger, and debilitating fear – House of God remains a very funny book. Its comic laughter works in the way that Huron’s musical laughter works and the way that the fearful irony I describe here works: they function by violating expectations. “Most of these violations,” Huron writes, “involve schematic expectations […] But all of the laughter-evoking moments can be traced to violations of listener expectations.” Moreover, he adds, “laughter-inducing passages are much more surprising than frisson-inducing or awe-inducing passages” (287). In this, the fearful laughter of ironic comedy, unlike the satisfactions of romantic comedy, calls attention to and emphasizes the affective comprehension of genre. Romantic comedy – like generic aesthetics more generally – promises a species of unalloyed pleasure, if not happiness itself. However, the ambiguous comedy of The House of God (laughing in the face of death) instantiates ironic comedy where the Opponent, death itself, seems all there is. Early in his study, Huron catalogues “types of laughter”: nervous laughter, in the face of threat; slapstick laughter, answering physical awkwardness; sadistic laughter, responding to the misfortunes of enemies; surprise laughter, confronted with safe surprises, like the bursting of a balloon; social laughter, that participates in social groups; and humor laughter, which is staged in joke-telling, as genres are staged, as a form of entertainment (28). The ironic comedy of The House of God calls upon and provokes all these types of laughter, and in doing so, creates its own affective comprehension of irony’s laughing response to the terrible facticity of death itself.

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Blunt Melodrama If, as Huron argues, laughter is a social response to fear (27–31), then fear provokes a different type of “physiological reaction” in the almost anti-social aggressive display of narrative melodrama. “In the fight response,” Huron writes, “the first order of business is to produce an aggressive display. By signaling one’s readiness to fight, it is possible that the threatening individual might back down, and so an actual fight can be avoided. Aggressive displays can include the displaying of teeth, making eye contact with the other animal, and generating lowpitched vocalizations” (33). Such self-aggrandizing is anti-social insofar as it doesn’t suggest social activities – as does the laughing/fearful play-fighting I mentioned earlier – but rather suggests the assertion of self against the world. Furthermore, “the physiological reaction” Huron describes is literally aggrandizing: in this “fight” response to danger and death, he says, “there are a series of behaviors that are all intended to make the individual appear bigger – and so more intimidating” (33). We can notice such self-assertion in melodramatic responses to death. This is surely Dylan Thomas’s generic assertion in his powerful villanelle, “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night,” when the open vowels of /ay/ and /ee/ – “rave,” “rage,” “deeds,” “green bay,” “grieved,” “grave,” “blaze” – literally bare our teeth in recitation, even while softer vowels – “gentle,” “good night,” “dying,” “near death,” “fierce tears, I pray” – might approximate the low-pitched vocalizations that Huron describes (see Schleifer, “Modernism as Gesture,” where these phenomena are described as “mouth-gestures” [95]). In this essay, for reasons that will become clear, I’d like to look briefly at John Donne’s holy sonnet, “Death, Be Not Proud,” which complements Thomas’s villanelle insofar as the strict formality of these poetic genres – villanelle and sonnet – offers its own self-assertion against the world of ordinary discourse in their displays of discursive mastery. Here is Donne’s sonnet. Holy Sonnet VI: Death, Be Not Proud Death be not proud, though some have callèd thee Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe, For, those, whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow, Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee; From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee, Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow; And soonest our best men with thee doe goe, Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie. Thou’art slave to Fate, chance, kings and desperate men, And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell, And poppie,’ or charmes can make us sleepe as well, And better than thy stroake; why swell’st thou then? One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally, And death shall be no more, Death thou shalt die. In his sonnet, the speaker – again, literally – aims at “deflating” his adversary death by likening death to small things: false dreadfulness, weakness, pleasure when death wants to project fear, sickness, less than poppy or charms, with altogether false “swelling.” Even the repetitious long /ee/ in the penultimate line – “sleep,” “eternally” – repeats the phonemic mouth-gestures we find in Thomas. Like Thomas, in this poem Donne “stands up” to death, switches places with death to take on, in the poem’s triumphal melodramatic ending, the very swelling and destruction of death the poem asserts. Such an ending creates what Huron calls the “abrupt 149

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modulation” (34) that gives rise to frisson in music and, I am arguing here, in the narrative genre of melodrama. Frisson, Huron writes, “is strongly correlated with marked violations of expectation – in particular, with dynamic, metric, and harmonic violations […] Frisson experiences are also reported when a high dynamic level is followed unexpectedly by a dramatic reduction in loudness” (283). The dynamics of Donne’s sonnet are marked: this, after all, in the poem’s work of deflation and self-aggrandizement.

Blank Tragedy The awe of tragedy arises in its constant confrontation with death, neither the dissolution of the fear of death in momentary laughter nor in momentary self-assertion. “The feeling of awe,” Huron notes, is a distinctive emotion in which fear and wonder are intermingled. A sense of awe might be evoked by a fearful reverence inspired by something sacred or mysterious. Awe can also represent a submissive fear in the presence of some great authority or power. In short, awe might be defined as a sort of “sublime fear.” “Awe” combines mystery, wonder, and reverence with a touch of dread […]. Five physiological indicators are associated with the experience of awe: (1) gasping, (2) breath-holding, (3) lowered chin with the mouth slightly opened, (4) immobility or stillness, and (5) reduced blinking. Gasping and breath-holding are especially telltale indicators. (288) Here, as in the ellipsoid laughter in Shem and the phonemic gestures in Thomas and Donne, a mouth-gesture – “lowered chin with the mouth slightly opened” – also marks the bodily-affect response of awe in the face of life-threatening situations. Thus, to conclude my small catalogue of genres understood in relation to affective responses to life-threatening situations, I take up Margaret Edson’s one-act drama, Wit, to complement the novel and the poems I have already discussed. Wit is a one-act play that describes the last year in the life of a middle-aged woman, Vivian Bearing, who is a professor of literature – focused, as it happens, on the poetry of John Donne – and suffering from stage-four metastatic ovarian cancer. Also, as it happens, the play begins with her thinking about her condition in relation to literary genres: “Irony is a literary device,” she says, that will necessarily be deployed to great effect. I ardently wish this were not so. I would prefer that a play about me be cast in the mythic-heroic-pastoral mode; but the facts, most notably stage-four metastatic ovarian cancer, conspire against that. The Faerie Queene this is not. And I was dismayed to discover that the play would contain elements of … humor. (6) Very soon after this opening, the play offers a flashback to Vivian’s study of “Donne’s Holy Sonnets, which,” she says, “explore mortality in greater depth than any other body of work in the English language” (12). Her professor, E. M. Ashford, tells her that “the sonnet begins with a valiant struggle with death, calling on all the forces of intellect and drama to vanquish the enemy. But it is ultimately about overcoming the seemingly insuperable barriers separating life, death, and eternal life” (14). Ashford notes that the proper punctuation of the final line of the poem is not the semi-colon and exclamation point of the edition Vivian uses in her paper, but 150

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simply a comma (in Donne’s text I cited earlier). “Nothing but a breath – a comma –” Professor Ashford says, “separates life from life everlasting. It is very simple really. With the original punctuation restored, death is no longer something to act out on stage, with exclamation points. It’s a comma, a pause” (14–15). This is indeed awe-inspiring: fearful, reverential, mysterious. But I want to conclude with another scene from this small tragedy, a flashback when Vivian remembers a student who asks: “Why does Donne make everything so complicated? […] I think,” the student goes on, “it’s like he’s hiding. I think he’s really confused, I don’t know, maybe he’s scared, so he hides behind all this complicated stuff, hides behind this wit […] Perhaps he is suspicious of simplicity” (60–61). Toward the very end of the play, Vivian is comforted eating a popsicle with her nurse, Susie, and she thinks: “Now is a time for simplicity. Now is a time for, dare I say it, kindness” (69). The simplicity of kindness Vivian calls for, like the tragic play itself, combines reverence and mystery. And Susie, the Helper in this tragedy of facing death – without nervous or slapstick laughter, without aggrandizing heroics – is left with the Wished-For Good, the uncomplicated love and community which, awe-inspiringly, resists and succumbs to death.

Conclusion: Death and Literary Genre What are we to make of all this? After all, we are all a lot like Professor Vivian Bearing, who makes wit and intellectualizing and Donne-like complications the work of her life, so that intellectually, we might study here, as I am doing in this essay, the “circulations” of genre – its “re-groundings” and “un-groundings” – across language, sociology, morality, and nature. To this end, let me end with an enigmatic poem by Wallace Stevens, “The Pleasures of Merely Circulating,” in which the laughter and wit of circulating – generic intellectual heroics – are ungrounded, so to speak, in the face of death. The garden flew round with the angel, The angel flew round with the clouds, And the clouds flew round and the clouds flew round And the clouds flew round with the clouds. Is there any secret in skulls, The cattle skulls in the woods? Do the drummers in black hoods Rumble anything out of their drums? Mrs. Anderson’s Swedish baby Might well have been German or Spanish, Yet that things go round and again go round Has rather a classical sound. (96–97) Death calls up the affective comprehension of laughter, frisson, awe, and allows us one way of thinking about literary genre in terms of affective responses to threats that are re-grounded in the “keyings of the real” that John Frow describes. But death also gives rise to “un-grounding”: to simple but profound sadness, one of the primary emotions I haven’t examined in this essay. Stevens, again, focuses on such a feeling in a poem entitled “The Plain Sense of Things”:

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It is difficult even to choose the adjective For this blank cold, this sadness without cause. The great structure has become a minor house. No turban walks across the lessened floors. (383) There might be no narrative genre for such sadness, such existential pathos that leaves us ungrounded, in “blank cold,” futureless (see Schleifer, Rhetoric and Death 223–29). But beauty, as Stendhal once said, is simply “nothing other than the promise of happiness” (66). In this, literary genres, like music, even in the face of death, surprise us with laughter, heroics, and awe – surprise us into laughter, heroics, and awe. In such surprises, if only momentarily, we may discover re-grounding and play in the face of death.

Notes 1

2

Here, I might simply note that in his discussion of genre in PMLA a number of years ago – before his publication of the second edition of his “new idiom” study of Genre – Frow explicitly suggests that future examinations of genre should situate themselves in relation to what he calls “The New Rhetoric” and “Cognitive Poetics” (“Reproducibles” 1630–31), especially neurological and narrative schemas of cognitive poetics, which I pursue in this essay. Olberding nicely describes the etiquette-ritual behavior of li in similar impersonal terms: “the exchanges and experiences of ordinary, quotidian life profoundly shape moral attitudes, moral self-understanding, and what prospects we enjoy for robust moral community. Philosophically addressing these exchanges and experiences is, nonetheless, a significant challenge, for much of what transpires in them operates outside of conscious intentions, deliberate choices, and reflective consideration – those territories most well traversed in Western moral philosophy” (423–24).

Works Cited Bakhtin, M. M. Speech Genres and Other Late Essays, edited by Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Translated by Vern W. McGee. U of Texas P, 2010. Barreca, Regina. “Writing as Voodoo: Sorcery, Hysteria, and Art.” Death and Representation, edited by Sarah Webster Goodwin and Elisabeth Bronfen. Johns Hopkins UP, 1993, pp. 175–190. Blake, William. The Works of William Blake: Poetic, Symbolic, Critical. Edited by W. B. Yeats and Edwin John Ellis. 3 vols. Bernard Quaritch, 1893. Boyd, Brian. On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction. Harvard UP, 2009. Derrida, Jacques. “Signature Event Context.” Glyph, vol. 1, 1977, pp. 172–197. Donne, John. “Holy Sonnet VI: Death, Be Not Proud.” 1633. www.potw.org/archive/potw83.html. Accessed 22 Feb. 2020. Dunbar, Robin. Grooming, Gossip, and the Origins of Language. Harvard UP, 1996. Edson, Margaret. Wit. Faber and Faber, 1999. Frow, John. “‘Reproducibles, Rubrics, and Everything You Need’: Genre Theory Today.” PMLA, vol. 122, 2007, pp. 1626–1634. Frow, John. Genre (The New Critical Idiom). Routledge, 2015. Hamilton, Andy. “The Aesthetics of Imperfection.” Philosophy, vol. 65, 1990, pp. 323–340. Huron, David. Sweet Anticipation: Music and the Psychology of Expectation. MIT Press, 2007. Jacobs, Courtney, and Ronald Schleifer. “Literary Genre and Affective Experience: Intergeneration Trauma in the Neo-Slave Narrative of Toni Morrison’s Beloved.” Swiss Papers in English Language and Literature, vol. 38, 2019, pp. 145–166. Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Viking, 1966. Leys, Ruth. “The Turn to Affect: A Critique.” Critical Inquiry, vol. 37, 2011, pp. 434–472. Massumi, Brian. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Duke UP, 2002. Miller, Carolyn. “Genre as Social Action.” Genre and the New Rhetoric, edited by Aviva Freedman and Peter Medway. Taylor & Francis, 1994, pp. 23–42.

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Neurological Basis of Genre Olberding, Amy. “Etiquette: A Confucian Contribution to Moral Philosophy.” Ethics, vol. 126, 2016, pp. 422–446. Phelan, James. Narrative as Rhetoric: Techniques, Audiences, Ethics, Ideology. Ohio State UP, 1996. Schleifer, Ronald. “Modernism as Gesture: The Experience of Music, Samuel Beckett, and Performed Bewilderment.” Criticism, vol. 61, 2019, pp. 73–96. Schleifer, Ronald. A Political Economy of Modernism: Literature, Post-Classical Economics, and the Lower Middle Class. Cambridge UP, 2018. Schleifer, Ronald. Rhetoric and Death: The Language of Modernism and Postmodern Discourse Theory. U of Illinois P, 1990. Schleifer, Ronald, Robert Con Davis, and Nancy Mergler. Culture and Cognition: The Boundaries of Literary and Scientific Inquiry. Cornell UP, 1992. Schleifer, Ronald, and Jerry Vannatta. The Chief Concern of Medicine: The Integration of the Medical Humanities and Narrative Knowledge into Medical Practices. U of Michigan P, 2013. Schleifer, Ronald, and Jerry Vannatta. Literature and Medicine: A Practical and Pedagogical Guide. PalgraveMacmillan, 2019. Shem, Samuel. The House of God. Berkeley Press, 2010. Shouse, Eric. “Feeling, Emotion, Affect.” M/C Journal, vol. 8, Dec. 2005. journal.media-culture.org.au/ 0512/03-shouse.php. Spinks, Lee. “Thinking the Post-Human: Literature, Affect, and the Politics of Style.” Textual Practice, vol. 15, no. 1, 2001, pp. 23–46. Stendhal. On Love, translated by B. C. J. G. Knight. Penguin Books, 1975. Stevens, Wallace. The Palm at the End of the Mind: Selected Poems and a Play, edited by Holly Stevens. Vintage, 1972. Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Harvest, 1953. Yeats, W. B. Essays and Introductions. Macmillan, 1961.

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PART III SITE, SPACE, AND SPATIALITY

Narrative space (at its most basic level) is “the environment in which story-internal characters move about and live” (Buchholz and Jahn 552). Yet this is not the only kind of space that is of interest to our contributors in this section; indeed, as Sabine Buchholz and Manfred Jahn observe, “a great number of critical terms – foregrounding, gapping, isotopy, centre, liminality, margin, migration, transgression, transition, etc. – are spatial metaphors” that have come to assume central importance in literary studies (551–52). Concepts of place and space, borders and sites, take center stage in the seven essays collected here, where the contributors’ shared interest in space ranges from the physical to the discursive, dynamically engaging with the sociopolitical, ecological, cultural, and formal consequences of artistically rendering death. Contributors also attend to spatial form, where they consider, for instance, how various poetic modes transfigure the way we think about death, de-emphasizing narrative elements in favor of what David J. Mickelsen terms “a synchronic ‘field’” (555). Modernist writing, in particular, “sought to approximate the effects of the spatial arts” (555) through the use of form – an issue taken up by several contributors in this section. Flore Coulouma looks beyond the death of individuals to the potential deaths of entire ecosystems in “Ecocide and the Anthropocene: Death and the Environment” – an essay which reminds us that the reciprocal nature of our relationship with nature means that “death by nature is now a realistic prospect for much of the world’s population.” To capture the expansive scope of her topic, Coulouma surveys a host of international treatments of these issues: from “figures of the wild in contemporary Japanese popular culture” (in which “human life and death are determined by their relationship with the spirits of the natural world”), to Ireland’s “mysterious landscape of the bog” (which preserves “the history of men, in death, through the depth and complexity of its geology and flora”), to a consideration of how Native American narratives “weave[] together death and natural spaces in poignant narratives of the […] native landscape and its endangerment at the hands of both Native and Euro-American interests.” Coulouma ends with narratives from Chernobyl and the hope that “these representations of death in the age of environmental endangerment will help awaken consciences” and reconcile humankind and nature. In his essay, “A Disney Death: Coco, Black Panther, and the Limits of the Afterlife,” Stacy Thompson examines depictions of the afterlife (and their chilling implications) in two recent works from the Walt Disney Company. Thompson argues that the dark comedy of Coco’s 155

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deathworld serves as a vehicle for exploring ongoing Mexican-American border relations – a fictional world that “insists upon the endurance of border patrol agents, customs, the ghetto, and myriad other elements of contemporary capitalism” that continue to patrol “the metaphysical line between life and death as if it were the US’s national boundary with Mexico.” The films are “symptomatic of our historical moment,” Thompson notes, whereby “the logic of contemporary capitalism, with its brutal border policing and economic disparity,” continues to “extend beyond life’s limit.” Thompson concludes by observing that this “incapacity to imagine a non-capitalist deathworld or afterlife is symptomatic of our incapacity to imagine a non-capitalist lifeworld.” The next three essays explore dynamic intersections between poetic forms and the discursive spaces opened up by poets’ engagements with death. Kelly McGuire’s “Suicide in the Early Modern Elegiac Tradition” examines the controversial subject of suicide in Alexander Pope’s and Charlotte Smith’s poetry, which McGuire argues represent a break from the conventional English elegiac tradition that was previously preoccupied with “clearly gendered concerns” of male friendship and the commemoration of male poets. McGuire explains how Pope’s and Smith’s elegies opened a discursive space for a taboo subject, anticipating a shift in cultural attitudes toward suicide that would soon follow – including “a space for imagining female voluntary death, which has historically been read as invisible or unimaginable.” Similarly engaging with elegiac tradition, Barry Sheils’s and Julie Walsh’s “Institutions and Elegies: Viewing the Dead in W. B. Yeats and John Wieners” posits that “the sites and practices of institutional modernity force us to re-evaluate” the mode of elegy “as memory and inheritance.” Their essay argues for the importance of public spaces like the hospital ward and the art museum “to a modern elegiac consciousness”; in particular, they suggest that “the art museum offers a stage for grief ” in works by Yeats and Wieners, where the gallery’s ecology “interrupt[s] ready-made critical opinions of single works,” foregrounding “the dynamics of the exchange between the artwork and the viewer.” By illustrating “how poetic elegy encodes the modern institutional spaces of dying,” Sheils and Walsh explain how such “impersonal and institutionally framed modes of transmission” shape our understanding of the elegiac form. Samuel Caleb Wee examines yet another dimension of W. B. Yeats’s poetry in his essay, “Death ‘after Long Silence’: Auditing Agamben’s Metaphysics of Negativity in Yeats’s Lyric.” Like many contributors in this Companion, Wee finds a close kinship between the very language of literature and death itself, noting that “[t]he borders of death and the borders of language map over each other.” Wee posits that “poetry’s relationship with negative space” is one that is “always already haunted by absence – by death – before meaning ever enters the equation”; or, as Giorgio Agamben puts it, “‘inasmuch as [language and death] open for humanity the most proper dwelling place, [they] reveal and disclose this same dwelling place as always already permeated by and founded in negativity.’” Wee elucidates how Yeats’s “After Long Silence” evinces this kinship between negative spaces in language and the negative space of death itself, where “[d]eath and language, it seems, circle each other like a gyre.” Ian Tan’s essay, “The Spatialization of Death in the Novels of Virginia Woolf,” in turn considers the importance of “aesthetic space” for exploring “loss and emptiness.” Tan argues that “[d]eath and the question of how to continue living and creating in the aftermath of loss is central to Woolf ’s aesthetic structure and concerns in To the Lighthouse” (1927). If, as critics suggest, Woolf ’s novels “‘compose themselves about an absence,’” then Tan contends that “[t]he space in which death hollows out in its work of negation is intimately linked with reimagining both the subject’s grasp of death within the novel, and the authorial representation of death as refracted through point of view.” Tan concludes that Woolf’s “patterned evocation of the space of death” in The Waves (1931) ultimately offers the novelist “an order that transcends language and appearances.” 156

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The section’s final essay, Jen Crawford’s “‘Memento Mori’: Memory, Death, and Posterity in Singapore’s Poetry,” explores how Singaporean poets Edwin Thumboo, Boey Kim Cheng, and Yeow Kai Chai use “the lyric mode to reach across elegiac distance towards recuperation.” Crawford specifically examines poems commemorating places in Singapore that have been “irrevocably changed through modernization”; even “as official and unofficial sites of cultural practice are dismantled on the ground, some are reimagined within literature,” creating a discursive space where these “lost sites” find partial “‘triumph over death’ through creative renewal.”

Works Cited Buchholz, Sabine, and Manfred Jahn. “Space in Narrative.” Routledge Encyclopedia to Narrative Theory, edited by David Herman, Manfred Jahn, and Marie-Laure Ryan. Routledge, 2005, pp. 551–555. Mickelsen, David J. “Spatial Form.” Routledge Encyclopedia to Narrative Theory, edited by David Herman, Manfred Jahn, and Marie-Laure Ryan. Routledge, 2005, pp. 555–556.

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15 ECOCIDE AND THE ANTHROPOCENE Death and the Environment Flore Coulouma

Today issues of death and environmental endangerment have reached peak urgency. Wildfires ravage various parts of the globe every summer as climate change brings its daily dose of heat waves, hurricanes, and sea level rises, destroying entire ecosystems. Pollution and climate change-related deaths are now part of our history both as individuals and as a species. Writing the human experience has changed accordingly in the past fifty years to address environmental injustice, environmental degradation, natural disasters, and the depletion of natural resources as primary adversaries of human life and a significant cause of human strife. Although nature writing is a universal theme of world literature and can be traced back to the ancient traditions of oral storytelling across cultures, contemporary environmental writing goes beyond the nostalgic longing for past or mythical Arcadias to engage with a sense of place and a “sense of planet” (Heise). Human life and death have an ambiguous relationship with the environment because humans have, until now, largely set themselves apart from the rest of the natural world, objectifying it the better to measure and investigate it, within the traditional nature-versusculture framework of anthropological inquiry. This means viewing nature either as the (finite) source of humankind’s subsistence, ours to dominate and exploit, or as a life-threatening force that is becoming increasingly unpredictable. In both instances, death by nature is now a realistic prospect for much of the world’s population. Literature explores our individual and collective sense of being in the world. It is therefore particularly appropriate to examine the question of (human) death in literature from the perspective of environmental change and political ecology. Our theoretical viewpoint falls under the broad category of ecocriticism, which can be defined in simple terms as “a field of literary studies that addresses how humans relate to nonhuman nature or the environment in literature” (Johnson 623). This means that all literature can be read through the prism of ecocriticism, including productions not overtly or primarily concerned with environmental issues but which reflect a specific understanding of our relationship with the natural world. This chapter addresses both the representation of humankind’s finiteness in nature, and environmental endangerment in the contemporary literary imagination. Environmentalism is an intersectional notion that overlaps with imperialism, postcolonialism, race and class, and the politics of place (Nixon). Ecological issues are intrinsically political, and are thus fraught with the historical issues of domination, inequality, exploitation, and with the crucial legal notions of recognition, reparation, and accountability. 159

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These issues also address the notion of the anthropocene (Crutzen and Stoermer). As evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond has extensively demonstrated, the collapse of human societies in the past hundred thousands of years has resulted either from genocide or ecocide – the destruction of their natural habitats (Guns; Third Chimpanzee). The useful concept of the anthropocene must be handled carefully, however, lest it generate – by its very anthropologizing nature – a blindness to the actual politics and history of environment-based social struggles. Contemporary literature reflects this tension between an essentializing nature-versusnurture dialectic and the indictment of capitalocene, in which the dominant classes – i.e., a fraction of humanity – are responsible for the exploitation of both other classes and the natural world (Malm, L’anthropocène; “Anthropocene Myth”). This chapter examines the place of death in contemporary literature’s representation and evocation of nature. Figures of the wild in contemporary Japanese popular culture reflect an old tradition in which human life and death are determined by their relationship with the spirits of the natural world. The forest and the mountain, imbued with godlike properties, are both enchanting and ominous, life-giving and life-threatening. These contemporary calls of the wild retain the nostalgic and adventurous tone of earlier narrative traditions as they depict natural spaces with the reverence owed to the sublime. Moving on to Ireland and the mysterious landscape of the bog, nature takes on an archival role, preserving the history of humans, in death, through the depth and complexity of its geology and flora. In the Connemara bog, the fate of the landscape runs parallel with the fate of its inhabitants. Similarly, Native American fiction weaves together death and natural spaces in poignant narratives of the Indian reservation. Representing the native landscape and its endangerment at the hands of both Native and EuroAmerican interests, denouncing pollution and destruction, are part of a universal reflection on human frailty and death. Finally, beyond the elegiac tone of a literature concerned with changing landscapes and the loss of viable ecosystems and habitats, contemporary environmental literature explicitly addresses violent ecological disasters. The 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident and its aftermath are our final stop in this very limited exploration of death and nature in contemporary literature. The corpus selection will seem arbitrary: a choice was made out of necessity, but the works examined here are deliberately diverse both in genre (graphic novels and anime, fiction and nonfiction, travel writing and oral history) and geographical area (Japan, Ireland, North America, Ukraine).

Call of the Wild: Death, Mountain, and Forest Spirits in the Japanese Imagination Among the monumental body of artistic and literary work exploring our relationship with the time-honored trope of the wilderness, two iconic figures of the wild resonate with particular poignancy in our age of environmental crisis: the forest and the mountain. Both are to be found in the works of filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki and graphic novelist Jirô Taniguchi, two acclaimed Japanese artists who have influenced generations at home and abroad since the 1980s. Precursor to Miyazaki and Taniguchi’s “ecological storytelling” (Environmental Humanities Initiative), however, is director Akira Kurosawa’s 1975 masterpiece Dersu Uzala. Set in the forest of eastern Siberia, the film is based on the 1923 memoir by Russian explorer Vladimir Arsenyev, in which he recounts his exploration of the far East Siberian frontier and his friendship with Dersu Uzala, a Nanai hunter. Dersu Uzala is a native of the forest, who lives in harmony with nature, a man attuned to the harsh conditions of the forest when his “civilised” friend struggles for survival in the frozen tundra. Forced to kill a Siberian tiger who has come too close to his companions, Dersu knows that he has offended the forest spirit and fears 160

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retribution, yet it is a human who kills him to steal his hunting rifle, an ill-fated gift from the urbane Arsenyev. The film is a poignant elegy to the disappearing way of life of the Nanai people in the age of industrial logging. As Dersu’s individual fate is sealed with his use of a modern weapon against a spirit of the forest (embodied by the Siberian tiger), the forest itself is compromised, and the tiger’s death heralds the beginning of large-scale industrial exploitation of the forest’s resources. Similarly, in Hayao Miyazaki’s 1997 anime movie Mononoke-Hime (Princess Mononoke), the forest is dangerous to humans yet provides the very livelihood of the aptly named Irontown, a city whose main production relies on the ironsand retrieved through intensive clear-cutting. MononokeHime is a multi-layered, polyphonic narrative, which stages the epic battle between primeval nature (the forest, defended by its kodama, or tree spirits, by its animal-god, and by wildling Mononoke), and corrupt but redeemable human civilization, in the form of the town – led by the sulphurous Lady Eboshi. Eboshi has little regard for the inhabitants of the forest and for its mysterious deity: “Watch closely everyone. I’m going to show you how to kill a god. A god of life and death. The trick is not to fear him.” She effectively severs the god’s head, but its melting body starts flooding the forest, killing everything it touches. Destroying the forest god has directly jeopardized all living creatures in and around the forest, including the people of Irontown. The main protagonists, Ashitaka and Mononoke, retrieve the spirit’s head and lay him to rest, thus avoiding a biblical poisonous flood not unlike an oil spill. Yet the forest will never be the same again. The suggestion of a secondary regrowth at the end of the film further underlines Miyazaki’s universal message that untouched nature disappears with the arrival of humankind. The real-life inspiration for the enchanted forest in Mononoke-Hime (already an inspiration for Miyazaki’s 1984 film Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind) is the forest of Yakushima, a World Heritage site and biosphere reserve that comprises some of the world’s oldest cedar trees, with a semi-tropical ecosystem described by the UNESCO World Heritage Center as containing “a unique remnant of a warm-temperate primeval forest which has been much reduced elsewhere in the region” (“Yakushima”). Mononoke-Hime mixes historical and fantasy elements; set in the Muromachi era (mid-fourteenth to mid-sixteenth century CE) it is a cautionary tale for our times, pitting the endangered forest of mystery and magic against the pre-industrial metal civilization of Irontown. Here, nature holds the secret to human life and death, as in many of Miyazaki’s other films (see, for instance, Tonari no Totoro [My Neighbor Totoro], 1988), and other productions by his company Studio Ghibli (such as Isao Takahata’s 1994 Pom Poko). The spirits that people the natural world are invisible to us, yet they are our neighbors. This ambivalent remoteness/ closeness, derived from the interconnectedness of Buddhist spirituality, is also at stake in Mononoke’s forest, an entity that is both vulnerable and powerfully destructive if tampered with. Thus, the ambiguous boar-god of Mononoke-hime – a disturbed figure that is both good and bad – embodies an “environment that has been manipulated by mankind” (Wilson and Wilson 189). Modern-age technology and human greed distort the harmonious cycles of natural life and the fragile equilibrium of complementary light and dark forces, the yin and yang of Taoist spirituality. Mononoke-Hime sounds the alarm on man’s ecocidal tendencies and mourns what has already been lost (Shoten). The forest is an archetype of exuberance and regeneration in animistic spirituality. Its polar opposite is the desert, the monotheistic embodiment of a place devoid of life, inspiring human mysticism and sacrifice. The rarefied air and forbidding mineral grandeur of the Himalayas are a version of the desert in Jirô Taniguchi’s monumental five-volume graphic novel The Summit of the Gods (Kamigami no Itadaki, 2000–03). The call of the wild – to the formidable Mount 161

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Everest – is both a death trap and the raison d’être that sustains the characters in this narratively and visually breathtaking masterpiece. Taniguchi goes beyond poetic evocation to immerse us in the greatness of the mountain, in a twenty-first-century version of the sublime aesthetics of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century romanticism, to which his unique style (influenced by the European ligne claire) lends precision and depth. His main protagonist, Japanese photographer Fukamachi Makoto, retraces the steps of British mountaineers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, who mysteriously disappeared during the final stage of their 1924 Mount Everest expedition. In the final chapter, Taniguchi quotes Noel Odell, a member of the fateful British expedition who famously claimed to have last sighted the pair a few hundred meters from the summit: “death always strikes somewhere along the way. I think the important thing is what we’re achieving when it comes” (Le sommet 277).1 In this epic tale of obsession and physical abnegation, the driving force that pushes mountaineers toward the summit is more potent than the fear of death. Ascending the mountain thus precludes survival instincts for those who have devoted their lives to conquering the highest peaks. While Fukamachi eventually chooses life and leaves the summit behind, his fearless friend Habu Joji makes it to the top and gets lost on the way down, a punishment for his hubris. In death, he joins Mallory and Irvine, their ghosts forever haunting the rarefied air of the “undefeated summit.” Taniguchi’s final work before his untimely death in 2017 is the unfinished graphic novel The Millennial Forest (La Forêt millénaire),2 in which he returns to the liminal space of the neighboring forest. Both ominous and benevolent, the forest harbors a sacred spirit that helps a young boy face the imminent death of his sick mother. This introspective story draws parallels with the previous The Magic Mountain (Mahou No Yama, 2007), in which a young boy rescues a salamander who turns out to be the original god of the mountain, and who saves the boy’s sick mother from her incurable illness. Taniguchi’s last book is unique in its use of landscape format – a radical departure from the usual paperback-sized manga – and colored panels, a choice that better relays the artist’s poetic vision. This testament revisits his favored theme of nature as an endangered source of (human) life, and depicts thriving, untamed nature as a necessary counterpoint to humankind’s civilization of technological progress. Only in reconnecting with their natural roots can humankind find spiritual salvation. The unfinished story offers a final cautionary tale, through the innocent eyes of a child, about human destructiveness and its consequences. These literary, graphic, and cinematic narratives follow an old tradition in the Japanese imagination: envisioning the wilderness as a signifier of human mortality. The recurring figure of the mountainous forest in stories aimed at children and adults alike reminds us of the powerful emotions triggered by the solitary experience of untouched nature. Thus, the forest of Aokigahara, home of the Yurei (ghosts of the dead) in Japanese folklore, which owes its awe-inspiring silence to a sound-absorbing floor of porous hardened lava, is a known suicide site and the inspiration for Gus Van Sant’s 2015 film The Sea of Trees. The mountain forest is, finally, the iconic site of Ubasute, the mythical practice of senicide, as told in Shichiro Fukazawa’s 1956 novel The Ballad of Narayama and its most famous adaptation on screen by Shohei Imamura (Palme d’Or at the 1983 Cannes film festival). In all these works, aesthetic and literary emotion arises from our simultaneous perception of beauty and mortality in the call of the wild.

Connemara: Stories of Life and Death Away from the mythical wilderness, much of our natural environment has long been shaped by human activity. The Connemara bog is one such landscape: a witness of the travails of humanity 162

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through time, it evokes both the haunting episode of the Great Famine of mid-nineteenthcentury Ireland and the pastoral myths of post-independence nationalism. For cartographer Tim Robinson, the memory of death is inscribed in the landscape, as the opening of his 2006 essay, Connemara: Listening to the Wind, suggests: “A small concrete cross stands by the road that follows the river from Ballynahinch to the sea” (1). Robinson’s writing on the Aran Islands and Connemara is a minute exploration of places and landscapes that appear desolate yet brim with natural life and have been molded by tens of thousands of years of human activity. One half-expects Robinson’s cartography to be cursed by its notorious predecessor, the Ordnance Survey of colonial times so vilified in Brian Friel’s 1981 play Translations. Yet his careful account of every remote corner in the “last pool of darkness” – as Wittgenstein called it – does justice to its history both on the geological and the human scales. Cartography has to do with language: “the fact of language,” Robinson notes in his preface, “might predominate in writing about the conflictually bilingual southern region of Connemara” (4). Robinson’s subsequent warning that he is not interested in the ubiquitous Irish “language question” only serves to remind us that the death of a language remains a more-than-vivid issue today. His passion for the area’s toponyms highlights a main point of the book: much as the bog preserves the memory of life and death through millennia of geological and biological cycles, so the map records human history through place names. Robinson uses his fluent Gaelic to tease out the hidden meanings of place names and retrieve what is lost. In his compelling explanation of the name Murvey, he observes that the anglicized version is “profoundly unsatisfactory. To resist the betrayal of reality it enacts, I have to call to mind two of the prime words of the Irish language, the language of a culture for which topographical terms once had the weight and resonance of cathedral bells: muir, ‘sea’; magh, ‘plain’” (80–81). Murvey bears the mark of colonial renaming like a stigma, and, as Robinson points out, this affects its reference in the real world: “Irish placenames dry out when anglicized, like twigs snapped off from a tree. And frequently the places too are degraded, left open to exploitation, for lack of a comprehensible name to point out their natures or recall their histories” (81). In Robinson’s musings through the Roundstone bog, we discover a landscape that is both awe-inspiring in its desolateness and profoundly human, as its unique flora and fauna, and immensely rich geological strata, have been shaped by human history since the Neolithic period: “It was not until the New Stone Age or Neolithic revolution that disequilibrium between humans and their habitat manifested itself” (53). Robinson delves into pollen remnants thousands of years old to trace the early practice of grazing domestic animals and the highs and lows of agriculture in the region. Roundstone bog itself was the subject of intensive farming after a lull of several centuries, after which the practice of grazing resumed again. “Perhaps,” Robinson muses, “those five or six generations […] were long enough for a pre-literate community to have forgotten that their landscape was ever, and might be again, other than as they knew it” (54). Closer to us, the failed nineteenth-century project of bog drainage and farming also explains what is left of the bog today. Thus, Robinson concludes, “it is to human suffering and failure that we owe the preservation of the unique terrain visible from Errisbeg” (54). Strikingly, it is the very desolation of the landscape that appeals to the poetic mind – there is something of the sublime in the “life-denial” of such vistas, much like the fascination exerted by mountains in Japanese folklore. Robinson quotes a Henry M’Manus, who visited Connemara in 1840 and published his Sketches of the Irish Highlands in 1863, extolling the breathtaking wilderness of what he views as a desolate expanse of land: “that very desolation itself, being so profound and novel, was deeply impressive; while the less pleasing details were swallowed up in 163

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two elements of the sublime. One was – a boundless expanse of surface below; and the other was – a boundless expanse of sunshine above” (190). What M’Manus viewed as absolute wilderness, however, was in fact shaped by human presence. The bog is fascinating because it owes its very existence to an underlying presence that is invisible to the uninitiated eye. It is at once the product and witness of human activity; in Connemara, the lingering memory of suffering and death oozes through the sphagnum moss of the bog, making it an all the more poignant vision. The bog is not just a metaphorical burial ground: it is a real one too. In his chapter “The Boneyard,” Robinson gives an account of the many children’s burial grounds that dot the landscape of Connemara: “a few of them are noticeable scatterings of small set stones, […] others I would discover only because some oddity of the terrain would attract my attention.” Again, the landscape at once obscures and reveals a story of human death. Until Vatican II, the Catholic Church refused to bury unbaptized dead infants on consecrated ground: this cruel practice and the suffering of bereaved parents are inscribed in those “tender spots of the rural landscape” (94). In Robinson’s account, the bog becomes a Book of the Dead, “a landscape in which beauty and suffering wrap closely around one another, and in which geology and mythology fuse together as ‘systems of description of what can be seen in terms of what lies too deep to be seen’” (Macfarlane). Evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond has written extensively on how human societies alter the natural environment: the deserts of the American Southwest and Mesopotamia were in fact caused by man (Collapse 3), just as the rare heather that delights botanists on Errisbeg Hill “may have come from Spain wrapped round a smuggler’s cask” (Robinson 236). The landscape, and indeed all of today’s natural environment, have been affected by human presence. There remains no unexplored terra incognita, and the idea that some parts of the world have retained a preserved state of untouched nature is now untenable. The notions of preservation and conservation lead us to that of reservation, since the colonization of nature by humans is on a par with that of man by man. The entangled political, historical, and environmental issues addressed in contemporary Native American literature allow a reflection on ecocide and genocide through the experiences and representations of the Indian reservation.

The Indian Reservation: Narratives of Loss, Ecocide, and Genocide Historically, early land treaties drafted by the European settlers designated areas which the tribes – described on paper as being sovereign entities – “reserved” for themselves while agreeing to the European takeover of the rest of the continent (Bureau of Indian Affairs). The forcible relocation of tribes, made into law by Congress in 1830 as the Indian Removal Act, further altered the Native population’s relationship to its land, making the reservation more refugee camp than sanctuary territory. This gives us another picture of the reservation: a geographical area reserved for the concentration of undesirable ethnic groups but destined to be dissolved when its population has disappeared or been assimilated; indeed, many reservations were “terminated” in the mid-twentieth century, with dire consequences for their native inhabitants (see Ulrich). This, besides the obvious disregard of the tribes’ so-called sovereignty, implies a vision of the land as commodity to be retrieved and exploited in the interest of economical “progress” and financial profit. Environmental injustice in Indian country has been documented together with its direct consequences on the population’s health and life expectancy. Native Americans who have retained a traditional lifestyle rely heavily on natural resources for sustenance and ritual purposes, but hunting and gathering become severely hazardous in a degraded environment 164

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(Walker et al. 386). This history of suffering shaped by land and place is told in the works of Native American authors Louise Erdrich and Leslie Marmon Silko, who show the struggles of men and women in destroyed communities and hostile natural environments, individual fates embossed on a background of man-made environmental damage: desertification, drought, open-pit mines, deforestation, and waste-dumping. Marmon Silko’s 1977 novel Ceremony is set in the Laguna Pueblo reservation of New Mexico. Tayo, a recently returned World War II veteran, suffers from what we now call severe post-traumatic stress disorder. His point of view in the prose narrative alternates with incantation-like voices in the poetry sections to create a dialogic back-and-forth between the mythical tales of ancient oral tradition and the travails of the hero in this ecological coming-ofage, while the mise-en-abîme of narrative levels prompts a similar awakening process in the reader. The opening poem calls us in: “stories […] are all we have to fight off/illness and death.” This ritual storytelling, at the core of the healing process, is grounded in a holistic representation of the world in which spirits, humanity, and nature are all connected and interdependent. Tayo senses that his involvement in “the white people’s war” has disrupted the natural order of things: “the effects were everywhere in the cloudless sky, on the dry brown hills, shrinking skin and hide taut over sharp bone” (33). The Laguna reservation is a hostile environment, desertified after years of recurring severe drought and overgrazing, cattle being the sole source of revenue in the area. It is also the site of an open uranium mine. Yet, as Tayo’s kindly uncle Josiah explains, “This is where we come from, see. This sand, this stone, these trees, the vines, all the wildflowers. This earth keeps us going. […] The old people used to say that droughts happen when people forget, when people misbehave” (42). The mythical spirits of ancient folklore shine a light on this dismal landscape in the poetry sections of the novel. In the tale, the Cornmother’s sons are all so taken with the magician’s shiny tricks that they forget their true source of life. The earth lays barren as punishment, much like the biblical plagues brought on by humankind’s sinfulness and disregard for the sacred. Tayo’s despair is fueled by his hatred and his helplessness in the face of Euro-American destructiveness, yet he senses that there is a more potent destructiveness at work than the colonial race-war. Humanity’s deathly race toward apocalyptic destruction is embodied in the “destroyers,” dark spiritual entities who manipulate both colonizers and victims in their quest for the annihilation of all life. All is connected, beyond the confines of the reservations, with the local site of the uranium mine tied to the atomic bomb and to the overseas ravages of the war. Tayo’s nightmares were in fact the realization of a global disruption, hence his cure can “only be found in something great and inclusive of everything” (116). The novel was hailed as a masterpiece of “ecological ethnopoetics,” but called out for its utopian ending (Buell 286). Ceremony does give us an appeased ending: the apocalypse has been averted, the “whirling darkness” of the destroyers is gone. But it is an open-ended conclusion, as we are told from the onset: “in the belly of this story, the rituals and the ceremony are still growing” (2). So while the darkness “is dead for now” (243) – the line is repeated four times, as if to stave off hesitation – there is no certainty for the future. The portrait of human and ecological desolation that Marmon Silko paints, however mitigated by epiphanic moments of wonder, show that we only get a short reprieve. The ceremony is all the more needed, then, as death inevitably closes in. Far from the deserts of New Mexico, along the Canadian border, lies the Turtle Mountain Reservation, where Louise Erdrich sets her stories of the Chippewa Indians. In Tracks (1988), patriarch Nanapush is the last voice of an almost extinct people: “I saw the passing of times you will never know. I guided the last buffalo hunt. I saw the last bear shot […] I spoke aloud the 165

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words of the government treaty, and refused to sign the settlement papers that would take away our woods and lake” (2). The story is told from two conflicting points of views: Nanapush, the shrewd yet affectionate elder (a version of the Chippewa trickster figure Nanabozho), and mixed-blood Pauline Puyat, who desperately seeks to obliterate her Indian heritage and exorcises her peers with a punitive brand of Catholicism. Two spiritualities collide in a polyphonic storytelling that is part testimony, part elegy and incantation, so there is something of a healing ceremony in Erdrich’s stories of the Nanapush clan throughout the generations. Tracks is the prequel to Erdrich’s first novel Love Medicine (1984). It goes back to the early twentieth century and chronicles the struggles of the Chippewa tribe against extinction through disease and the gradual loss of their ancestral land. As Nanapush explains at the beginning of his tale, “We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall” (1). The tragic fate of the tribe, largely brought on by European epidemics, is sealed with the destruction of their land. The reservation sits on an area of dense forest and lakes inspired by the biotope of the Turtle Mountain Plateau across the North Dakota/Southern Manitoba border. The beating heart of Tracks is Matchimanito Lake, home of Misshepeshu the dangerous lake monster. The forest nurtures and supports the tribe’s ancient way of life, symbolized by the aptly named Fleur, a rebellious woman of the woods with shamanistic powers. It is a place where the dead and the living coexist in relative – if cautious – harmony, while destruction comes from the outside world in the form of the white lumber company and its sawing machines. In the novel, individual death occurs in parallel with deforestation. Fleur’s miscarriage signals the loss of her protective powers and the advance of the whites’ takeover of the forest. Nanapush’s words of resignation are of little comfort: “You will not be to blame if the land is lost”, he says, “or if the oaks and the pines fall, the lake dries, and the lake man does not return. You could not have saved the child that came so early” (178). Fleur’s magical powers cannot resist the betrayal of her own kind. Her land is sold to the white timber company, as the business-minded families in the tribe have embraced the new Euro-American order. The spirits of the dead who once roamed the woods have vanished, and all that remains is the scar-like tracks in a road “rutted by the wheels of laden wagons” (209). In response, Fleur curses the agents of her demise and performs eco-suicide, cutting the remaining forest herself rather than leaving it in the hands of strangers, as Nanapush recalls: Around me, a forest was suspended, lightly held. The fingered lobes of leaves floated on nothing. The powerful throats, the columns of trunks and splayed twigs, all substance was illusion. Nothing was solid. Each green crown was held in the air by no more than splinters of bark. Each tree was sawed through at the base. (223) This final episode, which reads like an allegory of Marx’s commodity fetishism – the conversion of the forest from place-specific, rooted, qualitatively defined use-value to indeterminate, rootless exchange value – coincides with the end of Nanapush’s story. Tracks is a tale of loss and memory, and the traces we leave in our environment are also those that endure through stories. Everything is inscribed in the landscape: just as the Connemara bog retains prehistoric burial sites in its geological strata, the Turtle Mountain landscape exposes the scars of a people’s suffering and gradual disappearance. Like Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, Tracks is imbued with poetic epiphanies of nature but avoids the one-sided trap of the mythical ecological Indian, instead recording strategies of immediate survival and their terrifying long-term environmental and human consequences. Silko’s and Erdrich’s elegiac celebration of the beauty of nature is also a call for healing and justice, lest the retribution come from nature itself. 166

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Ecological Disasters and the Nuclear Apocalypse Nuclear disasters are by far the most horrific attacks on human lives and the natural environment in the sheer time-scale of their consequences. Rob Nixon notes that whole territories are rendered “irretrievable to those who once inhabited them” (7), besides the long-term health effects on generations after generations, ad infinitum: Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear testing in Algeria and the Pacific Islands, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima are just some sites of intentional and unintentional nuclear disasters. All have been obliterated from official narratives by a systematic culture of denial. One would be hard-pressed to find any regard for human rights and protection from (radioactive) harm in the fifty years of American, French, and British nuclear testing in and around the Pacific Islands since 1946. The sequels in their postcolonial “nuclear playground” (Firth; Hoffman) are all the more gruesome, as they remain largely untold. Nuclear harm is all the more insidious because radioactive contamination cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted, and its long-lasting effects are, as Nixon remarks, a “violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space” (2): congenital defects, thyroid diseases, cancers, and a wide range of other illnesses will afflict generations to come. Voices from Chernobyl, by acclaimed Belarusian author Svetlana Alexievich, is a landmark in nuclear literature. The Belarusian journalist has been known since the 1980s for her meticulous and empathetic recordings of testimonies of the post-World War II Soviet era. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 2015 “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time” (Nobel Prize). Her 1997 book Tchernobylskaia Molitva, first published in English as Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster,3 is an oral history account of the event and its aftermath in and around the Ukrainian town of Pripyat, along the Belarus border. Alexievich’s writing is based on oral testimonies, but her work in Voices, as in her other books, is not solely that of a collector. As she explained in an interview to her US editor, “To an outsider it may seem a simple process: people just told me their stories. But it’s not really so simple. It’s important what you ask and how you ask it and what you hear and what you select from the interview” (Alexievich, “Conversation”). Alexievich’s writing is – by her own admission – steeped in the dialogic tradition of the great Russian authors, profoundly influenced by traditional oral storytelling and the skaz narrative process defined in 1918 by Russian formalist Boris Eikhenbaum. Alexievich’s writing is clearly recognizable as skaz, “a literary style imitating oral monologue” (Banfield), but hers are documentary novels rather than fictions: their intensity comes from the rawness of the testimonies. Alexievich gives a voice to the innumerable anonymous victims of the Chernobyl disaster: stories of death in its most terrifying form, painful, protracted, ubiquitous in the landscape of the exclusion zone and beyond, where nature has become poisonous to human and animal. The prologue opens with “a solitary human voice” from the wife of a fireman first on the scene after reactor no. 4 exploded. She tells a story of apocalypse, witnessing her husband’s body disintegrate from acute radiation, becoming sick herself after tending to his wounds against doctors’ orders. Yet that is not how she defines her story: “No one’s asked what we’ve been through. What we saw. No one wants to hear about death. About what scares them. But I was really telling you about love” (23). Alexievich’s book is a labor of love; she gives voice to countless testimonies, with humanity and empathy, in a patient maieutic process that generates her echoing, polyphonic narratives. The chapter “The land of the dead” hears the Samosely, people who have refused to leave the exclusion zone and have hidden or come back to resettle in their old homes. All tell of epiphanic moments in nature, of the shock of beauty that blinds people to the toxicity of their surrounding environment: “It’s nice here! Everything grows, everything blooming. From the 167

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littlest fly to the animals, everything’s living” (27). Incomprehension and denial of the nature and scale of the disaster are further compounded by the apparent exuberance of plant and animal life in the exclusion zone, as a soldier recalls: “The worst part was, the least comprehensible part, everything was so – beautiful!” (37–38). The disaster happened in the springtime, and people initially thought they were going on a picnic. “The strawberries started coming, and there was honey everywhere” (44). Despite the barely visible toxicity, “All changed/Changed utterly”: Easter 1986 has begotten its own “terrible beauty,” echoing W. B. Yeats’s apocalyptic vision of Easter 1916. In Alexievich’s narratives, radioactive death is incomprehensible because it comes in the guise of exuberant life; it is unbearable because it is surrounded by a conspiracy of silence. “They made us sign a non-disclosure form. So I didn’t say anything,” says one liquidator, who ten years later, now an invalid, describes the sarcophagus as a “giant grave” but can never disclose what he has been through, as if the disaster had also gnawed at the very roots of human language: “No one can speak to me in a way I can answer. In my own language. No one can understand where I’ve come back from. And I can’t tell anyone.” Even in death, the liquidators and victims are on their own, buried separately “like we’re aliens from outer space” (48–50). On their own, the “Chernobyl Hibakusha” who, like their Japanese counterparts after Hiroshima, find themselves ostracized and silenced, unable to bear children, and living in terror: not of dying (“I hear about death so often that I don’t notice anymore”), but of not knowing how and when the “radiation sickness” will strike (115). “Why do we keep hovering around death?” asks a man living in nearby Belarus, “now we realize that there won’t be another world, and there’s nowhere to turn to” (138). Alexievich’s choice of the unmediated, first-person narrators, added to the sheer number of the testimonies, creates a dizzying effect that closes in on the readers, making us both direct addressees of the Voices and another “I” sharing in the realization that there won’t be another world. In the epilogue, the book comes back full circle with another story of love. “I was born for love,” the liquidator’s wife says, but her destiny is derailed. “He spent that whole year dying”: in her experience, dying is an action verb. Death is agony, working its way into the body and the mind to destroy all traces of humanity, turning its victim “into a monster” (223–25). Voices from Chernobyl is a chorus prayer sent out from the abyss, telling us about the inexpressible and the limits of literature. When words fail, only human feelings are left, and the author’s mission is to “find them, collect them, protect them,” preserve their memory. Alexievich concludes with a darkly prophetic tone, “I felt like I was recording the future” (236). Echoes of Voices from Chernobyl can be found in Darragh McKeon’s 2014 debut novel, All That Is Solid Melts into Air. McKeon’s book gives a fictional account of the Chernobyl disaster and its title – a quote from the Communist Manifesto – encapsulates the experience of radioactive death as beyond human understanding, a vision of the universe turned upside down. The Chernobyl disaster serves as a narrative thread with which to address the collapse of the Soviet Union. McKeon’s main protagonist unsuccessfully attempts to raise the alarm on radioactive contamination. The bureaucratic machinery of denial and silencing grinds him down even before he succumbs to radioactive poisoning: “He had ceased to exist, melted into air” (386). Another narrative thread looks at Chernobyl through the eyes of Artyom, a young boy living nearby who loses his father to the liquidators and is then sent with his mother and sister to a relocation refugee camp. Days after the accident, the forest has turned red, prompting his father to remark that “Mother nature is bleeding” (273). As in Mononoke-Hime, the contaminated forest is both victim and perpetrator: men “fight the atom with a shovel […] let nature come and fight them; they each had an axe” (275). After his father has died, Artyom 168

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recalls a childhood story in which “the living and the dead were connected by bridges made of Kalyna wood. They crossed easily from one side to the other, doing this so readily that after some time they could no longer distinguish between the two realms.” Artyom too finds himself on the bridge, in his newfound awareness of “particles skimming through the air. Underneath what he sees and smells and hears […] just as radiation, displaced atoms, inhabited his own living cells, changing him” (276). Invisible radioactive decay serves as a metaphor for the corruption and breakdown of the Soviet Union, but in its conclusion the novel returns to the atom’s effects on the essence of humanity itself: “infants with mushroom-shaped growth in place of eyes, with heads that have taken on the form of a crescent moon. […] All of this is his past. All of this is his country” (389). McKeon’s chronicle of political change describes a country on the verge of profound mutations, yet beneath the socially and geographically anchored narrative is the much darker story of the physical disfiguration and extinction of humanity as a species, and beyond that, of nature itself. In this, McKeon’s realistic novel meets the recurring themes of the posthuman in science fiction and post-apocalyptic literatures of extinction and replacement. Today, as scientists predict the end of the anthropocene and as the global hurricanes and wildfires of climate change are already upon us, the monsters of science fiction have now found firm place in documentary and fiction writing alike. Here’s hoping that these representations of death in the age of environmental endangerment will help awaken consciences and reconcile humans and nature.

Notes 1 2 3

My translation, from the French edition (“la mort vient toujours frapper en cours de route. Je crois que l’important, c’est ce que l’on est en train d’accomplir lorsque la mort arrive”). No English-language edition at the time of writing. There are two separate English-language editions for the book: Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, translated by Keith Gessen (New York: Picador, 2005); and Chernobyl Prayer, translated by Anna Gunin and Arch Tait (London: Penguin, 2016). I am using the American edition here.

Works Cited Alexievich, Svetlana. Chernobyl Prayer, translated by Anna Gunin and Arch Tait. Penguin, 2016. Alexievich, Svetlana. “A Conversation with Svetlana Alexievich by Ana Lucic.” The Dalkey Archive, www. dalkeyarchive.com/a-conversation-with-svetlana-alexievich-by-ana-lucic. Accessed 16 July 2020. Alexievich, Svetlana. Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, translated by Keith Gessen. Picador, 2005. Banfield, Ann. “Skaz.” Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory, edited by D. Herman et al. Routledge, 2005, pp. 535–536. Buell, Lawrence. The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture. 1995. Belknap Press, 1996. Bureau of Indian Affairs. “Frequently Asked Questions.” www.bia.gov/frequently-asked-questions. Accessed 16 July 2020. Crutzen, Paul J., and Eugene F. Stoermer. “The ‘Anthropocene.’” IGBP Newsletter no. 41, 2000, pp. 17–18. Diamond, Jared. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Penguin, 2005. Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies. Norton, 1999. Diamond, Jared. The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal. HarperCollins, 1992. Dersu Uzala. Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Daiei Film and Mosfilm, 1975. Ecological Storytelling: Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. Environmental Humanities Initiative at UCSB (Film Series 2014–15). http://ehc.english.ucsb.edu/?page_id=4841. Accessed 16 July 2020.

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Flore Coulouma Erdrich, Louise. Love Medicine. 1984. Harper Perennial, 2009. Erdrich, Louise. Tracks. 1988. Harper Perennial, 2004. Firth, Steward. Nuclear Playground. Allen & Unwin, 1987. Friel, Brian. Translations. Faber & Faber, 1981. Heise, Ursula K. Sense of Place, Sense of Planet. Oxford UP, 2008. Hoffman, Michael. “Forgotten Atrocity of the Atomic Age.” Japan Times, 28 August 2011, www. japantimes.co.jp/culture/2011/08/28/culture/forgotten-atrocity-of-the-atomic-age/#.W551MlJoTeQ. Accessed 16 July 2020. Johnson, Loretta. “Greening the Library: The Fundamentals and Future of Ecocriticism.” Choice, vol. 47, no. 4, 2019, pp. 623–631. Macfarlane, Robert. “Diving into Darkness.” The Spectator, 1 Oct. 2008. www.spectator.co.uk/2008/10/ diving-into-darkness. Accessed 16 July 2020. Malm, Andreas. “The Anthropocene Myth.” Jacobin Magazine, 30 Mar. 2015. www.jacobinmag.com/ 2015/03/anthropocene-capitalism-climate-change. Accessed 16 July 2020. Malm, Andreas. L’anthropocène contre l’histoire. La Fabrique, 2017. Marmon Silko, Leslie. Ceremony. 1977. Penguin, 2006. McKeon, Darragh. All That Is Solid Melts into Air. Penguin, 2014. Mononoke-Hime (Princess Mononoke). Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Studio Ghibli, 1997. Nixon, Rob. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Harvard UP, 2011. The Nobel Prize in Literature 2015. www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/2015/summary. Accessed 16 July 2020. Robinson, Tim. Connemara: Listening to the Wind. Penguin, 2006. Shoten, Tokuma, and Studio Ghibli. “Interview: Miyazaki on Mononoke-Hime.” The Hayao Miyazaki Web, (unofficially) translated by Ryoko Toyama, July 1997. Taniguchi, Jirô. La montagne magique [The Magic Mountain]. Casterman, 2007. Taniguchi, Jirô. La forêt millénaire. Rue de Sèvres, 2017. Taniguchi, Jirô. Le sommet des dieux, vol. 5. Kana, 2011. Ulrich, Roberta. American Indian Nations from Termination to Restoration 1953–2006. U of Nebraska P, 2010. Walker, Jana, Jennifer L. Bradley, and Timothy J. Humphrey. “A Closer Look at Environmental Injustice in Indian Country.” Seattle Journal for Social Justice, vol. 1, no. 2, 2002, pp. 379–401. Wilson, Carl, and Garragh Wilson. “Taoism, Shintoism, and the Ethics of Technology: An Ecocritical Review of Howl’s Moving Castle.” Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities, vol. 2, no. 3, 2015, pp. 189–194. “Yakushima.” UNESCO World Heritage Centre. whc.unesco.org/pg.cfm?cid=31&id_site=662. Accessed 16 July 2020.

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16 A DISNEY DEATH Coco, Black Panther, and the Limits of the Afterlife Stacy Thompson

Fredric Jameson claims that in the better (socialist) world that is to come the basic coordinates of life will change dramatically, and even death will be experienced in new ways. With Jameson’s proposition in mind, I want to examine two recent Disney films that promise the opposite scenario in provocative ways. In the movie Coco (2017), a punitive bureaucracy analogous to the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Agency operates along a physical/ metaphysical border between life and death. On the Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, the agency bars the souls of the dead from entering the world of the living if the former do not have the film’s equivalent of a passport. The CBP agents use facial recognition software to ascertain that each soul crossing the life/death border can be identified in a photo placed on her or his altera (a small altar erected in a cemetery on the Day of the Dead) on the living side of the border. Failing the scan results in the dead person’s inability to reunite with family members on the living side of the border. In a parallel fashion, the afterlife in the 2018 film Black Panther maintains class distinctions beyond the grave, where one might hope that they would be meaningless. In Black Panther, a ritual allows a person’s spirit to pass from the realm of the living to the Ancestral Lands. T’Challa undergoes the ritual and passes to the spirit realm, where he is met by a group of panthers on what appears to be the eastern African/Wakandan savanna. His dead father soon approaches him in human form and offers sage advice. But when T’Challa’s cousin, Erik Stephens, undergoes the same ritual, he awakens to find himself in the dilapidated apartment in Oakland, California, where his father lived and died. The Ancestral Lands are not a nebulous African spirit realm shared by all people who trace their earthly roots back to Africa; rather, if your father is from the slums of Oakland, then a tenement in Oakland is your Ancestral Land. There’s an odd literalness about the logic of this afterlife. This is the thread that ties Coco and Black Panther together: in neither film is death or the afterlife the great leveler where national/nationalist borders and class differences imposed upon us in life by geopolitical and economic struggle disappear. In this chapter, I read this persistence of class difference in two ways. First, I argue that an ideological assumption prevents these films from envisioning an afterlife outside the logic of contemporary capitalism, with its brutal border policing and economic disparity, all of which apparently extend beyond life’s limit. Second, I argue that one can dialectically read the films’ refusal to resolve racial and geopolitical conflicts by positing a nebulous spirit realm in which such concerns vanish. Instead, these conflicts are 171

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forced back upon our attention through their persistence where we least expect them: in afterlives bound up with unexpectedly mundane practices and logics.

Psychoanalysis, or, To Death and Beyond! I want to begin by thinking about the place that the notion of death occupies within psychoanalysis. Commenting on the concept of the “death drive,” contemporary Lacanian theorist Slavoj Žižek writes that “we can see why Freud used the term ‘death drive’: the lesson of psychoanalysis is that humans are not simply alive, but possessed by a strange drive to enjoy life in excess of the ordinary run of things – and ‘death’ stands simply and precisely for the dimension beyond ‘ordinary’ biological life. Human life is never ‘just life,’ it is always sustained by an excess of life” (103). Žižek claims that we cannot “reduce” humans to being merely “one of the animal species,” not qualitatively different from dogs or chimpanzees. But he does not draw the line between the human species and other animal species where we might expect it, based on the human ability to use language, obtain consciousness, or tell jokes. Instead, what differentiates us from dogs is that humans need to include the concept of death within our conceptualizations of life, as precisely that which exceeds life. Paradoxically, human life, if it is properly human, must attempt and fail to contain within itself its own radical limit, its own unthought, its own impossibility; it must attempt and fail to think beyond itself, and, in that thinking, it insists upon something “more-than-life,” something more than animal or biological life. The movement toward that externality to life, that more-than-life, is what Žižek calls “death drive.” In popular culture, the same point arises everywhere, such as in the first scene of the 2005 film Hustle and Flow. The movie begins with a monologue by the main character, Djay, who explains that “man ain’t like a dog, […] We territorial as shit, we gonna protect our own. But man […] he know about death, got him a sense of history. […] They [dogs] be going through life carefree, but people like you and me, man, we always guessing – wondering – what if? You know what I mean?” As far as we know, dogs are not preoccupied with what Djay thinks of as the “what ifs” of life – at least they don’t appear to be. But it is these unknown potentialities of life that death holds open for us as a placeholder. Alain Badiou expresses the same point more economically when he claims that the human is the animal that wants to be more than an animal. In Badiou’s words, the “immortal,” meaning the more-than-human, “affirms himself as someone who runs counter to the temptation of wanting-to-be-an-animal to which circumstances may expose him” (12). “Death drive” is thus the psychoanalytical name for the human desire to exceed the biological life and death of merely animal life and the refusal to accept life as we experience it phenomenologically as the ultimate horizon of what is possible. It is the reason that we find a human life that ends too soon tragic because of its unfulfilled possibilities. Such a concern never arises in relation to cats. If our three-year-old pet cat is hit by a car and dies, we might feel the loss profoundly, but we probably won’t wonder what the cat could have done or become if only it had lived out its expected life span. For Žižek and Badiou, our humanity itself is at stake in how we conceptualize death in relation to life. In this chapter, I argue that the ways in which our cultural productions imagine and attempt to think death – the ways in which they work through it or fail to work through this fundamental contradiction that structures human life – can grant us insight into our capacity to think beyond our current, global capitalist, lifeworld. I’m specifically interested in the ways in which we fail to think beyond capitalism, our failures to imagine a non-capitalist space or time even after death. These texts are symptomatic of our historical moment, in which we struggle to imagine even moderate political and economic changes, let alone radical ones. Perhaps, then, it is no surprise that when we contemplate death within our cultural imaginary, 172

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it obeys the logic of capitalism. Life might end, but capitalism lasts forever. This must be so, because the logics of the capitalist lifeworld are repeated in the “deathworlds” of Disney’s films. To express it in slightly different language, our incapacity to imagine a non-capitalist deathworld or afterlife is symptomatic of our incapacity to imagine a non-capitalist lifeworld.

From Psychoanalysis to the Movies Where are we now, in terms of cultural representations of death? More narrowly, how does Disney, an important engine for the Hollywood dream machine, envision the afterlife or deathworld? Black Panther is fascinating in this regard. T’Challa, the prince and later King of Wakanda, and Erik “Killmonger” Stephens, the outcast nephew of the former King (T’Chaka), briefly the King, and finally the deposed and dethroned King of Wakanda, make journeys to the “Ancestral Land.” Writing in the Journal of Religion & Film, A. David Lewis describes Black Panther’s afterworld as “a transcendent sacred space and final destination for at least the royal family,” as well as “a site of transformation” and “part of the ceremony to become king and Black Panther.” This description correlates well with T’Challa’s experience. As a part of the process of becoming king, he drinks the heart-shaped herb potion, enters a trance-like state, and awakens in the Ancestral Land. He rises from a shallow grave in what appears to be the eastern African savanna to find himself wearing ceremonial garb. Nearby, a tree shelters several panthers in its branches. One of them approaches him, transforms into his dead father, embraces him, exhorts him to assume the mantle of Wakanda’s monarchy, and offers some sage advice: “surround yourself with people you trust.” In other words, the ancestral plane is not unlike what we might expect, a place of ancestors and lore. More importantly, there is a distinct break between the world that T’Challa knows and the afterlife. The known world, for T’Challa, is the superheroic Marvel world of heroes and villains who figure against the supposedly neutral background of global capitalism, which is linked directly to Marvel in characters such as Iron Man, who, as Tony Stark, is an international arms manufacturer by day and superhero by night. As in the DC universe, in which billionaire philanthropist Bruce Wayne/Batman is the scion of an industrialist/real estate tycoon, heroism and capitalism are cheek by jowl in the Marvel universe. But the Ancestral Land is different; it is divorced from the dross of today’s buying and selling, competing, exploiting, and profiting. Instead, it is a world whose details are properly unimaginable or inconceivable. What do the panthers do all day in this deathworld? If they eat, what do they eat? The animal-embodied souls of lesser people? Probably not. In short, it is impossible to imagine a day in the “life” of this deathworld. It is properly “other” to the Wakandan lifeworld as well as our own. But the afterlife takes on a more interesting hue when Erik Stephens, nom de guerre Killmonger, journeys there. In Lewis’s article, he prepares us for what Erik will find. He observes that “access to the Ancestral Lands is not a sign of moral reward, since both men [T’Challa and Erik] are encumbered by gross injustices.” Killmonger has killed numerous people while working for the CIA, and T’Challa has continued his father’s isolationist politics in Wakanda, despite the possibility that Wakandan technology could help alleviate the sufferings of black people across the globe. But, as Lewis has already suggested, the Wakandan afterlife is reserved for “at least the royal family.” So Erik is allowed access to it because he has royal blood; he is nephew to the former king and cousin to T’Challa. But even this is not enough to grant him the same access that T’Challa enjoys, because the ancestral plane is ultimately class-based. Erik does not arise from his ceremonial burial to find himself, like T’Challa, on the African savanna. Rather, he wakes up in a tenement in Oakland, California, which, one imagines, is no one’s idea of the better world. 173

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The ancestral plane operates according to a comprehensible logic: because Erik’s father, N’Jobu, violated King T’Chaka’s wishes and sought to use Wakandan technology to aid oppressed blacks in the US, N’Jobu was killed and his son was banned from the specifically Wakandan Ancestral Land, although the movie does not mention this consequence of N’Jobu’s betrayal. Instead, Erik has to make do with the working-class deathworld to which his father’s militant resistance to oppression in the early 1990s condemned both himself and his son. In the Wakandan Ancestral Land, panthers lounge majestically in ancient trees or, during T’Challa’s second visit, gather in human form, robed and solemn, in a semicircle behind T’Chaka. In contrast, Erik’s ancestral plane is the ghetto to T’Challa’s: N’Jobu appears to Erik just as he was in life – in human form – and residing in exactly the same Oakland apartment that he was killed in. His garments are ceremonial semi-formal, nice enough but a far cry from the robes of T’Chaka’s ancestral plane. In fact, the only signs assuring us that Erik is in the ancestral plane are the unusual colors of the sky, which also appear above the tree of panthers. Why, then, are Erik and his father relegated to a second-class deathworld? Writing in Africology: The Journal of Pan African Studies, South African scholar Dikeledi Mokoena criticizes Black Panther’s use of “ancestors and death” as an indicator of “the kind of Black person that should be/is acceptable” (16). She reasons that N’Jobu, who sought to help Black people in the diaspora militantly fight for freedom through the assistance of African resources, was punishable despite the nobility of his course. The consequence […] of being a Malcolm X type of militant radical is the ultimate posthumous exclusion, being stuck in limbo with his son Killmonger, banished from the ancestral world as if their course was anti-African and anti-Black. She adds that what “the movie essentially suggests is that Frantz Fanon did not make it into the abode of the ancestors […] but being a revolutionary Black person in the hereafter is certainly worth aspiring to and, perhaps in radical terms, the vast lands of ancestors being occupied by assimilationists is not such an ideal place to aspire to go” (16). Mokoena concludes that Erik’s death in the film, at T’Challa’s hand, represents “the symbolic murder of Black radical politics in a neoliberal world” (17). T’Challa’s victory is ultimately “symbolic of the rescuing of economic warfare waged through economic policies of the West that caused havoc and to some extent are incompatible with African values” (17). In other words, the ancestral plane(s) of Wakanda reproduce the economic and political inequalities of contemporary neoliberal economics. If, as I’ve been arguing, death functions as a limit case for our capacity to think beyond the strictures of capitalism as a world-dominant system, then Black Panther betrays a failure of political and cultural imagination. Even the afterlife is segregated into a class-based hierarchy, where the most exalted are those who worked within the parameters of today’s neoliberal economic agenda, while the militant anti-capitalists (Fanon in his Marxist guise, for example) are banished to the ghetto. The film is thus symptomatic of the paucity of our reflections on an externality or a beyond to capitalism, even in death. N’Jobu and Erik will endure eternity in the same condemned building that they occupied while alive. An ideological critique of Black Panther thus seems to lead us to a specific conclusion. Our cultural imaginary can envision a world in which an eastern African nation has outstripped the rest of the globe technologically and scientifically, in which a heart-shaped herb can transport human spirits across the divide between life and death, and in which a secret periodic element can be harnessed to provide power equal in strength to nuclear fusion or fission but without the radioactive waste or containment dangers associated with the latter. Nevertheless, what remains outside the film’s speculative powers is the possibility of a non-capitalist deathworld, to say 174

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nothing of a lifeworld not similarly ordered. But what if we give this conclusion a dialectical twist? Is it possible to read the film’s apparent failure to imagine an egalitarian afterworld as its ultimate success? In other words, what if we read the film not as support for capitalism’s fantasy of fully occupying not just the material world but even the immaterial/spiritual one as well, but as the traversal of such a fantasy of capitalism’s ubiquity? According to the logic of psychoanalysis, fantasy cannot be successfully countered through the register of reality. For example, a necessary fantasy held by many parents is the assumption that their children are endlessly interesting and utterly unique among humans. They are convinced of this – they believe it – and no amount of perfectly sound reasoning, drawn from the socially produced, signifying network of reality, will dissuade them. Or, even if they can acknowledge that their children are, in fact, not qualitatively different from literally millions of other children spread across the globe, they still find their own children different, exquisite, radically individuated from other kids. Paradoxically, they can even acknowledge that all of the aforementioned, reality-based characteristics apply to their children without sacrificing their fantasy about them. But what if we imagine a different approach? What if we work within the fantasy itself, extending it, attenuating it, stretching its limits to the point at which they snap? For instance, what if, one day, my daughter announces to me that she is absolutely unique and the best daughter in the world? Only now might I be tempted to tell her, and acknowledge to myself, that she is not so different from millions of other eleven-year-old girls, and, more importantly, only now will I momentarily accept the truth of this proposition. Of course, I will not permanently abandon my belief in that je ne sais quoi, that intangible something that is in her but more than her and exceeds any possible description or summing-up of my daughter. But her taking up of the terms of my fantasy and extending them from within might momentarily traverse the fantasy itself for me. What might a similar operation look like in a cultural text like Black Panther? This is precisely where the brilliance of the film’s representation of the Ancestral Land emerges. As Erik awakens in Oakland, we catch the film winking at us. It extends the cultural fantasy of an omnipresent capitalism beyond the grave, as if to say, “You didn’t really think that death would free you from neoliberal geopolitics or class struggle, did you?” Or, to state it bluntly: if your father, the King of Wakanda, dies in an attack on the UN building in New York City, your ancestral plane is nevertheless a mythic version of the east African savanna. But if your father, the king’s brother, violates the king’s wishes and consequently dies in a housing project in Oakland, California, as a militant member of the working class, then your ancestral plane is a housing project in Oakland. This traversal of the fantasy of a capitalism that can extend beyond death to colonize the afterworld brings us up short as viewers. We are forced to wrestle with the unthinkable possibility that death itself has fallen under the sway of class antagonisms. In the face of the possible succumbing of death to the logic of the marketplace, one hopes that the viewer recoils and can perhaps then assert that death, at least, will not be beholden to contemporary geopolitics, that death must “be” something else altogether.

What Is the Purpose of Your Visit? The same dialectical critique with which I investigated Black Panther can be extended to the 2017 Disney movie, Coco, with interesting results. Writing for the New York Times shortly after the film’s release, Reggie Ugwu published the article, “How Pixar Made Sure ‘Coco’ Was Culturally Conscious.” In it, he details the lengths to which Coco’s director, Lee Unkrich, who is white, went in attempting to avoid accusations of cultural appropriation in connection with the film. Unkrich reportedly “relied on several research trips to Mexico and the personal stories 175

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of Latino team members” to establish the film’s “specific geographic and sociological roots.” He and his team “also turned to an array of outside Latino cultural consultants to vet ideas and suggest new ones – upending a long-running studio tradition of strict creative lockdown.” One of the film’s producers, Darla Anderson, commented on the Coco team’s Latino/a consultants: “we really wanted their voice and their notes to make sure we got all the details correct.” Ugwu concludes his positive assessment of Coco’s cultural awareness by quoting Alex Nogales, an adviser on Coco and the president of watchdog group the National Hispanic Media Coalition, who says of the filmmakers: “They’re just representing who we are.” In spite of these precautions, Disney/Pixar did make the occasional misstep during production, as Cindy Rodriguez noted in a 2013 CNN article. That year, “the entertainment giant filed an application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to secure the phrase ‘Dia de los Muertos,” or “Day of the Dead,” across multiple platforms […] Disney hoped to secure the rights to the title ‘Day of the Dead’ and such themed merchandise as fruit preserves, fruit-based snacks, toys, games, clothing, footwear, backpacks, clocks and jewelry.” But the Latino/a community fought back via social media and an online petition, and Disney ultimately withdrew its trademark registration request. Rodriguez also noted that, in 2013, the Day of the Dead was added to the UNESCO list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, which raises the issue of how an “intangible heritage” can be copyrighted or privately owned. In spite of this attempted overreach by Disney, the movie Coco, like Black Panther, seems for the most part to have avoided accusations of cultural co-optation and appropriation. Whether or not Disney “accurately” or “respectfully” represented Día de los Muertos is ultimately not what interests me, though, and neither is Black Panther’s borrowings from various African countries’ cultural traditions. What fascinates me is the issue that the Ugwu article touches on only parenthetically. He writes that Coco’s filmmakers, at work during the Obama years, could not have foreseen the “rhetoric of President Trump, who disparaged Mexican immigrants and antagonized Mexico […] during the 2016 campaign, [and thereby] poured gasoline on an incendiary political debate just as the film was nearing completion.” Luckily, Ugwu notes, the “only borders it [Coco] depicts are metaphysical (skeletal customs agents make an appearance).” I want to linger over this seemingly innocuous final comment. First, it is worth being precise in this case. Early in the film, the main character, Miguel, strums a magical guitar that allows him to cross the flower petal bridge separating the living from the Land of the Dead. Having done so, he approaches a wall with the word “Bienvenidos” suspended above it in neon lettering. The wall is divided into a series of gates, each patrolled by an agent. The film then cuts from Miguel to a queue of living/dead skeletons waiting in line at a gate marked “Re-Entry,” where they must declare the offerings that their family left on their ofrendas (Day of the Dead altars) before re-entering the Land of the Dead. The agents at the re-entry gates are the “skeletal customs agents” mentioned by Ugwu, and the process of re-entering the Land of the Dead seems to be a mere formality. No one is turned away. Later, we discover that Miguel’s family even declares Miguel himself to customs and is still allowed to re-enter with him. However, now the film cuts to the “Departures” gate, where we watch a man and woman (living/dead skeletons) preparing to enter the living side of the border. A skeletal agent stops the couple, and the man and woman automatically draw themselves up and face the agent’s camera, attempting to hide their obvious anxiety and project confidence that they will be allowed to pass into the land of the living. The agent captures them on her screen, and we watch over her shoulder as she uses facial recognition software to verify that the two would-be émigrés are who they say they are. The agent’s machine confirms that the image of the couple matches images of them placed on their ofrendas by their children, and the couple is allowed to pass. They do so after 176

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smiling/sighing in relief. A few moments later, Héctor, whom we will later learn is Miguel’s grandfather, and who is disguised as Frida Kahlo in this scene, attempts to leave the Land of the Dead through the same “Departures” gate that the couple just used. The facial recognition software scans his face, sees beneath his disguise, and cannot find a matching image of him on an ofrenda in the Land of the Living, so he is denied entry. He nevertheless forces his way onto the bridge, only to be hauled back by additional agents and returned to the Land of the Dead. Notably, this agent who bars the dead from leaving their country is not a friendly “skeletal customs agent” but a Border Protection agent. If the agent worked on the US side of the US/Mexico border, then she would be working for the US Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP), which is housed in the US Department of Homeland Security. This is the agency that became infamous in 2017 for separating thousands of children from their families at the US/Mexico border. However, even before 2017, the CBP had garnered notoriety for killing at least 97 people at or near the border, the vast majority of them under suspicious circumstances, since it came into being in 2003 (Macaraeg). Although the Land of the Dead’s border protection agents are not literally CBP agents and are played for laughs in Coco, one has to wonder why they figure in the film at all. There is nothing inherently amusing about the CBP – in fact, just the opposite. Rather, what is played straight in Black Panther but played for humor in Coco is the darkly comedic possibility that such an agency would exist in the deathworld. In short, isn’t it amusingly ridiculous to imagine a CBP Agency patrolling the metaphysical line between life and death as if it were the US’s national boundary with Mexico? The spectator who is paying attention will also have noted that the dead need the equivalent of a photo ID/passport to enter the Land of the Living. The only twist is that rather than carrying their IDs, the deads’ images must appear on their alteras on the “living” side of the border. Again, an extremely dark humor manifests in the persistent need for the correct photo ID even after death, a comedic note repeated in the overworked and incompetent bureaucracy in the Land of the Dead, which mirrors the horror stories we associate in the US with visas, green cards, immigration issues, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service until 2003 and the CBP thereafter. Miguel and his family must visit a parallel bureaucracy in the Land of the Dead to correct what they think is an oversight (Miguel’s grandmother has been prevented from crossing the border, even though her family always places her photo on the ofrenda) but is actually merely the effect of the Border Protection Agency of the Land of the Dead fastidiously and officiously enforcing the laws that govern border crossing. (Miguel took the photo off his grandmother’s altera and is carrying it with him, so, technically, it’s now in the Land of the Dead.) When the family protests that this is merely a technicality, the bureaucrat who is working with them comments indirectly on the absurd nature of the institution that he works for, or perhaps that of the Land of the Dead itself: “I am terribly allergic […] And I don’t have a nose, and yet, here we are.” It is worth returning, now, to the question of how “culturally conscious” Coco is. Writing for The Washington Post, religion columnist Michelle Boorstein noted that Coco “posits a very specific afterlife, with unbreakable rules and regulations. While the backdrop is the Day of the Dead, the writers said they made up most of the world and its theology.” But if, as mentioned earlier, Pixar executive Darla Anderson consulted with numerous Latino/a advisers to “make sure [she] got all the details correct,” then did they succeed in this endeavor regarding the made-up theology? It’s tempting to ask why the addition of border patrol agents to the Land of the Dead doesn’t give anyone pause. As Boorstein writes, the Day of the Dead has “millenniaold roots in Aztec and Catholic traditions, among others” – but surely those roots don’t include legal prohibitions about immigrating or visiting neighboring nations. The border agents must 177

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be a glaring inaccuracy, right? Yet Boorstein argues that Coco’s popularity is based partly on its attractive and comforting image of an afterlife, and she turns to Rabbi Jason Weiner for a description of the logic that she finds expressed in the film: “The afterlife is totally just,” and “The primary experience [there] is of love” (Weiner, qtd. in Boorstein). Yet there are CBP agents who prohibit Héctor from crossing from the Land of the Dead into the Land of the Living. He has been forbidden to cross because the image of him that usually sits upon his family’s ofrenda has his head torn off. His body remains in the image, standing next to Miguel’s grandmother, but someone in his family understands the legal technicalities that govern the Land of the Dead and has removed his face. This renders useless the facial recognition software used at the border, which means that Héctor is repeatedly denied entrance to the Land of the Dead because of a legal technicality. In short, the afterlife’s bureaucracy does not operate according to “totally just” spiritual guidelines. Instead, it is very much like the kind of not merely incompetent but brutal and unjust US bureaucracy that separates children from their families at the US/Mexico border and then finds it “too difficult” to reunite them later, opting instead to funnel them through an adoption service linked to several high-ranking US government officials. Rather than a just afterlife that compensates one for an unjust life, the afterlife in Coco, like the ancestral plane in Black Panther, reproduces the same travails that earthly existence offered. At this point, we need to give this reading of Coco the same dialectical twist that we administered to Black Panther. What if we read the continuing existence of CBP agents after death not as the film’s failure but as its success? In other words, the problem is not that Coco’s deathworld doesn’t get the details of Mexican culture right, but that it gets them too right. On the one hand, we can upbraid the film’s creators for their inability to think beyond the brutality of the US’s CBP and at the very least subtract that agency from the afterlife. Are we truly so embedded within our neoliberal capitalist lifeworld that we cannot envision death itself as a domain not overseen by contemporary state apparatuses that compete with one another over all things economic, including where and when people are allowed to cross state boundaries? More briefly, are we incapable, even in our cultural imaginings, of positing different worlds not completely shot through with the logic of the capitalist and geopolitical flow of people, labor, goods, etc.? Of course, the film doesn’t take seriously its own CBP Agency. Its humor depends upon the unexpected appearance of such an agency even after death. But what if we take their posthumous existence more seriously than the film takes them? Rather than granting us a bad utopia in which all contradictions and struggles disappear, we might argue that the film seizes upon what we don’t expect to find in the afterlife and, like the latent content of a dream whose affect is distorted before it appears as the manifest content, the deathworld of Coco insists upon the endurance of border patrol agents, customs, the ghetto, and myriad other elements of contemporary capitalism but distorts them through humor. It is as if the film winks at us, and says, “Can you imagine that such a thing exists here, in the afterlife? Isn’t it funny? Yet, it must be here.” In other words, the triumph of maintaining these elements from the contemporary, worldstructuring, capitalist lifeworld signifies that the film’s invocation of a heaven is not a purely ideological move. If ideology operates by providing imaginary solutions to real problems, then the afterlife in Coco functions as a partial critique of ideology. It avoids the temptation of papering over all the social antagonisms that arise today in the US and Mexico when one thinks about national borders. In Coco, these issues are so painfully durable that they survive death itself, which is powerless against them. The point of this dialectical reading, in which the ideological critique inherent in Coco’s worldview emerges from the film’s apparent capitulation to the logic of capitalism, is not to cast the film as either a success or a failure, but rather both at the same time. In one register, it fails because it cannot conceive of a world not wholly imbued with the logic of capitalism. If, as I’ve been arguing, death is a limit case for our cultural 178

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imaginings, then Coco would seem to indicate that our social imaginary is utterly trapped within the status quo, within the workings of the world as it is. But in another register the film succeeds, because it attenuates the logic of the status quo to the point where it potentially collapses in on itself. The film makes explicit the contemporary fantasy that il n’y a dehors du capitalisme – that there is no “outside” to capitalism - and, in making this fantasy explicit, traverses it. Here is the point at which we can acknowledge that, in death at the very least, the logic of the market will not predominate, and it is at this point that we free ourselves from the phantasmatic support that a vision of ineluctable capitalism offers contemporary ideology. Instead, the film insists: if you don’t want to talk about the brutalities surrounding “border protection,” then don’t talk about Mexico. We seem, as a culture, unable to imagine an end to the neoliberal capitalism of our current historical moment. But, in a self-reflexive move, we might be able to catch sight of that inability itself. Isn’t that, ultimately, what Black Panther and Coco stage for us: our incapacity to think beyond the social antagonisms inherent to our globalized capitalist world? Read generously, these Disney films testify to our growing awareness that death itself no longer seems capable of freeing us from ghettos, displaced laborers and their children, and inhumane border protection agencies. Even in Disney films, these elements come back to us, insufficiently masked by the distorted affect that now clings to them: humorous skeletal agents; a bathetic spirit-father who cries in his posthumous Oakland cold-water flat. If Hollywood is a dream factory that has always included its share of nightmares, then the Disney arm of the factory specializes in the dreams that come closest to pure wish fulfillment. So it means something when Disney fails in its ideological mission and renders its failure visible in filmic images. But this also presents us with a challenge. If even Disney cannot picture a non-capitalist afterlife/ future, then how can we?

Works Cited Badiou, Alain. Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, translated by Peter Hallward. Verso, 2002. Black Panther. Directed by Ryan Coogler, performances by Chadwick Boseman and Lupita Nyong’o. Disney, 2018. Boorstein, Michelle. “How the Oscar-Winning ‘Coco’ and Its Fantastical Afterlife Forced Us to Talk About Death.” The Washington Post, 4 Mar. 2018. www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/03/ 04/coco-is-the-conversation-weve-been-avoiding-about-death-and-the-afterlife/?noredirect=on&utm_ term=.e767d847f934. Coco. Directed by Lee Unkrich, performances by Anthony Gonzalez and Alanna Ubach. Disney, 2017. Hustle & Flow. Directed by Craig Brewer, performances by Terrence Howard and Taryn Manning. Paramount, 2005. Lewis, A. David. “The Ancestral Lands of Black Panther and Killmonger Unburied.” Journal of Religion & Film, vol. 22, no. 1, 2018. https://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/jrf/vol22/iss1/39. Macaraeg, Sarah. “The Border Patrol Files: Fatal Encounters: 97 Deaths Point to Pattern of Border Agent Violence Across America.” The Guardian, 2 May 2018. www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/may/ 02/fatal-encounters-97-deaths-point-to-pattern-of-border-agent-violence-across-america. Accessed 16 July 2020. Mokoena, Dikeledi A. “Black Panther and the Problem of the Black Radical.” Africology: The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol. 11, no. 9, 2018, pp. 13–19. Rodriguez, Cindy. “Day of the Dead Trademark Request Draws Backlash for Disney.” CNN, 11 May 2013. www.cnn.com/2013/05/10/us/disney-trademark-day-dead/index.html. Accessed 16 July 2020. Ugwu, Reggie. “How Pixar Made Sure ‘Coco’ Was Culturally Conscious.” The New York Times, 19 Nov. 2017. www.nytimes.com/2017/11/19/movies/coco-pixar-politics.html. Accessed 16 July 2020. Žižek, Slavoj. On Belief. Routledge, 2009.

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17 SUICIDE IN THE EARLY MODERN ELEGIAC TRADITION Kelly McGuire

In Sleepless Souls: Suicide in Early Modern England, Michael MacDonald and Alexander Murphy argue that the sentimentalization of death in the eighteenth century fostered a certain degree of sympathy for suicide, reaching its “zenith” with the death of Thomas Chatterton in 1771 (191). MacDonald and Murphy are primarily concerned with the role of the periodical press in promoting a more “sympathetic and even sentimental outlook” on suicide (176), but other cultural forms such as the elegy also arguably participate in this shift from condemnation to regret. This essay situates suicide in relation to the English elegiac tradition, examining the complicated mourning the act entails and drawing upon theories of mourning, melancholia, and abjection to consider how poetry provides a space for representing and understanding an act that is so often thrust out of the realm of discourse altogether. With specific attention to Alexander Pope’s “Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady” (1717), this essay considers the following: Does suicide necessitate adjustments to the elegiac form, or is it easily accommodated by a tradition in which closure itself remains elusive? Does elegy help mediate the reception and framing of suicide as something to be mourned and treated with sympathy rather than condemnation? These questions are difficult to answer with any degree of satisfaction and certainty, but in opening up a discursive space for suicide, elegies like Pope’s participate in a cultural movement away from condemnation, or at the very least anticipate a shift in attitude. Elegy arguably opens up suicide to the realm of discourse, with an affective dimension that transcends the pain of loss registered in more typical works of mourning in which closure and acceptance are the inevitable end points. As such, elegy offers rhetorical and figural ways of dealing with suicide that may not be available through other literary forms. Traditional English elegy is both the poetry of death and the poetry of mourning. Conventional readings describe elegy as an attempt to complete the process of mourning, with the poem culminating in an acceptance of the beloved’s death and a revelation of the poet’s particular poetic power. In this sense, the death of the other sets the stage for the emergence of the self and birth of a voice that is both original and highly derivative (insofar as the poet assumes his or her place in relation to previous elegists). Written in 1637 as part of a collection of poems mourning the young clergyman Edward King’s death by drowning, John Milton’s “Lycidas” is emblematic of this tradition, as its opening extended conceit finds the poet lamenting that he has been called too soon to assume the poetic mantle. 180

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Yet once more, O ye laurels, and once more Ye myrtles brown, with ivy never sere, I come to pluck your berries harsh and crude, And with forc’d fingers rude Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year. Bitter constraint and sad occasion dear Compels me to disturb your season due; For Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime, Young Lycidas, and hath not left his peer. (lines 1–9) Like Lycidas, who has been called to an early grave, Milton’s persona conveys a sense of unease that his introduction to the poetic scene is premature, as he has been thrust out into an early blossoming at the very moment of his friend’s death. As such, creativity is born from death, which becomes the stage of the poet’s emergence, albeit accompanied by insecurities that Lycidas “hath not met his peer.” The remainder of the poem, however, reveals that the speaker is more than equipped to pursue his vocation. The crushing of the berries reads retrospectively as a kind of humility topos after the poem has been successfully completed and the emergent poet’s worth clearly established. At the same time, the violence of the image – with reference to “shatter[ing]” with “forc’d fingers rude” the poetic laurel leaves – becomes a vehicle for affect that conveys the rupture of death and the intensity of the speaker’s grief at his friend’s untimely death. I begin this essay with “Lycidas” precisely because of this untimely death and the difficulties it presents for poetic mourning as well as, arguably, its correspondences with suicide. If Lycidas’s untimely death by drowning can be assimilated into the natural world (a point the trajectory of the poem moves us toward), then might not suicide function analogously with writing on accidental death – in the specific sense that elegy responds to deaths that are themselves fundamentally or at least initially resistant to acceptance? For instance, W. B. Yeats’s 1918 poem “In Memory of Major Robert Gregory” commemorates a friend killed during World War I while serving as a pilot. Like Milton, Yeats wrestles with the problem of premature death, summed up in the question “What made us dream that he could comb grey hair?” (line 88). Like Milton’s Lycidas, the early death of someone whom Yeats describes as “all life’s epitome” ultimately proves unmournable, however, as the loss of Major Gregory is described as a “late death [that] took all [the poet’s] heart for speech” (line 87; 96). Indeed, as Karen Weisman has observed, “the limits of poetic utterance have surfaced as recurrent motifs in elegy throughout its history” (1). Elegy in this sense is organized around a central paradox: the speaker laments the insufficiency of expression in the context of a highly formalized and typically linguistically rich poem. That said, where Milton’s speaker is able to prevail over his early misgivings and effectively mourn Lycidas into his grave, Yeats’s poem lacks the same degree of closure, although his autobiographical, aging persona may have something to do with the sense of resignation (rather than commitment to renewal) that closes the poem. Both Milton’s and Yeats’s poems invite consideration of the parallels between mourning suicide and mourning an accident. Medical theorists maintain that both events entail a “complicated grief,” the clinical term for a grief “that remains persistent and intense and does not transition into integrated grief ” (Young 177). A 2018 psychological study affirms that “families grieving a sudden, traumatic death are at increased risk for a number of poor mental health outcomes, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and prolonged, or complicated, grief disorder” (Williams 377). No loss is easy to accept, but these sudden deaths are particularly unsettling to the psyche. However, where the death of the young as a result of accident or sickness is frequently the subject of early modern elegy, the stigma 181

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surrounding suicide often banishes it from the realm of discourse and renders it an “unseemly” subject for elegiac treatment prior to the twentieth century. For this reason, Pope’s “Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady” stands out as deserving of attention and scrutiny, as a work that opens up a space for suicide within the elegiac tradition. Critically neglected since Howard Weinbrot’s 1971 essay, Pope’s poem remains a landmark elegy on the subject of voluntary death. The poem begins with an eerily gothic scene by moonlight in which the speaker confronts a ghost apparently eager to commune with him. Although the poem does not divulge the identity of the ghost, the speaker’s exclamation “Tis she!” in the third line indicates that she is known to the speaker, although whether she is in fact based on any specific individual known to Pope remains inconclusive. As Ruben Quintero argues, “it is enough for the reader to know that the lady has suffered from unfortunate circumstances, on foreign soil, away from home and friends, and that she has been driven to self-destruction, for whatever reasons. Biographical particulars need not be present, nor have they cause to exist” (95).1 For Quintero and David Vieth,2 the poem’s focus rests squarely on the poet’s own psyche, with the lady’s suicide merely serving as a catalyst for affect.3 However, this reading sidesteps the relevance of voluntary death for the form of elegy, which was certainly noticed by Pope’s contemporaries who objected strongly to his sympathetic treatment of the “lady” for having done something as “un-Christian” as taking her own life; Samuel Johnson in particular objected to the fact that Pope’s poem had “drawn much attention by the illaudable singularity of treating suicide with respect” (3: 226). Pope’s elegy goes further than other suicide elegies in giving presence to the dead. Appearing as a ghost in the poem, the lady is able to communicate through gestural language that the speaker’s questions illuminate in the opening lines: What beck’ning ghost, along the moon-light shade Invites my steps, and points to yonder glade?’ Tis she! – but why that bleeding bosom gor’d, Why dimly gleams the visionary sword? Oh ever beauteous, ever friendly! tell, Is it, in heav’n, a crime to love too well? (lines 1–6) The “beck’ning ghost” remains voiceless, available to us only through the speaker’s inward struggle to comprehend what he sees. The first two questions receive implicit answers in the opening couplets, with the pronouncement “’Tis she!” marking the speaker’s recognition of the lady but concealing her identity from the reader. The second question, “Why dimly gleams the visionary sword?” receives a response in the form of yet another (this time, rhetorical) question, “Is it, in heav’n, a crime to love too well?” that acknowledges her suicide, while exonerating it as an act of love. The questioning mode thus gives us access to the poet’s wonder while highlighting the dramatic tensions of the scene in question. Pope’s elegy is notable for taking a deceased woman as its subject. As a form that has traditionally involved male poets commemorating fellow male poets, from “Lycidas” through “In Memoriam” and Yeats’s “In Memory of Major Robert Gregory,” elegy is clearly gendered. Male friendship is the standard focus of the English elegiac tradition, which is contoured in this sense around the homosocial. As such, women are typically neither mourner nor mourned in the public spaces of elegiac discourse, especially in the pastoral tradition. Celeste Schenck elucidates, “The funeral elegy is, from its inception in the poetry of Theocritus and his followers, Bion and Moschus, a resolutely patriarchal genre: a song sung over the bier of a friend-forebear in order both to lay the ancestor to rest and to seize the pipes of pastoral poetry from his barely cold hands” (13). Pope provides an alternative to this somewhat self-serving tradition, first in predicting the silencing of his own poetic 182

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voice at the poem’s end, and second in commemorating a woman who herself was deemed by her family unworthy of the rites of burial or the “kind domestic tear” (line 49). Elegy in this sense is compensatory, standing in for the failure of the lady’s family to mourn her death adequately. Pope issues a challenge to the framing of suicide as a sinful act by invoking the Roman example of mors voluntaria and assimilating the woman’s suicide into the literary framework of romance, rejecting the notion that it can be a crime to “love too well.” Even as Pope introduces suicide into the realm of elegy, he opens up a space for imagining female voluntary death, which has historically been read as invisible or unimaginable, given a woman’s close ties to her family. As Howard Kushner writes, assumptions that “women were insulated from suicide to the extent that they were subsumed within the bounds of traditional family life” have a long history and were merely codified in nineteenthcentury sociological investigations of suicide (38–39). By foregrounding the conditions of gender inequality that led to the suicide of the “unfortunate lady,” Pope suggests that women are not only valid subjects of elegy, but are in fact also more than capable of taking their lives, especially when rendered desperate by familial interference in matters of the heart (as Pope’s backstory suggests). Pope’s elegy attempts to mitigate the lady’s culpability by blaming nature, which “bade her die” and “pow’rs” that caused her soul to “aspire/Above the vulgar flight of low desire” (lines 11–12). He constructs her as both an anachronism playing the “Roman’s part” and an exceptional figure whose passions render her fate inevitable, as a “purer spirit” or woman of feeling unfit for the sublunary world (lines 8; 25). In the following stanza, the shift of focus to the lady’s family in turn transfers the burden of blame to the lady’s “false guardian” whose soul, in contrast, is represented as “steel’d” by the furies (lines 29; 41). In the succeeding lines, the poet’s indignant curse conjures up a dire vision of the demise of the family line through the image of an endless line of hearses bearing the unmourned dead. Here, Pope channels the apocalypticism seen in later poems like The Dunciad in a stanza that positions the lady as a victim, her suicide the result of a moral failure of feeling on the part of her guardians. The indignant defense of the elegized victim here anticipates the anger of Shelley in Adonais, in attributing the early death of John Keats to disappointment over poor reviews rather than complications from consumption. However, whereas all of nature mourns the death of the poet in Shelley’s mythopoeic and pastoral treatment, the “unfortunate lady” of Pope’s work is denied even this most elemental of rites, not owing to her suicide as much as to the failings of her family that precipitated her death in the first place. Pope’s elegy thus has a compensatory function and unfolds almost as an inversion of Milton’s “Lycidas,” in which a lengthy funeral procession honors the drowned subject and is capped by none other than St. Peter himself, the “Pilot of the Galilean lake” (109). In contrast, Pope’s poem initially laments that the lady was deprived these very rites: What can atone (oh ever-injur’d shade!) Thy fate unpitied, and thy rites unpaid? No friend’s complaint, no kind domestic tear Pleas’d thy pale ghost, or grac’d thy mournful bier. (lines 47–50) Indeed, these lines are contoured by absence, as “no friend” and “no kind domestic tear” mourn the loss of the unnamed woman. But in what follows, the consolation Pope extends to the lady consists in rejecting funereal rites as ultimately meaningless and superficial as he proceeds in his questioning vein: What though no friends in sable weeds appear, Grieve for an hour, perhaps, then mourn a year, And bear about the mockery of woe To midnight dances, and the public show? (lines 55–58) 183

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The yoking of the words “woe” and “show” in the final couplet of these lines underscores Pope’s critique of eighteenth-century mourning practices, and posits a distinction between grieving as a private, authentic response to loss and mourning as a prolonged, public performance of grief. This is a distinction that Jonathan Swift satirizes to great effect in “Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift,” in which his professed friends find it impossible to sustain their grief, distracted as they are by the rounds of diversions of the day.4 Pope in turn imagines grief being swallowed up by eighteenth-century material culture that commodifies mourning in the form of “polish’d marble”: What though no weeping loves thy ashes grace, Nor polish’d marble emulate thy face? What though no sacred earth allow thee room, Nor hallow’d dirge be mutter’d o’er thy tomb? (lines 59–62) The anaphoric “What though” construction evokes the excesses often associated with Westminster Abbey and with the larger monument culture of the day, critiqued by many as insincere, with the material displacing and ultimately taking the place of affect. In this sense, Pope’s poem anticipates Thomas Gray’s mid-century “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” which celebrates the pastoral resting place of the humble over the “fretted vault” of the “proud” (lines 37–39). Gray’s consolation to the poor also comes in the form of a rhetorical question: “Can Honour’s voice provoke the silent dust,/Or Flatt’ry soothe the dull cold ear of Death?” (lines 43–44), which also seems to deny the consolatory function intrinsic to the arc of elegy. However, the stakes are higher in Pope’s poem, as he is not merely lamenting the lack of memorialization of the poor; the “lady” commemorated here seemingly forfeits her right to the “polish’d marble” and “hallow’d dirge” that her social rank suggests she might otherwise claim, because of the manner of her death. While suicide denies her burial in “sacred earth,” Pope nonetheless expresses his hope, “Yet shall thy grave with rising flow’rs be drest,/And the green turf lie lightly on thy breast” (lines 63–64). Pope invokes the pastoral resting place in Christian burial that recalls the floral tribute to Lycidas, for whom “[t]he musk-rose, and the well attir’d woodbine,/With cowslips wan that hang the pensive head … strew the laureate hearse” (lines 146–51). The image of peace and tranquility established by the affirmation “[y]et shall […] the green turf lie lightly on thy breast” is belied by the poem’s context, in which the wandering ghost of the lady draws upon folkloric belief that, far from resting easy, suicides walked the earth unless they were buried at a crossroads with a stake through their heart and stones on their eyes, as was the practice in Britain until 1834 (McDonald and Murphy 47). However, in imagining a tranquil resting place for the lady, Pope rejects these practices and substitutes of inauthentic and stylized affect for a more sincere expression of grief in his elegy. In the process, Pope arguably rehabilitates elegy, albeit ironically and unexpectedly, in the service of paying tribute to suicide. Pope directly confronts the problem of authenticity, the traditional bugbear of elegy. If elegy represents a stylization of mourning – an attempt to filter loss through a poetic lens – then does it not involve a performance of grief that establishes a distance between the poetic persona and the subject of the elegy that in turn modulates the mourning into something less than sincere? As Samuel Johnson famously averred, “where there is leisure for fiction there is little for grief ” (218). Johnson was responding to the pastoral mode of “Lycidas,” which seemed to court artificiality and contrivance more severely than less traditional elegies like Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” From this perspective, the translation of loss into language is redolent with self-indulgence, as has been the traditional criticism of the politics of mourning 184

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in poems such as Milton’s Lycidas, P. B. Shelley’s Adonais, and other formal verse elegies that assimilate death into a rigorously structured and repetitive affair.5 Although Peter Sacks identifies repetition as a hallmark of the form, both in the sense of internal lamenting refrains as seen in Adonais and echoing of earlier works in each successive attempt,6 Pope’s elegy, on the contrary, recognizes the impossibility of identifying with and hence repeating earlier iterations of the form. Despite this almost defiant stance in his break from tradition, Pope ultimately appears to accept defeat. At the end of the poem, Pope’s speaker admits to the impossibility of reassurance and commemoration, with his final vision pertaining to his own death and the passing into forgetfulness of his Muse and the unfortunate lady. Poets themselves must fall, like those they sung, Deaf the prais’d ear, and mute the tuneful tongue. Ev’n he, whose soul now melts in mournful lays, Shall shortly want the gen’rous tear he pays; Then from his closing eyes thy form shall part, And the last pang shall tear thee from his heart, Life’s idle business at one gasp be o’er, The Muse forgot, and thou belov’d no more! (lines 75–82) Thus Weinbrot contends that it is “the pious, calm, and consistently moral Alexander Pope who shows us the dangers of such a state of mind and the dreadful implications for the unfortunate Lady, among them the impossibility of poetic mourning: she has no poet and is dead” (267). However, I would argue that the speaker’s “gen’rous tear” models a sympathetic treatment of suicide that anticipates the literature of sensibility later in the eighteenth century. In Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith famously characterized the ability to imaginatively identify with the dead as the epitome of sympathetic engagement: “The tribute of our fellow-feeling seems doubly due to them now, when they are in danger of being forgot by everybody; and, by the vain honours which we pay to their memory, we endeavour, for our own misery, artificially to keep alive our melancholy remembrance of their misfortune” (102). Pope’s ability to imagine himself (or at least his literary persona) at the moment of death arguably constitutes the kind of sympathetic engagement Smith envisions. The consolation Pope offers is that of a shared mortality that levels the difference between voluntary and nonvoluntary death, presenting suicide as a death that is in fact mournable and compatible with elegiac expression. In this sense, Pope’s foreclosure of mourning does not, as Weinbrot suggests, signal the insufficiency of elegy as a form intended to bring consolation, but rather achieves the kind of identification imagined by Smith: to modify Weinbrot’s characterization, the lady has a poet and he too is dead at the poem’s end, with the poem itself persisting as an act of memorialization beyond the grave. Whereas Milton’s “uncouth swain” rises at the end of his day of lament with the resolve of venturing off “to fresh woods, and pastures new” (line 193), Pope’s poet imagines his own end. Although the final exclamation that in his last moments he will forget the muse and the lady will no longer be beloved, his surrender to death instead conveys a sense of identification, a refusal to give up the object that Sigmund Freud characterizes as melancholic in his essay on the subject. If traditional elegy completes the work of mourning in the manner exemplified by “Lycidas,” Pope’s integration of suicide into elegy suggests that this endeavor is not quite so straightforward. At first glance, Pope’s poem anticipates the tendency of modern elegy, which Jahan Ramazani observes tends “to enact the work not of normative but of ‘melancholic’ 185

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mourning” (4). According to Ramazani, there is a refusal of consolation and closure in these works, to the point that they are often characterized as “anti-elegiac,” resembling not so much a “suture as an ‘open wound’” (4), which was Freud’s image for melancholia. Similarly, Pope’s refusal of reconciliation and his speaker’s own refusal to “mourn and move on” also affirms mourning as a kind of aporia, especially in relation to suicide. The spectral haunting on the part of the subject of Pope’s elegy suggests that death persists and cannot be as easily contained and exorcised as in formal verse elegy. As Anne Fogarty observes in her study of contemporary elegy, this ongoing relationship with the dead reflects a different formulation of mourning that Freud moved toward in his later work on “The Ego and the Id,” published six years after his original influential essay on object loss. Fogarty notes that mourning and melancholia in “this new account of the formation of the self are not conceived of as antithetical states, but rather are seen as intersecting impetuses within the psyche. Grief and loss are no longer conditions that need to be vanquished or banished. Instead, they reside at the very core of consciousness” (214). Although this development in Freud’s thought acknowledges loss as constitutive of the ego, the earlier formulation of melancholia as pathological inheres in literary criticism of the elegy as a genre, cemented in part by Sacks’s definitive study The English Elegy. However, this paradigm works best for so-called masculine elegy, which Schenck observes “rests upon timeless patterns of succession and transcendence” (23). In honoring a female subject who has taken her life, Pope’s elegy works outside the homosocial tradition and stages an encounter with the dead informed by presence rather than absence, as in “Lycidas” (wherein the unrecovered body of the drowned subject initially impedes the poet’s attempt to come to terms with the death of his friend). The absence of the body merely prefigures the poem’s evacuation of Lycidas through the completion of the work of mourning, as death becomes the stage for the emergence of a new creative voice. Elegy, in this sense, somewhat counterintuitively involves what Harold Bloom refers to as a “refusal of mortality” in that the emphasis ultimately falls on continuity and literary succession, with boundaries between the living and the dead redrawn and reaffirmed at the poem’s end.7 Pope’s elegy refuses abjection in this sense, as the dead linger on and the poet figure confronts his own mortality, forgetting both his muse and the subject of his elegy in the shared oblivion of the final line.8 In her work on Pope and gender ideology, Carole Fabricant examines the various contradictions within Pope’s poetic engagements with women, and attributes to his “peculiar brand of marginality” his “equivocal” position “within the sexual hierarchy and the patriarchal structure of the eighteenth century” (526). Although critics of Pope from Alistair Fowler to Maynard Mack insist that Pope’s “feminizing” series of illnesses and disability rendered him sympathetic to women in his poetry, others including Ellen Pollak and Helene Deutsch find his portrayal of women tainted by misogyny and tending to appropriate a feminine perspective to advance his own agenda. Fabricant suggests that Pope’s “Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady” models some of these contradictions in representing the lady as a “heroic victim of a familial system in which an uncle-guardian has power over the life and fate of his niece-ward, including the right to decide who should be her husband” (508). Pope’s focus on a woman’s death certainly breaks from the English verse elegy tradition, even as he brings suicide into a social conversation that too often excludes it as an act that defies imagination and comprehension. In this sense, Pope’s elegy prefigures a relationship with death and suicide that looks ahead to the graveyard poets of the mid-century, and more strikingly, still further to Charlotte Smith’s Elegiac Sonnets (1784), which for the most part deal with melancholy occasioned by autobiographical circumstances. In the process of fusing the elegy with the sonnet, Smith displaces the traditional preoccupation of the sonnet with love in favor of death and absorption with the

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self. The sonnets are “elegiac” in terms of their melancholic preoccupation with death and resemble Pope’s poem in their refusal of consolation. In one particularly evocative poem, “Sonnet XLIV: Written in the Church-yard at Middleton, in Sussex,” Smith imagines a sea surge tearing “from their grassy tombs the village dead/And break [ing] the silent sabbath of the grave” (lines 7–8). Unlike the pastoral resting place envisioned by Gray and yearningly invoked by Pope’s elegy, Smith’s churchyard becomes a space of upheaval and sublime fury. Yet even amidst the scene of chaos as the disinterred remains of the deceased mingle with “shells and sea-weed … on the shore,” Smith envies their “gloomy rest,” while she is left to contend with “life’s long storm” (lines 9; 13–14). Here and elsewhere in the poems, Smith arguably draws upon the “softening” of attitudes toward suicide in expressing a kind of death wish or impatience to leave the world, as evident in the closing couplet from “Sonnet IV: To the Moon,” “Oh! That I soon may reach thy world serene,/Poor wearied pilgrim – in this toiling scene!” (lines 13–14). Though Smith’s sonnet is preoccupied with the self, she nonetheless opens up a space for the contemplation of the other in the form of the controversial but highly popular character Werther, from Goethe’s 1774 novella, The Sorrows of Young Werther. Through a series of sonnets spoken in the voice of Werther, Smith offers access to Werther’s interiority as he considers suicide and imagines how his beloved Charlotte would mourn his death. Smith’s voice in these sonnets dissolves entirely into that of Werther’s, who becomes a kind of outlet for expressing suicidal ideation that may have been particularly unwelcome from a woman during that period. Indeed, in Charles Moore’s Full Inquiry into the Subject of Suicide (1790), he singles out “the plaintive Charlotte Smith” for specific criticism, claiming she has “bestowed too much honour on Werther, by presenting no less than five of her tender elegiac sonnets in [his] person … which though well aligned to the feelings of its supposed writer, yet ten[d] to increase and give (sanction to the act)” (151). In the opening line of Sonnet XXIV, Werther envisions a natural tomb “beneath the lime-tree’s shade” that, much like the grave of Pope’s “unfortunate lady,” is devoid of memorial mark. Unlike Pope’s unnamed subject, Werther’s death is mourned by Charlotte, whom he imagines “embalming” his tomb with her tears (line 12). A proleptic mourning thus takes place in the sonnets as the elegy turns back on itself, with the would-be suicide giving primacy to Charlotte, the survivor, who takes her place as a woman of feeling, performing the sensibility that Pope’s own speaker embraces in his poem. Both works are striking in imagining an afterlife for the suicidal figure; Pope’s “unfortunate lady” communes with the poet as a spectral presence, while Smith employs prosopopoeia to give Werther a voice from beyond (or before) the grave. Smith and Pope thus reveal the flexibility of the elegy as a form that not only accommodates suicide as an idea but also mourns the individuals who perform the action, thereby suggesting an outlook on death that is at once more authentic and utterly more complicated than the typical terms of the English elegy. Although literary critics almost unanimously agree that the self of the poet inevitably eclipses the ostensible subject of traditional elegiac poems (who in this sense dies twice), writing on suicide poses a challenge to the ascendancy of self in these poems. The death of the other that comes about in a way that is not inevitable or assimilable to the “natural course of events,” as in a poem like Milton’s “Lycidas,” renders suicide elegy itself something inescapably other and sui generis, confronting death in a way that is persistent and ongoing.

Notes 1 2

Quintero suggests that it is the poet’s own state of mind that is the focus of the poem, more than the subject of suicide or the lady herself. As Vieth notes, “Students of Pope now seem agreed that the ‘lady’ of the Elegy is a fiction, but that Pope wished his readers to think her story was true. What this situation strongly suggests is that the

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3 4 5 6 7 8

Elegy is a work of ‘entrapment’ – that is, a work whose peculiar intention is to provoke maximum reader involvement rather than to convey a theme” (426). Laura Linker ventures still further in suggestively reading the poem as a covert Jacobite expression of mourning for the Stuart line, represented allegorically as the “unfortunate lady” betrayed by her hardhearted family, which stands in as a metaphor for England. Swift imagines a period following his death in which his friends’ periods of mourning measure their affection for him: “Poor Pope will grieve a month, and Gay/A week, and Arbuthnot a day” (lines 207–08). For some critics and readers, Shelley’s relentless refrain, “Oh, weep for Adonais – he is dead!” loses its emotive power with each repetition and becomes gratingly histrionic as the poem continues. As Sacks writes, “repetition itself and the submission to codes are crucial elements of the work of mourning, and the most successful elegists are in fact those least afraid to repeat the traditional procedures of the genre” (326). In this sense, not only does his poem embrace melancholia as a more authentic condition than mourning, it refuses to push death to the margins and render it abject. Theorists such as Julia Kristeva see mourning as a kind of betrayal, embracing melancholia as a more authentic condition. The final turn is ironic, given the prominence of memory in the poem’s title and the theme of memorialization more generally.

Works Cited Bloom, Harold. The Map of Misreading. Oxford UP, 1975. Fabricant, Carole. “Defining Self and Others: Pope and Eighteenth-Century Gender Ideology.” Criticism: A Quarterly for Literature and the Arts, vol. 39, no. 4, 1997, pp. 503–529. Fogarty, Anne. “‘Hear Me and Have Pity’: Rewriting Elegy in the Poetry of Paula Meehan.” An Sionnach: A Journal of Literature, Culture, and the Arts, vol. 5, no. 1, 2009, pp. 213–225. Freud, Sigmund. The Freud Reader, edited by Peter Gay. Norton, 1995. Gray, Thomas. “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” The Poems of Thomas Gray, William Collins, and Oliver Goldsmith, edited by Roger Lonsdale. Longmans, 1969. Johnson, Samuel. The Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets. London, 1779–1781, pp. 218–220. Kristeva, Julia. Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia, translated by Leon Roudiez. Columbia UP, 1989. Kushner, Howard I. “Suicide, Gender, and the Fear of Modernity.” Histories of Suicide: International Perspectives on Self-Destruction in the Modern World. U of Toronto P, 2009. Linker, Laura. “The Poetics of Loss: Grieving for England in Pope’s ‘Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady.’” ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews, vol. 27, no. 1, 2014, pp. 1–4. McDonald, Michael, and Alexander Murphy. Sleepless Souls: Suicide in Early Modern England. Oxford UP, 1990. Milton, John. The Complete Major Works, edited by Stephen Orgel. Oxford UP, 2008. Moore, Charles. A Full Inquiry into the Subject of Suicide. Vol. 2. London, 1790. Pope, Alexander. “Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady.” 1717. The Poems of Alexander Pope. A One-Volume Version of the Twickenham Text, edited by John Butt. Routledge, 1965, pp. 262–264. Quintero, Ruben. Literate Culture: Pope's Rhetorical Art. U of Delaware P, 1992. Ramazani, Jahan. The Poetry of Mourning: The Modern Elegy from Hardy to Heaney. U of Chicago P, 1994. Sacks, Peter. The English Elegy: Studies in the Genre from Spenser to Yeats. Johns Hopkins UP, 1985. Schenck, Celeste M. “Feminism and Deconstruction: Re-Constructing the Elegy.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, vol. 5, no. 1, Spring 1986, pp. 13–27. Shelley, P. B. Shelley’s ‘Adonais’: A Critical Edition, edited by Anthony D. Knerr. Columbia UP, 1984. Smith, Adam. “Theory of Moral Sentiments.” Scottish Philosophy: Selected Readings, 1690–1960, edited by Gordon Graham. Imprint Academic, 2004. Smith, Charlotte. The Poems of Charlotte Smith. Edited by Stuart Curran. Women Writers in English, 1350–1850. Oxford UP, 1993. Swift, Jonathan. “Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift.” The Writings of Jonathan Swift, edited by Robert A. Greenberg and William B. Piper. W. W. Norton, 1973, pp. 550–561. Vieth, David M. “Entrapment in Pope’s Elegy.” Studies in English Literature, 1500 –1900, vol. 23, no. 3, 1983, pp. 425–434.

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Suicide in the Elegiac Tradition Weinbrot, Howard D. “Pope’s ‘Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady.’” Modern Language Quarterly, vol. 32, 1971, pp. 255–267. Weisman, Karen. “Introduction.” The Oxford Handbook of the Elegy. Oxford UP, 2010. Williams, Joah L., et al. “Prevalence and Correlates of Suicidal Ideation in a Treatment-Seeking Sample of Violent Loss Survivors.” Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, vol. 39, no. 5, 2018, pp. 377–385. Yeats, W. B. The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats. Edited by Richard Finneran. Scribner, 1996. Young, Ilanit Tal, et al. “Suicide Bereavement and Complicated Grief.” Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, vol. 14, no. 2, 2012, pp. 177–186.

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18 INSTITUTIONS AND ELEGIES Viewing the Dead in W. B. Yeats and John Wieners Barry Sheils and Julie Walsh

Readers of modern elegiac verse are well accustomed to encountering the architecture, implements, and institutional paraphernalia of a hospital ward: the “wheeled chair” in Wilfred Owen’s “Disabled” (152–54); “steadfast walls” in Siegfried Sassoon’s “The Death Bed” (37–38); the “stark dignity of entrance” in William Carlos Williams’s “Spring and All” (45). In “Sillyhow Stride,” an elegy for his sister (as well as the musician Warren Zevon), Paul Muldoon details the “crepusculine X-rays,” “out-of-date blister packs,” and the “vinyl caul” of the oxygen mask (99). Muldoon’s is a thick description against the now-generic backdrop of institutional white. “Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in” exclaims Sylvia Plath in “Tulips” (142); “white as aspirin buries its hospital waste,” concurs D. A. Powell (20). White signals hygiene and anonymity, offering to Plath a palliative, though to others the provocation of sterility and indifference. For Marianne Boruch “[the hospital] seems so –/I don’t know. It seems/as if the end of the world/has never happened in here” (II: 19). And because the institution is a process as well as a place, it interferes with the poet’s annotation of death. Not only are dying bodies sustained beyond their “natural” moment, deaths are often accounted for systematically in advance: “The hospital clerk/Took out a fresh form of admission/And filled it in, mark upon mark.” (Pasternak 71). In this chapter we ask how poetic elegy encodes the modern institutional spaces of dying. But rather than visiting the hospital ward, we consider this at one remove, from the perspective of another modern institution where the aesthetic and natural-scientific, as well as political, dimensions of the relation between the living and the dead are made apparent: namely, the museum gallery.1 In addition to pointing out the structural similarity between the public spaces of the hospital ward and the art museum, and acknowledging their historical status as imperial institutions, we make a claim for their importance to a modern elegiac consciousness.2 More specifically, we turn to the examples of W. B. Yeats and John Wieners as two poets for whom the gallery affords the most vital occasion for encountering the dead. This is a study of poetic influence, yet it is also a study that allows us to move from questions of personal style to impersonal and institutionally framed modes of transmission. Such staples of the elegy genre as memory and inheritance are precisely what the sites and practices of institutional modernity force us to re-evaluate. We will see how both poets occupy the public space of the art gallery; and how this space, laden with a multiplicity of objects, calls for a dynamic (even erotic) interaction between bodies and objects, living and dead. The art gallery is where both poets displace and spatially redistribute their grief. 190

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The Visual Space of Modern Elegy As Foucault famously put it, the clinic is where bodies and eyes meet (xi). From the patient-asportrait framed by the furniture of the family home, to the body in the modern hospital ward subject to the “free gaze” of the doctor looking for symptoms across and among patients, the vitality of modern disease is such that it cannot belong to one person’s life (61). Foucault’s genealogy is well known, but we would like to ask what the impersonal worldview it describes might mean for poetic elegy. We think there are three significant factors worth bearing in mind. Firstly, that modern elegy enters the visual field in a certain way: death has to be seen and formally recognized in language. Though attitudes to seeing dead bodies remain culturally various, a correlation may yet be argued between the modern tendency toward not looking or not being able to look at the familiar dead and the increased scrutiny of corpses. Secondly, modern expressions of grief are necessarily underwritten by the impersonality of science, which recognizes death through the discrepant registers of population and symptomatic cause. In other words, as well as being mourned, the dead person is subject to being both more and less than herself: by turns generalized and divided into parts. Thirdly, medical modernity invites us to restate and reimagine the paradox performed by every elegy, namely the interaction between an actual death and the ongoing liveliness of the language that records it. Jahan Ramazani has suggested that the modern elegist is melancholically disposed to resist the “normative” consolations of mourning (xi–xii). Across the history of twentieth- and twenty-first-century English-language verse, there has been a shift away from the traditional or religious demands of ancestry – the passing-on from one recognizable human likeness to another – toward something more violent and discontinuous. This resistance is a feminist imperative, as Ramazani’s invocation of Sylvia Plath’s self-murder through her ancestors implies. It is also perhaps a queer one. Indeed, whether or not one follows Dylan Thomas as he refuses the impulse to “Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London” (172), his stance can be read as a fundamental question of identity, insofar as who one is, is not unrelated to how one grieves. This is stated impressively by Freud in his essay “Mourning and Melancholia,” when he writes that the melancholic “knows whom he has lost but not what he has lost in him” (245). For Freud the melancholic is sick: having transferred the loss of a loved one into a form of self-impoverishment, he is unable to mourn. And yet the melancholic also exhibits the “shameless,” questing vitality of ambivalence (the uncertainties of love and hate directed at the missing other who is now partially lodged inside the self). Considered within the melancholic frame, then, the named dead – Plath’s “Daddy”; Tennyson’s “A.H.H.” – cannot contain the vitality of the grief for which they stand as the occasion. There is an inexhaustible agitation to melancholia, and it’s this which over recent decades has been reclaimed as a potential cultural value (see Crimp Melancholia; Butler) and which provides the force for Ramazani’s recalcitrant elegist. The poet-as-melancholic does not simply endorse the integrity of the person or thing gone; rather, she attaches to loss and transmits, through the space it creates, a new form of self-interest. The canonical evidence is plentiful that elegies are characteristically auto-affective in this regard, often dramatizing the living body learning to enjoy itself in and through the absence of the dead. Consider one of Thomas Hardy’s famous elegies for Emma Gifford, “After a Journey”: Hereto, I come to view a voiceless ghost; Whither, O wither will its whim now draw me? 191

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Up the cliff, down, till I’m lonely lost, And the unseen waters’ ejaculations awe me. (328) In these opening lines the sorrowful and the formally spritely coincide as the speaker is drawn forward into a familiar yet indefinite space. It’s not simply the descriptive dynamism that appeals, but also the intensity of the language, from the heavy alliteration, to the exclamation “Whither, O wither,” to the water’s “ejaculations” coupled with the poet’s “awe.” Here, loss-turning-to-bewilderment cannot conceal a further force of re-found excitement; there is a thrill to the language by which the poet seems to become more present to himself through the implicit address of his dead other. As he asks in stanza two: “What have you now found to say of our past –/Scanned across the dark space wherein I have lacked you?” It’s in the space of her silence that he realizes his own composition. Indeed, the poem ends, in the dark of Emma’s “thin ghost” and the frailty of the speaker’s grief, with a much fuller sense of the poet’s living coordination: “Trust me, I mind not, though Life lours/The bringing me here; nay, bring me here again!/I am just the same as when/Our days were a joy, and our paths through flowers.” With Hardy’s affirmation (“just the same”) in mind, it might be said that the elegy showcases the speaker as perverse: paying tribute not to the person who is dead, but to those unnamed and perhaps unknown parts, belonging to or associated with her, that continue to vitalize him. What cannot be mourned agitates the practice of living-on. We might extrapolate from this the further thought that elegies not written in straightforward tribute to the dead characteristically perform a partial sympathy with the vitality of disease. This speculation returns us to the visual field, and the structural alliance between seeing and knowing – opening one’s eyes to death – that underwrites medical modernity. The modern doctor requires death to defend against it; she sees in the dead body the symptomatic flourishing of another form of life. But how, we may ask, does this will to depathologize the body by liberating it into knowledge differ from the elegist’s desire to speak the other’s death? Responding psychoanalytically, we might say the doctor and the poet want different things from the dying body: in her desire for objectivity the doctor becomes an instrument of the institution, whereas the modern elegist, by the troubled virtue of her ambivalence, uncertainty, and persistent self-interest, counters the reification of institutional life. Embedded within the most radical re-poeticizations of modernity is resistance to the scopophilia and apparent omniscience of the medical gaze. Martin Heidegger’s existential analytic, for example, posits an authentic being-towards-death which “must remain hidden from Others” (304): “No one can take the Other’s dying away from him,” he writes. And yet the elegist, as well as the doctor, albeit in more uncertain terms, remains at odds with poetic authenticity so defined, since according to the characteristics of social reception and performative address, the elegy appropriates a death that is never quite the speaker’s own. It has been noted that Heidegger never got around to writing “being and space.” Famously, when reading the ontological status of the “artwork” through the example of Van Gogh’s paintings of peasant shoes (100) he disregarded the walls on which the paintings were hung, or indeed the technological potential for the paintings’ reproduction. Similarly, his attempt to posit the ontological facticity of death against the merely aesthetic question of death’s reception can seem to square authentic Being with a simple disavowal of social modernity. Most specifically, it indicates a failure to acknowledge the role modern institutions play in the production of death. The modern hospital is not simply the place where the individual body is received; rather, it establishes how and for how long it goes on dying, as well as when and according to what assistive technologies it is declared dead. The hospital connects death’s aesthetic manifestation 192

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and social appearance with its natural-scientific and ontological reality. It’s here that the relation between the ward and the museum gallery is more than adventitious, as in both spaces multiple public phenomena clash with the sovereign claims of the private or the singularly hidden. Adorno has pointed out that the very word museum, through the German word museal (museum-like), connotes objects in the “process of dying” (175). Which is to say that when the viewer enters the museum, she stands as a ready-made analogue to the doctor, possessed of the rudimentary resources for making critical diagnoses. And yet the first public museums in imperial Europe, established for the purposes of education, cultivated a countervailing fear that the general public, clearly ignorant of aesthetic value, would ruin the artworks they saw by touching them (Jameson 72–78). This split between moral improvement and emotional or somatic contamination became foundational to the experience of public art and emerged in parallel with the institutional organization of dying bodies, curated by and for the medical gaze, yet subject to new risks of contagion. In his 1923 essay “Le Problème des musées,” the poet Paul Valery decried the “inhuman” scale and heterogeneity of the modern gallery space. In his view, the museum, though “admirable,” paraded a sensorium of historical phenomena which overwhelmed the sovereignty of the singular work. Adorno has read this against the more affirmative perspective of Proust, set out in the second volume of À la recherche du temps perdu. If Valery fetishized the productive energies of the artist, then Proust did just the opposite: through multiple scenes of gallery-going, he fetishized the artwork as it disintegrated into the history of its receptions (182). Given the politics of the twentieth century, we may worry with Adorno that such decadent or dying subjectivity – Proust has the writer Bergotte die while viewing a Vermeer – is ill-equipped to counter the biopolitical “catastrophe” of modern institutions, and yet the Proustian tendency has remained an important model for recognizing how an artwork’s meaning emerges, in part, through institutional distribution (184).3 In a similar fashion, the British philosopher Vernon Lee, writing in the decades before Proust, used public art galleries as zones for experimentation, within which the determinations of her subjectivity might be tested. In other words, she indulged her impressions of various artworks, while at the same time meticulously recording them so that they could form the basis of a somatic and social discipline. The ecology of the gallery was essential here, most obviously because its heterogeneity interrupted ready-made critical opinions of single works; but also because, for Lee, the physical space was phenomenologically continuous with the feeling space of the viewer’s mind and body (“Aesthetic” 243). Lee’s extrapolation from the word “empathy,” an early twentieth-century translation of the German Einfühlung (feeling into) (“Anthropomorphic” 21), leads her to describe the dynamics of the exchange between the artwork and the viewer in such terms as “muscular strain,” “balance,” “bodily constriction,” and the production of “rhythm”: effects which together designate more than a sentimental identification with the artwork. Instead, emotional investment becomes a question of artistic form when the switch of elemental force between viewer and work reveals a certain kind of activity; form is enacted, always implicating the kinesthetic and proprioceptive aspects of bodily experience (“Anthropomorphic” 25). What Lee calls, in one of her essays, “anthropomorphic aesthetics,” though subjective or even narcissistic in character, produces, through careful notation of what takes place in time and space, an impersonal appreciation for what art does: through art, the rhythmic forms of life move between the dying objects of the gallery. This kind of attempt to recover the importance of physical and psychological intimacy within the visual field of modern institutional space (without falling back on the fantasy of authentic unalienated experience) can get overlooked in traditions of ideology critique. Yet its phenomenological model is also embraced in the work of John Berger, as in his essay “The 193

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Embrace” where he emphasizes the erotic “coursing between” which so disfigures the realist sense of proportion and space in Rembrandt’s paintings. Rembrandt holds a mirror up not to the viewer herself, but to the space around her, in which she moves and makes contact with others. This “corporeal space” is the space of “vulnerability, solitude, disease” but also potentially of “wellbeing [and] the sensation of being loved.” Equally significant, for Berger, is the fact that it’s a space from which the doctor’s diagnostic language (though not the nurse’s praxis of care) is necessarily excluded. Defining the social life of the museum in these terms is to identify its institutional character as ultimately reflexive; more than a holding area or facilitating background for objective knowledge and the rationalization of bodies and works, it becomes, over time, its own object of perception. We might append one further twist to this tradition of institutional reflexivity by recalling the famous scene from Jean-Luc Godard’s 1964 film Bande à part in which the hand-holding triplet of Odile, Franz, and Arthur run through the Louvre galleries in 9 minutes 43 seconds. Here we have a camera looking at the institutional space of looking, presenting it primarily as a space of social touch and aesthetic disregard. The cinema has taken ownership of the art gallery. Douglas Crimp has suggested in similar terms that André Malraux’s essay “Le musée imaginaire” (in La Psychologie de l’Art, 1947), in which he explores the photographic representation of gallery space, marks a postmodern break with discourses of institutional knowledge (“The Museum” 50). Whether it’s as a consequence of the photograph, the cinema, or the Internet, the potential obsolescence of the gallery space as a present-tense site for somatic and epistemological experimentation, and the loosening of its structural tie to the public hospital ward, nonetheless invites us to reconsider its historical placement. The mid-twentieth-century cases considered in this chapter, from Yeats and Wieners, do not bear witness to the singular or sovereign body or work, but to the ecology of death and life which the institution of the art gallery for a historical period at least had come to exemplify. If it’s true that now, in the age of Google Museum View, we visit our galleries differently, and indeed “do” sex and relationships differently in accordance with new online media, then it may be the case that we are beginning to grieve differently too.4 That being said, how we grieved before, in a prior iteration of this modernity, has not yet become irrelevant.

Vitality through Death We’ll turn now to consider two poets for whom the art museum offers a stage for grief. Clearly there is a substantial difference between Yeats’s interest in the legacies of the Irish Revolution, and Wieners’s documentation of life as a gay man in 1950s America (not to mention differences of reputation and formal approach). However, as our readings here suggest, when read together, Yeats and Wieners exemplify an identifiable genre of modern elegy that addresses the self within the space of a public institution.

“The Municipal Gallery Revisited” (1937) Though Yeats’s poem is usually situated within the context of the Irish Revival and the poet’s historical denunciations of middle-class philistinism, it can also be read for its inscription of institutional modernity. Fintan Cullen has written of Hugh Lane’s creation of the Municipal Gallery in Dublin in 1908 in terms which emphasize the ambition of the original project to establish a permanent public collection of modern art that included works by Manet and Renoir. This set the Dublin gallery apart as a modernist project that was also dangerously exposed to populist aspiration (162): an attempt to emulate high-art curation practices from 194

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Hugo von Tschudi in Berlin on the one hand, an apparently domestic and politically decorative presentation on the other (167). While “The Municipal Gallery Revisited” testifies to the collection’s consistency over several decades, it also marks a significant displacement and revision of an earlier cultural optimism: the paintings’ popularity never having been proved, they had in the meantime been physically relocated. So as well as mourning the loss of certain named people, Yeats’s elegy marks the lost time and space of an aesthetic project.5 This suggests of Yeats’s 1937 re-entry to the Municipal Gallery, albeit to a different physical space, that it follows through on aesthetic and institutional as well as personal and nationalistic preoccupations. Indeed, one of the most striking aspects of the poem is how it seems to abjure the rule of aesthetic disinterest before the accomplished artwork; and though sometimes hinting at connoisseurship, pursues more broadly a method of supplication, emotional fragility, and almost crass receptivity to the subject matter depicted in the paintings. The poem grants itself a measured space, its ottava rima form producing stately-seeming rooms for the poetic line to wander through. Yet in the face of such regularity, the commitment to enjambed, multi-clause sentences produces a more precarious sense of movement. Around me the images of thirty years: An ambush; pilgrims at the water-side; Casement upon trial, half hidden by the bars, Guarded; Griffith staring in hysterical pride; Kevin O’Higgins’ countenance that wears A gentle questioning look that cannot hide A soul incapable of remorse or rest; A revolutionary soldier kneeling to be blessed; An Abbot or Archbishop with an upraised hand Blessing the Tricolour. ‘This is not,’ I say, ‘The dead Ireland of my youth, but an Ireland The poets have imagined, terrible and gay.’ Before a woman’s portrait suddenly I stand, Beautiful and gentle in her Venetian way. I met her all but fifty years ago For twenty minutes in some studio. (163–64) As we can see here, the poem begins by unbalancing the reader. Where we might expect a verb, “Around me the images of thirty years:” do something, we find the abruptness of punctuation. Then a list: “an ambush,” “pilgrims at the waterside,” “Casement upon trial,” etc. It takes a moment to realize that this is what the poet is seeing as he walks around the gallery, one image after another. “An ambush” is a particularly apt starting point in this light, suggesting being thrown off one’s guard, being “ambushed” by the artwork. Though, according to its inclusion in a list of paintings, it is also the representation of a military ambush from the Irish war of Independence. But this double sense, the affective and the representational, sets the terms for Yeats’s elegiac play of self-presence with the re-presentation of his missing others. This play comes to a point of intensity halfway through stanza two: “Before a woman’s portrait suddenly I stand” (our emphasis). Here the poet stops short, ambushed, as so often, by an image of Maud Gonne. This is a dramatic arrest that is further emphasized in stanza three when “Heart smitten with emotion” he “sink[s]” down. Yeats connects a historic moment of artistic production (the first time he met Maud Gonne was in an artist’s studio “all but 50 years” before) to 195

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the present moment of reception, using the logic of before and after to travesty the autonomy of the work itself. The subjectivity of his identification through the artwork, with little regard for the character of its composition, is then exacerbated in the gesture of covering his eyes: “My heart recovering with covered eyes.” The moving, feeling body in the space of his identifications draws away or recovers from the framed image on the wall. Crucially, however, this somatic collapse is not a final resting place. The poet moves on through the gallery to his second dramatic moment of arrest, this time occasioned by Antonio Mancini’s portrait of Augusta Gregory: “Greatest since Rembrandt.” Here we have the suggestion of canonical judgment, and also of formal appreciation through the mention of “approved patterns of women or of men.” Yet once more aesthetic judgment is found to be inadequate to the poet’s identification with the sitter behind the image: Lady Gregory “that selfsame excellence again.” The word “selfsame” gives us a clue to the narcissism of Yeats’s mode of apprehension in this poem. It is also noticeable how at each moment of identification the poet’s body supplicates or humiliates itself – “I sink down” before Maud Gonne; and before Lady Gregory “my mediaeval knees lack health until they bend.” The trajectory of the poem is such that these moments of physical supplication and almost shamefaced receptivity to memory prove the poet’s “glory” in the end: it is by receiving his friends in this manner, humbling himself before them, that he becomes greater than he is. Herein lies the importance of the final paradoxical couplet: “think where man’s glory most begins and ends,/And say my glory was I had such friends.” Friendship here calls into question the very boundaries of the poet’s ego. Though the poem displays the narcissistic means of appropriating missing others into the affective economy of the self, it ends in an apotheosis which can also be described as impersonal, asking the question: where does the “I” begin or end? There are two points we wish to draw out from this poem and further develop in our reading of Wieners’s work. The first is that Yeats’s poem presents a mode of modern sociability through art. Clearly, it’s elegiac in mood, and yet the platonic recovery of old friends who are missing or dead is complicated by the present-tense acts of friendship that the poem performs: “And here’s John Synge himself, that rooted man.” Indeed, friendship is explained as a series of moving and embodied acts of revival. The poet’s humility when receiving these missing others into himself, though initially read as melancholic depletion, is finally consistent with the glory of existing socially beyond the limits of his own self. The second point is that these acts of friendship through the dead are clearly situated within the modern gallery space. Those curt didactic lines from the final stanza are suggestive in this regard: You that would judge me, do not judge alone This book or that, come to this hallowed place Where my friend’s portraits hang and look thereon. Do not judge alone: in other words, do not judge Yeats or his work apart from their relations to one another, or apart from the association of his friends; and, possibly, do not judge when you are alone, or when you imagine yourself to be so. In the space of the gallery, the meaning of the work overspills its frame and becomes a complex of relations activated not in fact by solitary judgment, aesthetic or moral in nature, but through multiple identifications. It’s here, we think, that the poem negotiates an important shift in our understanding of artistic discipline, away from the singular works themselves – the compositional techniques visible on the canvas, or legible inside “this book or that” – and onto the relation between the body and 196

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the work, or multiple bodies and multiple works. It is, after all, the rhythmic discipline of looking and then looking away, of being grief-struck and then moving on, that gives the poem its power.

The Hotel Wentley Poems (1958) John Wieners was one of the poets included in Donald Allen’s New American Poetry 1945–1960 anthology; yet he remains an outlier in the post-war canon.6 The Hotel Wentley Poems was his first volume, written in San Francisco when he was only 24. It’s a slight edition: 11 poems in all, each offered as an indefinite tribute, “A poem for […].” This series of repetitions speaks to the additive, rather than conventionally aesthetic, tenor of the collection. All the poems take depletion or an injured state as their starting point: there is a lost boyfriend, Dana Duerke; a lost grandfather “who vomited a clot months before he died of cancer”; and “Daniel Aspelin who died at 16, put a rifle in his mouth and laid across his bed at night.” There’s the poet’s uncle John and there’s Walt Whitman. These are some of Wieners’s named dead. But the collection expresses his depletion paradoxically, as again and again personal losses serve as the condition for erotic connection. The poems take what has been lost – the lost person or lover – and revivify them through drugs, or more commonly through anonymous sex. So, although we can say of the collection that it is melancholic in disposition, in that it dwells on loss, performs addiction, and “shamelessly” repeats the same tropes, it also gestures toward an ethics of relation based upon pharmaceutical and sexual affect, and a quite startling belief in the efficacy of transferring emotions onto multiple others. In other words, there is a consistent overwriting of loss by the indefinite figures of present-tense desire. Repeatedly we move from the named and the isolated to the anonymous and self-shatteringly convivial. For instance, “A Poem for the Old Man” begins: God love you Dana my lover lost in the horde on this Friday night 500 men are moving up & down from the bath room to the bar Remove this desire from the man I love. […] And the same poem ends: I occupy that space as the boys around me choke out desire and drive us both back home in the hands of strangers (20–22)

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There is little or no attempt at reparation, or attempt to build a whole relationship anew; rather, there is the activity of shifting the loss through various sites of occupation – baths, bars, galleries, Chinese restaurants – from body to bodies, and in the process of this movement founding the rhythmic forms of social life, captured in the poetic line. The very first line of the collection reads: “the scene changes” (“A Poem for record players”). We are then shunted into the aftermath: “5 hours later” (i.e., the scene has already changed again), and the poet, suffering, enters a room, not his room, but one of countless such rooms, hotel rooms rather than fixed abodes, where he proceeds to find a pillow to muffle the sound he makes. If this inscribes the tragedy of a painful loss – the silent scream is a trope repeated through the volume – it is also a simple scene change: the first iteration in a series. The record player, as named in this poem’s title, is a mnemonic technology that is also used for pleasure and recreation; and in the second stanza the poet’s body lies on the bed metonymically scratching itself, registering indefinite audible details: “pigeons,” “sparrows,” a “cough.” It is these unmoored auditions, belonging to the present tense, which then facilitate an ecstatic transference “over the streets/of this seacoast city/forever.” The God pointedly capitalized in the opening stanza – the God the poet battles against when suppressing his scream, trying not to give in to the law of suffering – becomes a groan of longing by the end: “oh clack your/metal wings, god, you are/mine now in the morning.” This moves us from exhausted solitude to social address, and from melancholy to an almost futuristic vigor: “a thousand cars, gunning/ their motors turning over/all over town” (6–7). We might well presume by the end of the poem that the scene simply changes again. In fact, “A Poem for Teaheads,” the second poem in the collection, performs the same trajectory: the move from supplication before the law, the requirement that the poet suffer a loss, to the glory of social and sexual excitement. Here the law will take his drug dealer Jimmy away. “The poem/does not lie to us. We lie under its/law,” writes Wieners, fulfilling the implication that the only law of poetry is loss; while in the very next breath he stipulates that we are, in any case, “alive in the glamour of this hour” (8). The poem requires the poet’s suffering and yet enacts, through a texture of present-ness, a shift from less to more, from supplication to plenitude. In this poem, the more is encoded finally in the mouth – the place of language, hidden drugs, and, as anyone who knows Wieners’s biography can attest, countless oral satisfactions. The volume is full of such scenic enactments written through the simple present: “I sit”; “we make”; “we lie.” This is poetic elegy as scenography, reminiscent too of Yeats’s “I sink down” or “I write it out […]” (163, 85).

The Art of Cruising Art Wieners’s poetry enacts a transition from the tragic relationship based on loss to a formalism of multiple anonymous relations. We want to argue that this amplifies a suggestion in “The Municipal Gallery Revisited” in which the poet feels his way into the space of the institution. Leo Bersani’s essay “Sociability and Cruising” helps us to define what is at stake in this move by using the modernist works of sociologist Georg Simmel (1910) as well as Freud (“Group Psychology”) to make explicit its erotic charge. Bersani’s major provocation is that cruising for sex (something that Wieners is frank about in his work) provides an exemplary model of sociability that holds out the promise of preventing one’s connection to others from “degenerating” into a relationship (Rectum 57). Cruising, Bersani suggests, can stand as “a sexual model in which the deliberate avoidance of relationships might be crucial […] in clearing the ground for a new relationality.” Bersani’s suggestion is that what is attractive in cruising is a loss of the self: “in ideal cruising,” he says, “we leave ourselves behind.” This self-reduction is 198

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concomitant with a release from the tyrannies of the intersubjective relationship. Cruising is “a nameless, identity-free contact – contact with an object I don’t know and certainly don’t love which has, unknowingly, agreed to be momentarily the incarnated shock of otherness” (61). The thought here is that certain convened spaces of sociability, by encouraging an investment in seriality – one attachment and then another – seem to defy resolution on a final and definitive encounter, and encourage instead a kind of formalized agitation. There are two major coordinates in Bersani’s essay, each of which has some bearing on the poetics of elegy. First, he turns to Simmel’s sociology, specifically an essay called the “Sociology of Sociability,” which presents a paradigm of social relation in which self-interest is suspended, and what Simmel calls the pleasures of “rhythmed being” come to the fore. This takes place through the figure of the Coquette who embodies the impersonal intimacies of pleasurable sociability. Critically, the Coquette’s vacillation between accommodation and denial founds the “playful rhythm” of flirtation by refusing to settle on a note of resolve. Conclusiveness kills coquetry, as does too much ego. Or, as Bersani puts it, “we live rhythmically only if we renounce possession” (47).7 Taking his lead from Simmel’s essay, and further bracketing the troublesome gender politics in which a female figure might be said to bear the sacrificial burden for male society, Bersani asks after the character of good sociability, suggesting that there may be “a happiness inherent in not being entirely ourselves, in being ‘reduced’ to an impersonal rhythm” (47). Bersani’s second major coordinate is Freud, specifically the 1921 text “Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego.” Bersani has written elsewhere that “Freud’s most original speculative move was to deconstruct the sexual as a category of intersubjectivity, and to propose a definition of sexual excitement as both a turning away from others and a dying to the self” (Culture 45). This paradoxical structure is key to the value of what Bersani calls “impersonal narcissism.” The turning away – the rejection of a face-to-face relationship idealized in public-sphere sociologies – is accompanied by the self-shattering jouissance of identification. Impersonal narcissism is a narcissism that doesn’t want a stable self to attach to. We’ve already detected something of this paradox in Yeats’s poem and in Wieners’s verse. It is particularly important for Bersani to find in Freud an alternative to the tragic sociology described in Civilisation and Its Discontents (1930) where life governed by the pleasure principle will always be at loggerheads with the demands of civilization. Accordingly, Bersani finds the germ of a non-tragic sociability in Group Psychology, in which Freud allows not only that homosexual desire can be found in sublimated form in all non-sexualized relations – esprit de corps and so on – but also that there is a specific compatibility between homosexuality and sociability, even in its unsublimated form. The distinction is an important one. On one hand we have a rather trite Freudian wisdom that through sublimation (which always entails a diversion of the sexual drives), homosexuality can find tragic expression through homosocial relations and socially acceptable object choices. These object choices are made under the sign of aesthetic judgment, the validity of taste, and what we call “the beautiful.” On the other hand, the more interesting suggestion in Freud is that even unsublimated homosexuality is productive of good social ties: a sociability which does not require the tragic renunciation of sexual desire but which rather forms and spatializes that desire. The queer usurpation of Freudian “civilization” happens through identification with multiple objects: “[T]he homosexual walking the world,” writes Bersani, “cruising the world – in search of objects that will give him back to himself as a loved and cared for subject” (Rectum 60). But this can never be a pastoralizing view of sex and sexuality. The identification of the self through the other dies at each repeated moment of sexual contact, 199

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or jouissance shatters the self out of coherence. We have in this the pure dynamic of social relation: attachment and release. For Bersani – as for Wieners – this rhythmic movement of association and separation finds exemplary expression in cruising as a frankly sexualized mode of sociability. Bersani gives the example of the gay bathhouse where we leave ourselves behind: In addition to the opportunity anonymous sex offers its practitioners of shedding much of the personality that individuates them psychologically, the common bathhouse uniform – a towel – communicates very little (although there are of course ways of wearing a towel…) about our social personality (economic privilege, class status, taste). (Rectum 60) This particular social scene, then, facilitates a series of narcissistic identifications through anonymous and de-individuated others. There can be little doubt that the example raises further questions: Can only gay men participate in such an ecology? Is it a specifically sub‐cultural ideal of sociability? Has this rhythm of association and separation survived the advent of the Internet? Yet, despite these hesitations, Bersani’s model of relation, based on the rhythmic movement of multiple attachments, coheres with Wieners’s poetic vision, and points us more generally toward thinking about the socialized space of reception.

“A Poem for Museum Goers” We conclude this essay by returning to the art gallery as the exemplary institutional space for thinking about the relation between living and dying objects (always in the shadow of the modern hospital ward). In two poems in particular, Wieners slides between the act of writing and the act of viewing visual art – both activities shot through with grief. The first “A poem for painters” begins in high-Yeatsian mood: “Our age bereft of nobility/How can our faces show it?” (9). More significant than the register, however, is the appeal to the face to show something meaningful about our age. The poem’s riposte to its own question seems to be that our faces are forever falling short of showing “it,” so we are required to enter an interactive space of body parts: “my lips stand out”; “the painter’s hand one foot away from me”; “the palm of my hand”; “the veins underneath our skin”; “the cheeks puffed full”; “walking beside an ass.” These body parts-as-symptoms displace the face, or as Wieners puts it: “Drawing the face/and its torture/[…] no one dares tackle it./Held as they are in the hands/of forces they/cannot understand” (9). In this reluctance before the face we have the failure of the singular relationship and, inferentially, the failure of normative intersubjectivity (whether that be the meaningful face-to-face correspondence or the critical accomplishment of facing-up before the artwork and judging its quality). At the same time, this negativity, denoted in such passionate terms as “despair” or “torture,” is transmuted into its own formal accomplishment; hence we have the important repetition of the word “line” throughout: the compositional line of the painter and, overlaying that, the poetic line. There is a conspicuous reference to Paul Klee, whose famous remark on taking the line for a walk stands behind the poem’s suggestion of an affinity between artistic technique and the vicissitudes of cruising – walking through a populated scene. Again we go driven by forces we have no control over. Only 200

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in the poem comes an image – that we rule the line by the pen in the painter’s hand one foot away from me. (9) The poetic line wavers, as we can see, through the indentations on the page, the rule given over to forces that are not strictly the poet’s own. By the end of this section the poet might be imagined to be one foot away from the painted artwork, with the added suggestion of a metrical near-miss: one foot too many or too few, a significant impropriety that keeps the poem in motion. There is a continual slippage from the line in the painting to the lines of relation between the body and the painting, and then back to the poetic line. To be one foot away is to be askew, off-balance perhaps, but it might also designate a spatial measure – a social form: a relation of “hand,” “foot” and “me.” Other uses of the word “line” include the enigmatic sentence spread over three poetic lines: “That despair/is on my face and shall show/in the fine lines of any man.” Here, not only is blunt “despair” transformed into a “fine” line, but at the same time the content of a personal emotion, ascribed to the poet through his face, is transformed into the anonymity of the impersonal and numerous “any” man. And yet this accomplishment of impersonality is paradoxically a narcissistic one, unsublimated and even, we might say, uncivilized. This is indicated by the succeeding line, “I had love once in the palm of my hand/see the lines there” (10). Alongside the implication of artistic composition with the pen or paintbrush, and perhaps of the poet’s interest in palmistry, we have the intimation of masturbation: a reduction of the self from the face to the hand, and a subtraction of oneself from the intersubjective world very much in keeping with Bersani’s argument that the formal pleasures of negativity reside in the discipline of failing to attain a complete relationship. The second poem, “A Poem for Museum Goers” (23–26), concerns Wieners’s visit to an exhibition of Edvard Munch prints: Munch’s Study for a Series (retitled later: Frieze of Life – a poem about life, love and death) which went on show in San Francisco in 1958. Here, lyric subjectivity seems deliberately “reduced” or flattened to a course-plotting sense of moving between Munch’s images. The poem is serial, additive, and identificatory in its procedures, drawing a line through the gallery for the eye to follow. Nonetheless, it remains difficult to interpret because even as it takes ownership of different artworks, it fails to hold on to them, or to store them as a repository of cultural knowledge; rather, each present-tense identification shatters into the next one, and the inwardness of the poetic subject continually concedes to the logic of the institutional space. This impairment of artistic meaning begets a further irony insofar as the poem relies for its momentum on a set of art-historical references that it simultaneously wants to relinquish. The logic of cruising the gallery space is supposed to be self-annulling, after all, and the critical attempt to reconstruct it, especially today using the mnemonic technology of the Internet, contradicts the public and somatic terms of its impersonality. Not only can the works by Munch (which we’ve speculatively matched to Wieners’s text below using square brackets) all now be viewed online, in private, but also their apparent permanency in an electronic format fixes certain direct and named correspondences that undermine the rhythmic feeling of something coming into view and passing away. I walk down a long passageway with a 201

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red door waiting for me. It is Edvard Munch. Turn right turn right. And I see my [Death in the Sickroom]

sister hanging on the wall, heavy breasts and hair

[Madonna]

Tied to a tree in the garden with the full moon are the ladies of the street. Whipped for whoring. Their long hair binds them,

[Woman in Three Stages]

They have lain long hours in bed, blood on their mouths, arms reaching down for ground not given them.

[Vampire]

[Summer night, Mermaid]

They are enveloped in pain. Bah. There is none. Munch knew it. Put the Shriek in their ears to remove it from his own.

[The Scream]

Open thy mouth, tell us the landscape you have escaped from, Fishing boats are in the bay, no outgoing tides for you who he anchored to Hell.

[Melancholy]

[…] Move on. Moonlight [Moonlight] […]

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Lover leaves lover, 1896, 62 years later

[Separation]

[…] a bed only big enough for one, it looks like a casket. Death death on every wall, guillotined and streaming in flames.

[Death in the Sickroom]

Here is a poem-becoming-an-exhibition-catalogue. The space of the gallery has become the imagined line of a moving, feeling body entering into a series of intimate yet impersonal relations with the “dying objects” on the wall. We might say of the poem in this regard that it is less than itself, failing to critically assert itself against the visual artworks it encounters and describes. It is not rivalrous, as the tradition of ekphrastic poetry dictates it probably should be. And yet this failure to stand alone, through merging or emulation, through ceding its own sovereign distinction, also characterizes a social discipline that is fundamentally elegiac in kind.

Notes 1 2

3 4

5

In T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” we move satirically from one space to the other: from the table where the etherized patient lies as the root of the poem’s first metaphor, to “the room” where “the women come and go/Talking of Michelangelo” – and then “a farther room.” The institutional modernity which “we” share in this respect is by no means evenly distributed; if it’s fairly obvious that museums are an effect of an imperial world-system, then the rise of modern hospitals too should be indexed to the technologization (and produced unevenness) of modern warfare. It’s the subject of another essay to wonder how certain medical and art institutions make their appearance in different literary and political cultures at different times and in very different ways. To take one rather obvious example, the reliable site of the field hospital in British war poetry can be usefully contrasted with the “Irish” maternity ward in the “The Oxen of the Sun” chapter of Ulysses. These differ starkly for how they present gender roles, functional activity, and degree of institutional reflexivity. Transposed to the contemporary age in the wake of HIV and AIDS, Proust’s appreciation for the tragically mediated materials of art history has in fact become politically exemplary, his deliberately “naïve” receptivity newly legible as an affirmation of homosexual sociability (see Bersani; Dean). One of us has a Facebook friend who, though she recently died, continues to appear on the Facebook timeline, framed by the institutional insistence that we should “share” our memories. New forms of elegiac writing are beginning to account for this affront to the already dead, still visibly dying across various electronic galleries. See, for example, the poetic essay “I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness” by Claire Vay Watkins (2017), which addresses the author’s dead ex-boyfriend’s continued presence on MySpace (granta.com/i-love-you-but-ive-chosen-darkness [accessed 16 July 2020]). This was a project that at no point was free from ambivalent feeling, Yeats having first of all used the gallery to train himself into an appreciation for modern art. In order to wean himself off the “tragic greatness” of the Renaissance and embrace the impressionism of Manet and his contemporaries, the poet declared “rhythm” his cardinal principle of apprehension (Walker 82).

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7

Allen Ginsberg’s estimation of Wieners’s line as uniquely “raw” and “vulnerable” has set the terms for the understated critical reception of his verse (15). Pamelo Petro has contrasted Wieners’s “introspective lyricism” to the brash extroversion of the other Beats; John Wilkinson has pointed to the sexualized femininity of Wieners’s first major influence, Edna St. Vincent Millay; Angela Brady has called Wieners a fundamentally personal poet, “rendering in verse the most intimate, tender or appalling preoccupations”; while Keston Sutherland has written that Wieners is “destitute of a world, and inhabits instead a fragile, impaired, unreliable grammar.” For discussion on these themes, see also chapter 5 of Walsh’s Narcissism and Its Discontents, and “Introduction” in Sheils’s and Walsh’s Narcissism, Melancholia and the Subject of Community.

Works Cited Adorno, Theodor. Prisms. Translated by Samuel and Shierry Weber. MIT Press, 1967, pp. 173–187. Berger, John. “The Embrace: An Essay.” BBC Production by Leslie McGahey. www.youtube.com/ watch?v=QkyMv_OJ0F8. Accessed 20 Feb. 2020. Bersani, Leo. The Culture of Redemption. Harvard UP, 1990. Bersani, Leo. Is the Rectum a Grave? And Other Essays. U of Chicago P, 2010. Boruch, Marianne. Eventually One Dreams the Real Thing. Copper Canyon Press, 2016. Brady, Angela. “The Other Poet: John Wieners, Frank O’Hara, Charles Olson.” Jacket, no. 32, 2007. jacketmagazine.com/32/brady-wieners.shtml. Accessed 16 July 2020. Butler, Judith. The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection. Stanford UP, 1997. Crimp, Douglas. Melancholia and Moralism: An Essay on AIDS and Queer Politics. MIT Press, 2002. Crimp, Douglas. “The Museum in Ruins.” Postmodern Culture, edited by Hal Foster. Pluto Press, 1983, pp. 43–56. Cullen, Fintan. Ireland on Show: Art, Union, and Nationhood. Ashgate, 2012. Dean, Tim. Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking. U of Chicago P, 2009. Eliot, T. S. The Complete Poems and Plays of T. S. Eliot. 1969. Faber and Faber, 2004. Foucault, Michel. The Birth of the Clinic. 1963. Translated by A.M. Sheridan. Routledge, 1989. Freud, Sigmund. “Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego.” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XVIII: (1920–1922): Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Group Psychology and Other Works. The Hogarth Press, 1921, pp. 65–144. Freud, Sigmund. “Mourning and Melancholia.” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XIV (1914–16): On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement, Papers on Metapsychology and Other Works. 1915. The Hogarth Press, 1917, pp. 237–258. Ginsberg, Allen. “Foreword.” John Wieners: Selected Poems, 1958–1984. Black Sparrow Press, 1998, pp. 15–19. Hardy, Thomas. The Collected Poems of Thomas Hardy. Wordsworth Editions, 2006. Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time, translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. Harper and Row Publishing, 1962. Heidegger, Martin. Basic Writings: From Being and Time (1927) to The Task of Thinking (1964). Edited by David Farrell Krell. 1978. Routledge, 2011. Jameson, Anna. “A Handbook to the Public Galleries of Art in and near London.” 1842. The Emergence of the Modern Museum: An Anthology of Nineteenth-Century Sources, edited by Jonah Siegel. Oxford UP, 2008, pp. 72–78. Lee, Vernon. “Aesthetic Responsiveness: Its Variations and Accompaniments. Extracts from Vernon Lee’s Gallery Diaries.” Beauty and Ugliness and Other Studies in Psychological Aesthetics, Vernon Lee and Clementina Anstruther-Thomson. John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1912, pp. 241–350. Lee, Vernon. “Anthropomorphic Aesthetics.” Beauty and Ugliness and Other Studies in Psychological Aesthetics, Vernon Lee and Clementina Anstruther-Thomson. John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1912, pp. 1–44. Muldoon, Paul. Horse Latitudes. Faber and Faber, 2006. Owen, Wilfred. The Poems of Wilfred Owen. Random House, 1990. Pasternak, Boris. Selected Poems. Translated by J. Stallworthy and P. France. Penguin, 1991. Petro, Pamelo. “The Hipster of Joy Street: An Introduction to the Life and Work of John Wieners.” Jacket, no. 21, 2003. jacketmagazine.com/21/wien-petro.html. Plath, Sylvia. Collected Poems. Faber and Faber, 2015.

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Institutions and Elegies Powell, D. A. Tea. Wesleyan UP, 1998. Ramazani, Jahan. Poetry of Mourning: The Modern Elegy from Hardy to Heaney. U of Chicago P, 1994. Sassoon, Siegfried. War Poems of Siegfried Sassoon. Dover, 2004. Sheils, Barry, and Julie Walsh, editors. Narcissism, Melancholia and the Subject of Community. Palgrave, 2017. Sutherland, Keston. “The World and John Wieners.” World Picture, no. 7, 2012. www.worldpicturejournal. com/WP_7/Sutherland.html. Accessed 16 July 2020. Thomas, Dylan. The Dylan Thomas Omnibus: Under Milk Wood, Stories and Broadcasts. Phoenix, 2001. Valéry, Paul. “Le problem des musées.” 1923. Œuvres, tome II, Pièces sur l’art, Nrf, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1960, pp. 1290–1293. Walker, Tom. “‘Our More Profound Pre-Raphaelitism’: W. B. Yeats, Aestheticism , and BLAST.” BLAST at 100: A Modernist Magazine Reconsidered, edited by Philip Coleman, Kathryn Milligan, and Nathan O Donnell. Brill, 2017, pp. 79–93. Walsh, Julie. Narcissism and Its Discontents. Palgrave, 2015. Wieners, John. Supplication: Selected Poems. Enitharmon Press, 2015. Wilkinson, John. “Chamber Attitudes.” Jacket, no. 21, 2003. jacketmagazine.com/21/wilk-wien.html. Accessed 16 July 2020. Williams, William Carlos. Selected Poems. Penguin, 2000. Yeats, W. B. The Major Works. Oxford World Classics, 1997.

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19 DEATH “AFTER LONG SILENCE” Auditing Agamben’s Metaphysics of Negativity in Yeats’s Lyric Samuel Caleb Wee

For Giorgio Agamben, death and language are yoked together in Western metaphysics by negativity. Insofar as the capacity for language represents the proof of, and our only access to, human subjectivity, the inevitability of death represents the conclusive limit of that subjectivity. The borders of death and the borders of language map over each other; the mute corpse is the ultimate abjection. In Heidegger’s reckoning, for instance, we regard as animals those who cannot “experience death as death […] but animals cannot speak either” (Heidegger, qtd. in Agamben xi). Extrapolating from Heidegger’s pronouncement, Agamben thus finds in death and language a negative doctrine, claiming that: Both the ‘faculty’ for language and the ‘faculty’ for death, inasmuch as they open for humanity the most proper dwelling place, reveal and disclose this same dwelling place as always already permeated by and founded in negativity. Inasmuch as he is speaking and mortal, man is, in Hegel’s words, the negative being who ‘is that which he is not and not that which he is’, or, according to Heidegger, the ‘placeholder (Platzhalter) of nothingness’. (xii) The placeholder of nothingness: a waiting for, and upon, the void. For Heidegger and Agamben, both language and life burst out of and return to silence and nothingness, and in doing so, reveal the way that existence is always suffused with negativity. Poetry, of course, is not the same thing as language, yet is there not always also a sense that poetry is also – to use Agamben’s terms – “always already permeated by and founded in negativity”? The precise way that poetry distinguishes itself from common language, for instance, might be seen as a negative process. In seeking a definition of poetry capacious enough for the breadth of poetic forms over the ages, Brian McHale boiled poeticity down to two complementary propositions, which we will briefly investigate here because of their intriguing implications for our subject matter. The first comes from the feminist scholar-poet Rachel Blau DuPlessis, who suggests that poetry “is the kind of writing that is articulated in sequenced, gapped lines […] in bounded units precisely chosen […] in relation to chosen pause or silence.” For DuPlessis, it is the presence and deployment of “precisely chosen pauses or silences” that allow “segmented units of a variety of sizes” to emerge, hence allowing for the possibility of “intricate interplay among the ‘scales’” by the skilled poet (51). In this reckoning, not only does silence function as 206

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parentheses for poetic language, it also structures and organizes that same language, so that it is the presence of the pause, the musical rest, which permits the possibility of poetry. The second proposition here comes from John Shoptaw, who, as McHale notes, was attempting to “redefine the traditional notion of poetic measure in such a way as to accommodate the formally various unmetered poetry of such contemporaries as John Ashbery and Charles Bernstein” (16). To that end, Shoptaw claims the poem’s essential measure to be “its smallest unit of resistance to meaning” (Shoptaw, qtd. in McHale 16; emphasis mine), rather than the “smallest unit of construction of meaning” (ibid., emphasis in original). While this idea might seem counterintuitive, McHale says, juxtaposition against DuPlessis’s emphasis on the structuring function of negative space reveals a resonance, for “it is where meaning-making is interrupted […] that the reader’s meaning-making apparatus must gear up to bridge the gap” (16). For Shoptaw and DuPlessis, then, the poem begins to speak at the moment when conventional language falls silent; the word must die for the verse to live. To an extent, these two propositions resonate with Agamben’s own notions of poeticity. It is at the places where Agamben departs from DuPlessis and Shoptaw, though, that he finds the beginnings of a fascinating dilemma. For Agamben, “poetry lives only in the tension and difference (and hence also in the virtual interference) between sound and sense, between the semiotic and the semantic sphere,” so that it is only “the possibility of enjambment [which] constitutes the only criterion for distinguishing poetry from prose” (Agamben and HellerRoazen 109). Here, Agamben is careful to avoid a simplistic binary between sound and sense, for he carefully qualifies that there are not “two lines in parallel flight […] but one line that is simultaneously traversed by the semantic current and the semiotic current” (114); that is to say, we find in verse, as with Bohr’s principle of complementarity toward particle-wave duality, two metrics and modes of measurement upon the poetic line that are nonetheless always already unified. Nonetheless, Agamben’s proposal reminds us that the gaps which occur at the break between two poetic segments are not merely incidental happenings between two bounded linguistic units; rather, they are crucial to defining the distinctive compositions of the very units they disrupt, much like how a strip of negative space in an abstract painting might create two individual blocks of color out of one otherwise unified shape. As I have argued before, the deployment of enjambment triggers a certain recognition of poeticity that reminds the reader to be sensitive in reading toward the “permutations of poetic organisation possible throughout the text” that manifest through technical devices such as meter, rhyme, or metaphoric manipulation (Wee 101).1 Crucially, as we shall observe later, this sensitivity toward the outcomes of enjambment often manifests as a sort of syntactic suspense, an anticipation for the outcomes of the linguistic unit that the skilled poet may manipulate to create the “intricate interplay” which DuPlessis refers to. For now, what is significant here about poetry’s relationship with negative space is the way it is always already haunted by absence – by death – before meaning ever enters the equation, so that the intricacies of verse are necessarily veined by the deep void which holds all human existence in parentheses. Agamben thus offers us here a profound way of thinking about the aesthetic and philosophical implications of poetic pleasure, but it does lead to a troubling paradox: If enjambment is the only distinguishing characteristic of poetry, what happens as the possibility for enjambment diminishes to zero? In other words, what happens when the poem approaches its own death at the end of the verse, when there can be “no opposition between a metrical limit and a semantic limit” (112)? For Agamben, this catastrophic “loss of identity” thus seems to be a “decisive crisis for the poem” (113). There are, I think, several theoretical ripostes available here. One might point out, for instance, the existence of prose poems, or monostiches, but the best reply might be to turn 207

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toward an actual poem, to allow a work of art to speak for itself, as it were. Much has been made within the existing Yeatsian scholarship about his recurrent deployment of vivid, symbolic images (to the point of a fashioned mythology) in his work, with Frank Kermode’s Romantic Image a seminal example. Here, however, I would like to take a close look at this essay by Marjorie Perloff, which examines the auditory aspects of the late-career Yeats poem, “After Long Silence,” which, as we shall shortly see, both dialogues intriguingly with negativity and builds toward a particularly striking end: Speech after long silence; it is right, All other lovers being estranged or dead, Unfriendly lamplight hid under its shade, The curtains drawn upon unfriendly night, That we descant and yet again descant Upon the supreme theme of Art and Song: Bodily decrepitude is wisdom; young We loved each other and were ignorant. As Perloff points out, one possible reason this particular poem has endured so memorably in anthology after anthology is the finesse with which Yeats manipulates the relationship between form and content – more specifically, the way sound and sense here are maneuvered to correspond to each other as the poem instantiates the theme of lovers in old age confronting their own mortality. (This seems at first glance to contradict Agamben’s principle that poetry is most poetic when sound and sense chafe, but it is precisely at the closest point of contact, of course, that a friction between two surfaces becomes possible.) The lateness of this poem within Yeats’s oeuvre is significant: though the poem formally constitutes a sort of “double quatrain” that progresses through an ABBA CDDC rhyme scheme, rhythmically there is a loose sense of organic roughness here, one that Yeats worked all throughout his career at evolving towards. Accordingly, the strong stress of the poem’s first syllable ensures that “sound is meaning: the poet’s ‘speech’ practically bursts out” (Perloff). At the risk of stating the obvious, however, the question of what this “speech” bursts out of is not insignificant. It is perhaps meaningful that the preceding “long silence” before the moment of the lyric utterance also gives us the title of the poem, and it is certainly a point of interest that although the title is nearly identical to the opening of the piece, it decisively omits that crucial first syllable (“speech”). This elision thus effectively emphasizes the role that negativity plays in composing, framing, and bracketing this presented poem as it explores notions of death and silence. Though the lyric utterance that begins here with “speech” calls attention to itself with the sibilant and plosive stress of the first word, the focus of this first line falls, instead, on the matter of that “long silence” which the title of the piece has primed us to listen out for. In foregrounding the way that the occurrence of speech is always pre-emptively preceded by silence, this maneuver thus performs (at least here at the beginning) what Agamben points out to be the manner in which language is predicated upon “the negative foundation of its own place” (66). Yet this alignment between sound and meaning here is also not quite as synonymous as Perloff suggests. While the poem might suggest a correspondence between the semiotic and the semantic dimensions by enacting an enclosure of speech by silence, it is an imperfect one, an uneven translation hampered by the fact that the very act of representing silence through metaphor is itself already a gesture that betrays the integrity of negativity. As we may thus observe, the opening of “After Long Silence” demonstrates the difficulty of perfectly reconciling sound and sense; though the poem strives to bring the two into as great a proximity as possible, a 208

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fundamental repulsion still remains between the semantic current and the semiotic current, one that is amplified in its resistance by the extent of proximity. As we shall continue to see, this phenomenon – this uneven correspondence between the semantic and semiotic, this imperfect synthesis – goes on well throughout the poem (and is, in fact, figured by the poem itself). The emphatic “long silence” of the poem here calls further attention to itself by way of the pronounced pause that the following semicolon produces, so that, as Perloff observes, the second half of the opening line is effectively cordoned off from the first, creating a “terse and mysterious” suspense as we wait to find out what it is precisely that is so appropriate about the situation. This suspense, however, is twofold: on the one level, even as we await the syntactic completion of the sentence and the clarification of the copula at the end of that line, we are also anticipating the companion rhyme to “right” that the rhyme scheme of the poem promises us. This twofold anticipation is thus key to understanding how the poem’s modulation of the tension between sound and sense produces an affect of surprise, even as it resolves the poetic suspense which it sets up. On a semantic level, Perloff is partly accurate in her suggestion that this suspense is “all the more dramatic because of its surprise,” in the sense that we do not yet have a clear picture of the parties involved in the poem, or the dynamics of their relationship, until the second line. (Here, the relationship between the two parties is also established indirectly, by way of negation; rather than straightforwardly describing the two characters in the poem as lovers, after all, we infer instead their former romantic entanglement through the condition of other subjects that this lyric narrator marks as commensurable: the “all other lovers” who are now “estranged or dead”). To an extent, the second line of the poem here does indeed ease the mystery produced by the first line somewhat, in the sense that it clarifies for us the narrative setting of the lyric. Yet it does not truly properly resolve the suspense per se. Rather, this line, as with the following two, merely qualifies the specific predicate of the copula: that is, though the rightness of the situation is extensively justified through the imagery of impending mortality in the third and fourth lines, the specific set of behaviors undertaken by our lyric speaker and the addressee is left unestablished until the fifth line, which is the opening of the second quatrain. Here I have reproduced the first five lines of the poem again with certain markings to illustrate how precisely this syntactic delay functions: “Speech after long silence; it is right, All other lovers being estranged or dead, Unfriendly lamplight hid under its shade, The curtains drawn upon unfriendly night, That we descant and yet again descant…” I have bolded the parts of the sentence that relate to the subject, with the circumstances qualifying the predicate put into italics. Reconfigured into a (relatively) more natural syntax, then, the sentence might therefore go something more like this: “It is right that we descant […] now that all other lovers are estranged or dead.” Though this rephrasing is natural-sounding, it is also, of course, demonstrably stripped of affective power, suspense, and any capacity for pathos. The flatness of this reconfigured sentence thus speaks to the precise composition in which Yeats’s poetic verse has to exist. Not only does silence suffuse the poem, it is the key governing precept through which the poem is rhythmically structured, without which the poem falls into abject banality, into the possibility of paraphrase. In this manner, we might speak of negativity as the foundation of the poem. The deferment of this syntactic resolution to the second quatrain of the poem here thus functions as a sort of structural enjambment, one where the boundary between the two 209

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quatrains stands in for the limit of the line, like a dam wall over which the original sentence begun by the copula (“It is right”) overflows. This overflowing affect is crucial here because the quatrain boundary is doubly reinforced by the rhyme scheme. As we observed earlier, two separate currents begin through the poem from the end of the first line. The suspense created by the disruption of the sentence resolves in the fifth line, but the completion of the first rhyme scheme occurs in the fourth line: “it is right” finds its companion here at the end of the first quatrain with “unfriendly night.” This minute divergence between the two movements thus creates a certain echoing effect, as I shall again illustrate by marking the poem: “Speech after long silence; it is right, All other lovers being estranged or dead, Unfriendly lamplight hid under its shade, The curtains drawn upon unfriendly night, That we descant and yet again descant…” I have now underlined the parts of the poem that pay off the anticipation of rhyme begun in the first line. We may thus see that the two currents which traverse the poem from a single unified origin at the end of the first line ground themselves at two separate moments, creating the polyphonic illusion of two separate lapping waves – sound first, then sense – answering the original question of rhyme and meaning one after the other. Furthermore, we may observe that the sonic movement of the poem does not precisely parallel the semantic movement, but instead pauses for a flourish in the third line with the little internal rhyme of “unfriendly lamplight,” which is itself an anaphoric foreshadowing of “unfriendly night.” Lest one perceive this diffraction between the semantic and the semiotic as negligible or trivial, the poem then proceeds to announce what it is doing. To “descant,” after all, is not only to discourse or dialogue on a certain subject, it is also the musical name for a certain type of double-voiced polyphony from the Middle Ages where a contrapuntal melody is sung above a lower base melody; indeed, the term has come to be used in modern times as a shorthand for countermelody in general. This etymological ambiguity is surely not accidental: not only does the word repeat within the line, inviting us to contemplate alternative implications, but the two meanings here also correspond precisely to practices of sensemaking versus soundmaking, and describe exactly the way poetic counterpoint has behaved here in the first quatrain thus far. Here, at the border between two quatrains in the center of the text, the poem calls attention to itself and reminds us to pay attention not only to the correspondences but also the divergences between sound and sense. Most significantly, it codes the nature of this attention as fundamentally an act of audition, reminding us to listen to the poem for its nuances. This emphasis on the auditory schema, as I will shortly demonstrate, is key to understanding the poem’s complex phenomenological engagement with the themes of silence, death, and its own poetic being. It is at this point that we may direct our attention to the somewhat unusual rhetorical situation of the poem. In “How to Read a Poem,” Perloff places “After Long Silence” in the same category as “the love poems of John Donne, and […] Keats and Shelley.” This categorization is apt to an extent, but in a significant way “After Long Silence” also functions as a subversion – or perhaps a transcendence – of the love-poem trope. Let us briefly set “After Long Silence” alongside a short excerpt from Donne’s “To His Mistress Going to Bed” and observe the most immediately discernible differences: […] Off with that girdle, like heaven’s Zone glistering, But a far fairer world encompassing. 210

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Unpin that spangled breastplate which you wear, That th’eyes of busy fools may be stopped there. Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime, Tells me from you, that now it is bed time. Off with that happy busk, which I envy, That still can be, and still can stand so nigh. Your gown going off, such beauteous state reveals, As when from flowery meads th’hill’s shadow steals. […] (5–14) “To His Mistress,” of course, is an amorous invitation from the lover to the beloved, and we are no doubt familiar with its sexually explicit tone and its focus on presenting the female body as a material object of erotic desire. Much has therefore been made about the ways in which the poem rejects “the conventions of courtly and Petrarchan love poetry” in favor of a “more ‘realistic’ analysis of love” that follows Ovid in emphasizing humans as “natural, bodily creatures” (Gibboury 133). Stripping the poem down to its most basic operations, we may see that the poem primarily follows the movement of the lyric speaker’s gaze, with a roving eye that travels downward over the body, imposing a series of metaphors over each isolated body part as it does so. Crucially, these descriptions all center around the perception of the lyric speaker: indeed, the poem itself acknowledges the visual component of its presentation early on with its reference to “th’eyes of busy fools” (8), and as John Berger has pointed out, this act of sexual objectification through the male gaze is a common trope within Renaissance-era art (56). The feminist implications of said objectification have thus been well-documented, but what is most salient for our purposes here is the way in which the subject-object relation, within the schema of the visual gaze, corresponds to the lover-beloved binary that informs and structures love poetry forms within the Western tradition. Though it might not seem unusual, this specific alignment of the subject-object relation is contingent upon the focalization of visual perception through the lover, that is, the first-person lyric subject, with the second person of the poem sitting as the mute object of love. Comparing Yeats to his own oeuvre, we may see that this visual enactment of the loversubject and the beloved-object relation is par for the course in his other work as well. Observe, for instance, Perloff’s comparison of “After Long Silence” with an earlier Yeats poem, “Aedh Tells of the Perfect Beauty,” which is markedly “slow and stately” when compared to the flexible “colloquial diction and rhythm” of “After Long Silence.” Yet I suggest that the latter poem’s singularity goes beyond a mere superficial renovation of meter. In order to understand how “After Long Silence” is indeed unusual, let us take a look at the opening to “Aedh Tells of the Perfect Beauty,” which Perloff quotes in her own essay: O cloud-pale eyelids, dream-dimmed eyes, The poets labouring all their days To build a perfect beauty in rhyme Are overthrown by a woman’s gaze […] Here, we may observe the same visual dynamics that play out in Donne, updated somewhat. The poem similarly focalizes our visual perception through the lyric subject, with the intense scrutiny of the gaze here veering intimately close to the visage of the beloved – close enough to notice her “cloud-pale eyelids, dream-dimmed eyes,” which are isolated from the rest of her body similar to Donne’s descriptions of his mistress. Here, Yeats displays an early awareness of 211

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the phenomenological complexities of the love poem by cleverly dislocating the alignment between subjective expression and visual perception. The beloved is granted a powerful gaze as well, one which is capable of halting the poet’s rhyme-making, but even this is still nonetheless framed by the lyric speaker’s own perception and speech, so that the poem does not seem to be able to accommodate the synthesis of two mutual subjectivities. Notice, for instance, how the poet’s linguistic mastery is necessarily neutralized by the “woman’s gaze,” and how this muting is further characterized as a submission to the beloved as the poem falls into silence. The possibility of two free subjects meeting as mutually equal agents in the love poem thus does not seem to exist insofar as the poem operates within the visual schema. Stripped of the sexualizing implications of Donne’s piece, we can see how the subject-object problem of the gaze in the love poem is fundamental to the specific construction of the loverbeloved binary here. That is to say, although the problem of objectification is perennial to feminist discourse, as it manifests here the complication is phenomenological, rather than social, persisting regardless of the gender identities of the parties involved. In the context of our discussion about death, this specter of solipsism – this inability to access the subjectivity of the other – thus becomes even more significant when we consider the premise with which this essay began: that death is the conclusive limit to subjectivity, a proposition which we will keep in mind as we return to “After Long Silence.” Properly contextualized thus, it is now easy to observe how “After Long Silence” differs from the love poem tradition we have just examined here. While the love poems we have examined from Donne and Yeats himself all center around the emphatic gaze and the subject-object problem that arises from it, “After Long Silence” conspicuously lacks any memorable images, and indeed the only perceptible objects in the first quatrain are symbols of invisibility rather than visibility, with both the “unfriendly lamplight” and the “unfriendly night” reinforcing this resistance to and avoidance of the gaze. The fact that these two phrases rhyme with the “right” of the opening line further affirms this: instead of the gaze, the poem insistently reminds us to listen to the sonic, musical, and rhythmic qualities which emerge when descanting occurs. This leads us to our second departure from the love poem tradition: less noticeable, but just as salient, is the poem’s avoidance of the subjectivity limit between the first person and the second person. The solipsistic condition in which both “His Mistress” and “Perfect Beauty” seem to exist is entirely subverted by the poem’s repeated usage of the plural personal pronoun “we,” which is, in fact, the only pronoun to be found anywhere in the verse. Importantly, this first presentation of the two lovers already fixes them in the act of descant, so that this intersubjective discourse between the two is inseparable from the musical and linguistic activities of which the second quatrain reminds us. At this point, we may turn toward the work of Jean-Luc Nancy, who suggests listening as a potential schema to help us to escape the problems that emerge from the phenomenological coding of the gaze, for while “the visual is tendentially mimetic,” the “sonorous,” for Nancy, is “tendentially methexic (that is, having to do with participation, sharing, or contagion)” (10). Paraphrased, Nancy suggests here that while the gaze always divides along a Cartesian line of representation versus reality, the auditory avoids the representative function, instead inviting the subject to enter into the sonorous listening experience for the sake of the experience itself. This capacity of sound to implicate the listening subjects into a common ritual, Nancy argues, allows it to be simultaneously an intrasubjective as well as an intersubjective act: To be listening will always, then, be to be straining toward or in an approach to the self […] neither to a proper self (I), nor to the self of an other, but to the form or structure of self as such [...] When one is listening, one is on the lookout for a subject, something (itself) that identifies itself by resonating from self to self, in itself and for 212

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itself, hence outside of itself, at once the same as and other than itself, one in the echo of the other, and this echo is like the very sound of its sense. (9, emphasis in original) Moreover, in the sense that listening, as opposed to looking, testifies not to the subjective experience of the first person, but rather to the “form or structure” of self, it might be said to be not merely inter- or intra- subjective, but also simultaneously meta-subjective; that is, an ethics of listening primes us to be mindful of subjectivity whenever it might manifest itself, insofar as this expression of the subjective refers us back to our own experience in the first person as a subject – the “echo” like the sound of sense that Nancy speaks of. While this redescription might seem counterintuitive at first to those of us more accustomed to thinking in terms of the gaze, it actually already describes the familiar experience of reading a lyric poem with the intention of journeying into the psychological interior of the poet. As Denis Donoghue reminds us, the lyric – a word we derive from the Greek musical instrument “lyre,” of course – is richly linked to a tradition of “the poet’s mind communing with itself.” Though the experience of reading the lyric first demands the silence of the reader before the subjectivity of the poet may be manifested, this authorly subjectivity is often instantiated through a commensurability with the very subjectivity of the reader. That is, it is by way of the lyric’s specific affective provocations – its ability to incite in us sympathetic responses to the poet’s emotions – that it reminds us of our capacities for profound feeling, so that the subjectivity of the reader is paradoxically affirmed by their acquiescing silence. It is thus this commensurability that Nancy speaks of when he argues that in the gaze “the subject” – in the structural sense – “is referred back to itself as object,” but in listening “it is […] to itself that the subject refers or refers back” (10). Thus, framed by Nancy’s auditory phenomenology, we may now understand how “After Long Silence” moderates a broadened intersubjective space within the conventions of the love poem through its emphasis on the listening ear rather than the seeing gaze. In the sense that listening affords us this mode of intersubjective interaction, though, it is important for us to realize that this does not function as a solution to the subjectobject problem per se. Rather, it is a redescription, an alternative model of modulating the discontinuities inherent between subjectivities that returns us to the premise with which we began this essay: that language is our only access to the other. What Nancy affords us now, though, is a clarification of the very relationship of death to language as they both relate to the end of subjectivity. Refining the position we started from, we may now say that insofar as language is both an avenue as well as a limit to intersubjectivity, death represents the ultimate event horizon to that subjectivity. Language and death, in that sense, exist in a lateral relationship, rather than a parallel one, albeit still nonetheless founded, framed, and permeated by the parentheses of negativity. Returning to “After Long Silence” as we close this essay, then, let us examine the poem again from the second quatrain through to the ending, which Perloff describes as “climactic and brilliant.” […] That we descant and yet again descant Upon the supreme theme of Art and Song: Bodily decrepitude is wisdom; young We loved each other and were ignorant. With an ear for the rhyme scheme, what strikes us here is (again) the tension between the syntactic structure of the poem and its musical patterning. The colon dividing the quatrain here between the second and the third lines suggests that the topic of the lovers’ descanting – the “supreme theme of Art and Song” – is precisely the statement given in the last two lines: 213

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that in contrast to the ignorance of their youth, the two lovers have finally attained “wisdom” in their old age. This paraphrase, though syntactically correct, feels curiously at odds with the actual poem, however, with a triumphant, self-congratulatory tone that is conspicuously missing from our experience of reading the verse. In part, this might be due to the way the rhyme scheme complicates the binary opposition between aged wisdom and youthful ignorance, aligning “descant” with “ignorant” instead, which undercuts the attainment suggested by the syntax. Rhythmically, the slightly awkward juxtaposition of the cluttered stresses in the third line and the sparseness of the fourth line is also significant. Reading through the clatter of “bodily decrepitude,” we then encounter the semicolon, which enforces a meditative pause after “wisdom.” This meditative pause thus mirrors the rest we encounter in the first line of the poem, where the semicolon similarly follows “silence,” so that the rhythmic patterning suggests an affinity or a correspondence between “wisdom” and “silence” that the syntax does not. Beyond the sound patterning, however, the secret to the poem’s ambiguous ending lies in the precise phrasing of the sentence, which chronologically reverses the sequence it narrates. The poem closes on analepsis, dwelling instead on the past in which they “were ignorant” instead of their current wisdom. The use of the simple past tense here is significant: except in rare occasions, we tend to expect the use of the past tense to signal a change of state in the present – an expectation which is foregrounded in this common joke with which one might be familiar: “He used to be a fool… he still is, but he used to be, too.” The poem thus closes with another negation: the lovers “were ignorant,” and are now wise; the object of their knowledge is left elided, but all implications point toward an awareness of mortality, a knowledge of death. This unstated knowledge of death – a knowledge of negativity that is only alluded to by negation – is what prevents the silence of the poem from being completely submerged into epistemological negativity, charging the otherwise apparently triumphant ending with a certain somberness that resists the cadence one might typically expect. It is the smallest ghost of a flicker of awareness, and even then, an awareness of the void, but indeed this small ghost is enough to hold apart the twin abysses as the poem closes. I have earlier referred to “After Long Silence” as within the love poem tradition, but it is also adjacent to another subgenre that Yeats is known for: that of the elegy. Though it is true that “Silence” departs from a traditional elegy by eschewing the ubi sunt, choosing to dwell on the survivors instead of upon the dead and estranged, a situation of this poem alongside Yeats’s other works around the theme of death may yet help us to better understand the complex relationship Yeats conceptualized between death and art. Speaking about Yeats’s ambivalence toward the old Romantic notion of art as an escape, Kermode argued instead that Yeats believed in quite the opposite: that “art was what you tried to escape from” (34, emphasis mine). Yet the old “doctrine that art is a kind of dream” still held sway, and Yeats continued to hold on to the conviction that “to dream it well is the most difficult and exhausting of all callings” (34). That this stance seems somewhat contradictory is typical of Yeats, but the notion that the pursuit of art drains from life offers us illumination into the poem’s immediate and direct juxtaposition, via enjambment, between “Art and Song” and “bodily decrepitude.” Death, in Yeats’s reckoning, was the artist’s ultimate opportunity for release from “a world built for action,” the other being “the making of Images” (Kermode 37), yet these two avenues of escape were still intimately connected. Kermode notes that all of Yeats’s successful elegies engage in an extensive working-over of the subjects until they were utterly changed, “had entered the flesh and blood of his thought,” and were “part of a mood or a myth […] of the world of his mind’s making” (45). Kermode’s reading of Yeats therefore suggests that artistic achievement in this regard perpetually contains the seed of death within its process. 214

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We may now return here to Agamben’s worry that the end of the poem is hampered by the end of an opposition between sound and sense, or rather, the end of a potentiality between sound and sense. We might say here that this particular example of the poem avoids that problem by inscribing a certain circularity instead of a teleological linearity in its ending. The analeptic device with which “After Long Silence” closes functions to inscribe a time loop that brings us back to the past from which the poem opens, so that the poem does not end with a collapse of potentiality, but rather, a suspended ambiguity that calls us to reread the poem, staying in the fugue of the poem’s various movements. If, as Nancy has suggested, the sonorous is indeed methexic instead of mimetic, then the emphasis on listening as opposed to seeing in “After Long Silence” might remind us that poetry exists always for itself; that the event of the poetic word is itself the referent to which poetry refers and embodies, and that it is in this self-substantiation that the possibility of intersubjective discourse emerges. Yet this emphasis on the radical independence of poetry, so potentially triumphant-sounding in another context, is made ambiguous here by our awareness that the poem circulates between the two abysses of silence and nonexistence, not in youthful ignorance of negativity, but in a performance of presence only possible through acknowledging the advent of absence. This poetic profession thus precedes death, attains immortality in death, and inscribes death in immortality. Death and language, it seems, circle each other like a gyre.

Note 1

I further explore the implications of negative space in poetry with relationship to narrativity in a journal article entitled “Songs of ‘Experientiality’: Reconsidering the Relationship between Poeticity and Narrativity in Postclassical Narratology,” listed in the “Works Cited” list.

Works Cited Agamben, Giorgio. Language and Death: The Place of Negativity. U of Minnesota P, 1991. Agamben, Giorgio, and Daniel Heller-Roazen. The End of the Poem: Studies in Poetics. Stanford UP, 1999. Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. Penguin, 2008. Donne, John. “To His Mistress Going to Bed.” Poetry Foundation, n.d. www.poetryfoundation.org/ poems/50340/to-his-mistress-going-to-bed. Donoghue, Denis. “Congenial Disorder: Why Should We Look for Comfort in Poetry?” Harper’s Magazine, n.d. harpers.org/archive/2008/09/congenial-disorder. DuPlessis, Rachel Blau. “Manifests.” Diacritics, vol. 26, no. 3–4, 1996, pp. 31–53. Gibboury, Achsah. “Erotic Poetry.” A Cambridge Companion to John Donne. Cambridge UP, 2006. Kermode, Frank. Romantic Image. Routledge, 2012. McHale, Brian. “Beginning to Think About Narrative in Poetry.” Narrative, vol. 17, no. 1, 2008, pp. 11–27. Nancy, Jean-Luc. Listening. Fordham UP, 2009. Perloff, Marjorie. “How to Read a Poem: Yeats’s ‘After Long Silence.’” Marjorie Perloff, 3 May 2009, marjorieperloff.blog/essays/yeats-silence. Wee, Samuel Caleb. “Songs of ‘Experientiality’: Reconsidering the Relationship between Poeticity and Narrativity in Postclassical Narratology.” Word and Text, vol. IX, 2019, pp. 93–106. Yeats, William Butler. The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats. Wordsworth Editions, 1994.

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20 THE SPATIALIZATION OF DEATH IN THE NOVELS OF VIRGINIA WOOLF Ian Tan

Introduction In her autobiographical evocation of childhood memories titled “A Sketch of the Past,” Virginia Woolf details how transcendent “moments of being,” which temporarily stem the resistless flow of time due to their sheer atmosphere of significance, cannot be separated from the question of spacing1 from which they emerge: Many bright colours; many distinct sounds; some human beings, caricatures; comic; several violent moments of being, always including a circle of the scene which they cut out: and all surrounded by a vast space … Nothing remained stable long. One must get the feeling of everything approaching and then disappearing. (“Sketch” 79, emphasis mine) Read artistically as homologous to the modernist epiphany, defined by Morris Beja as a “structural device [which] marks climaxes in a narrative … by allowing characters moments of revelation in which they transcend themselves and see into the truth of things” (22–23), Woolf reminds her readers that this manifestation of spiritual clarity organizes aesthetic space in its very evanescence against a background of loss and emptiness. In this way, as much as these “moments of being” become central to Woolf ’s design through the seeking of “a token of some real thing behind appearances” which will “become a revelation of some order” (“Sketch” 72), it is more likely the case that, as Gillian Beer writes, “Woolf ’s [novels] compose themselves about an absence” (29). In the attempt to recapture the significance of the past through the imagination, writing betrays its fundamental belatedness, for language as representation is always already re-presentation, or the loss of an original state of presence. One might argue that modernism’s negotiation with the past betokens a failure to fully master the violent dislocations of the present moment by traversing the gap history opens up, which emerges as a dialectic between engagement with and ironic distance from mythic modes and narrative form. T. S. Eliot’s seminal essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” argues that the “simultaneous order” which is achieved by artistic tradition cannot be attained by a willful abjuration of the literature of the past, but by a reckoning with it: 216

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No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning along. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead. (38) Modernist writing is, then, irrevocably informed by the condition of mourning, where language and aesthetic representation reveal their limits in both bringing the lost object of desire to presence and lamenting the distance from that presence. Woolf ’s linking of familial loss to the trauma of history in To the Lighthouse evinces a phenomenology of absence which finds total expression in the section “Time Passes”; for as Beer notes, “death was her special knowledge: her mother, her sister Stella, and her brother Thoby had all died prematurely. But death was also the special knowledge of her entire generation, through the obliterative experience of the First World War” (31). Similarly, Wilfred Owen’s Dante-esque sojourn into Hell in the poem “Strange Meeting” functions almost as an archetypal encounter with the dead and ghostly which links the phantasmagorical nature of the meeting with the condition and the impossibility of mourning. As Foley writes, “The proliferation of the ghostly in interwar modernism is unsurprising given the challenges of mourning presented by the many devastations of WWI” (9). Given the shock of the manifestation of the specter which at once conditions and exposes the limits of mourning by exceeding the present moment of representation, modernist aesthetics seeks, as Walsh writes, a “compulsion to give some figure to what has been lost” (2) through standing in a new relation toward death. Peter Nicholls has argued that the modernist movements of Surrealism and Expressionism are attempts to deal with death as the impossibility of representation not only through a “constant preoccupation with death as the ultimate horizon of the aesthetic” (136), but also as a paradoxical engagement with it as the pure moment of the text’s arrival into appearance and its movement into disappearance: “it strives at once to cancel and preserve the … moment of pure negation, its lyric pursuit of the marvellous always shadowed by the death which makes it possible” (308). This essay proposes that Woolf ’s exploration of death in her novels is similarly informed by an awareness of language as it conditions representation and subjectivity. For Woolf, the processes of narrative flow and temporal flux are deeply interrelated, for both language and time bind together moments of transcendental significance and bear witness to inhuman movements of erosion and forgetting. The space that death hollows out in its work of negation is intimately linked with reimagining both the subject’s grasp of death within the novel, and the authorial representation of death as refracted through point of view. Indeed, as Smythe writes, what is involved in the experimental nature of Woolf’s writing is nothing less than the “grammatical and syntactical imitation of the mind actively thinking of and within a condition of loss” (67). It is thus the articulation of the work of death as spacing which determines both narrative structure from The Voyage Out to The Waves, and also the presence/ absence of Woolf’s narrative “voice” in these texts. Maurice Blanchot’s linking of the space of writing with loss and anonymity seems to me to be pertinent in addressing the quality of Woolf ’s gesture. In his text The Space of Literature, Blanchot argues that to write is not to affirm the presence of a sovereign subjectivity who remains in control of his text. Rather, “to write is to discover the interminable … [The writer] does not move toward a surer world, a finer or justified world where everything would be ordered according to the clarity of the impartial light of day” (28). To write is to ceaselessly “surrender to the fascination of time’s absence,” in which “what appears is the being deep within being’s absence, which is when there is nothing and which, as soon as there is something, is no longer. For it is as if there were no being except through the loss of being” (30). For Blanchot, writing is a surrendering to the abyss opened up by death, where language confirms 217

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the impersonality of loss and absence. The silence that reverberates in the interstices of the text signals the void from which the speech act of narration is drawn from and to which it incessantly returns. Far from confirming mastery over language, language draws the speaker into what exceeds and thus extinguishes personality. In an analysis of the poetry of Rilke, Blanchot argues that the fear of death stems from “the violent way we master [things], by the purposeful activity that makes us possessors, producers, concerned with results and avid for objects” (135). By the means of representations which confer upon objects our subjectively determined values we determine as essential and transcendent, we turn away from a proper relationship with death as the intimacy of what Rilke terms the Open. According to Blanchot, by allowing language to emerge from the Open and to speak from this horizon, [t]hings are transformed into that which cannot be grasped. Out of use, beyond wear, they are not in our possession but are the movement of dispossession which releases us both from them and from ourselves. They are not certain but are joined to the intimacy of the risk where neither they nor we are sheltered any more, but where we are, rather, introduced, utterly without reserve, into a place where nothing retains us at all. (141) In this space where nothing is offered to our manipulative grasp, death dispossesses us of our subjectivities, which paradoxically allows the fear of death, as the negation of being, to be overcome. Writing, then, allows both writer and reader a transformed relationship with death: not by congealing significance on ordinary being, but by allowing the space of death to inhabit it as the space through which we contemplate our ultimate dissolution with a measure of equanimity. I argue that Woolf ’s novels demonstrate a movement toward inhabiting the space of death through the erasure of the meaning human subjectivity imposes upon an indifferent reality, which orientates perception toward objects and natural processes now seen in the light of the absence of signification which is death. In this reading, the discourses through which civilization articulates for itself an image of substantiality and solidity (which include imperialism, the stability of the domestic sphere, and the language of art) can only ever be temporary bulwarks against encroaching dissolution and darkness. For Woolf, literature as writing inexorably pulls us toward the primal energies of death and regeneration, figured as an unfathomable cycle.

Epiphany as Dissolution: The Voyage Out and The Ship of Death Woolf ’s first novel, The Voyage Out (1915), positions itself both as a journeying out toward an expanded sense of knowledge, and a journeying into the inaccessible and unrepresentable realm of death and dissolution. In a letter to Lytton Strachey written one year after the novel’s publication, Woolf claimed that she had wanted “to give the feeling of a vast tumult of life, as various and disorderly as possible, which should be cut short for a moment by the death [of her protagonist Rachel Vinrace], and go on again – and the whole was to have a sort of pattern, and be somehow controlled” (qtd. in Love 86). This pattern is, however, not to be sought in the teleological design of the Bildungsroman where self and society provide the dialectical paradigms of narrative, but in the “dominant thematic tension between the affirmation of self as a specific individual and the dissolution of self into a cosmic unity” (Frye 23). In this reading, death is woven into the fabric of language that sustains identity and meaning, informing both the novel’s implicit critique of the discourses of civilization and the changes in stylistic register when the intimations of an inhuman realm become more central to the emergence of Rachel’s 218

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consciousness. Death obtrudes almost immediately from the start of the novel in the figure of Rachel’s surrogate mother-figure Helen Ambrose, whom we first meet grieving the loss of her children. While her husband Ridley “attempted consolation” (4) in an inadequate gesture which reveals his self-centeredness in not wanting to take part in “a grief that was greater than his,” Helen seeks spiritual comfort in the thought of an afterlife where “her children were now asking for her, and getting a soothing reply” (5). Already at this early stage, Woolf sets up a contrast between masculine and feminine modes of understanding, in which the focus on rational discourse in the sphere of the former robs the male characters of a more intuitive grasp of deeper realities embedded in the subconscious. Helen’s anguished awareness of the fragility of life not only particularizes her in an incomplete attempt at mourning, but also grants unique insight into existential alienation and the bathos behind civilization’s presumption of grandeur: As for the mass of streets, squares, and public buildings which parted them, she only felt at this moment how little London had done to make her love it, although thirty of her forty years had been spent in a street. She knew how to read the people who were passing her; there were the rich who were running to and from each other’s houses at this hour; there were the bigoted workers driving in a straight line to their offices; there were the poor who were unhappy and rightly malignant … When one gave up seeing the beauty that clothed things, this was the skeleton beneath. (5–6) The link between perception and the vantage point with which to peel away the veneer of social order gained through an intimation of the ugliness of the metonymic skeleton thus prepares the reader for Rachel’s own initiation into this same knowledge. Through the focalization of the narrative through Rachel’s half-detached perspective, Woolf satirizes the cultural and intellectual discourses of Edwardian England, in part by responding to Wordsworth’s panoramic description of London which “like a garment, wear/The beauty of the morning” (“Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802”). As we will see, far from a Wordsworthian celebration of nature as an enriching influence upon human sensibility, Woolf positions the unmediated perception of it as “uncomfortably impersonal and hostile” (Voyage 237), something which the brush of the artist represented by Mrs. Flushing can only “halfrealize” at the price of an “untrained onslaught” (272) of it. As Rachel sets sail on the Euphrosyne together with the Ambroses and the belligerent Mr. Pepper, their consciousnesses seem to merge in a lyricism that ironically celebrates the eternity of civilization by positioning its sterile fixedness against prospect of the journey out from its center toward the unfathomable: No darkness would ever settle upon those lamps, as no darkness had settled upon them for hundreds of years. It seemed dreadful that the town should blaze for ever in the same spot; dreadful at least to people going away to adventure upon the sea, and beholding it as a circumscribed mound, eternally burnt, eternally scarred. (13) Woolf thus maps the contrast between light and darkness onto the symbolic registers of life and death, which draw the characters together in an unacknowledged moment of epiphany erupting from a shared sense of mortality. It is, however, vouchsafed to Rachel, who is the blank canvas on which Woolf charts the inevitable movement toward the space of death, who has a heightened sense of the “shrinking island” which England (itself a synecdoche of the West) has become when distance from it implies exposure to the unknown. The “mute[ness]” of language that accompanies the hyperbolic entropy affecting all other continents (“Europe shrank, Asia shrank, Africa and America shrank”) prepares Rachel for an almost metaphysical 219

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vision of herself inhabiting “an empty universe.” Woolf thus links the emergence of Rachel’s sense of self with her irrational attraction toward the annihilation of that self – a dialectic which not only provides the patterning of this novel, but also points toward the culmination of her fictional technique in The Waves, which is to describe a world as it is, in the mere fact of its being. Ironically, the point of the disappearance of Rachel’s individuality brings with it an unlimited expansiveness, where she senses a communion with a pantheistic sense of being linking the human with the solidity of objects in the world, the elemental flux of nature, and the intangibility of art, all of which outlast the human. If for Julia Briggs, Woolf ’s melancholic focus on the inevitability of human mortality can be condensed into the insight that “things frequently outlast us, becoming mementoes of human brevity, of the ephemeral nature of our lives” (47), she also provides a quasi-therapeutic response to that fear in the imagining of a mystical affinity with the realm of nothingness, which negates individuality in order to reconstitute it as impersonal and objective. Adrift from the solid world and isolated from social roles which she fails to articulate, Rachel is a nascent precursor to more obvious artist-figures in Woolf ’s later fiction through her ability to “make an atmosphere and build up a solid mass” (247) by an ironic awareness of her ultimate dispossession through death: “Her dissolution became so complete that she could not raise her finger any more … She was overcome with awe that things should exist at all” (138). As the sense of the immense desolation of the South American landscape increasingly overwhelms the consciousnesses of the other characters by reducing symbolic appropriation to “little meaningless words” (322), Rachel fails at communicating her private vision of death to her lover Terence: “Does it ever seem to you, Terence, that the world is composed entirely of vast blocks of matter, and that we’re nothing but patches of light” (341). Rachel’s fatal illness functions both as the literal culmination of her voyage, and as symbolic of Woolf ’s tragic insight that the price of authentic vision is solipsistic incommensurability. Rachel dies alone because Terence cannot participate in the intensities of Rachel’s private hallucinations. However, the dialectical motor of the novel signals that Rachel’s metaphorical “death by drowning” is the prelude to a merging with objective being figured by the sea: At last the faces went further away; she fell into a deep pool of sticky water, which eventually closed over her head. She saw nothing and heard nothing but a faint booming sound, which was the sound of the sea rolling over her head. While all her tormentors thought that she was dead, she was not dead, but curled up at the bottom of the sea. (397–98) This ecstatic apprehension not only provides an implicit resolution to Helen’s incomplete attempt at mourning by sensing life’s intimate relationship with death, but also articulates a new mode of epistemology which dissolves the split between soul and body toward immersion with the space of negation. The most that Terence can share with Rachel’s death comes with his epiphanic recognition that “the world that lay beneath the superficial world” of “strife and anxiety” is the real one in which one can find ultimate peace. However, that vision cannot sustain him, and he blames himself for his weakness in succumbing to the thought that “things were different from what they are” (400). As with Bernard in The Waves, Terence fails as an artist in confronting death due to the limits of representation that language and literature impose. This inadequacy sheds significant light on how Woolf herself reconfigures the space of her novels to approximate Rachel’s implied vision. By the end of the narrative, death hollows out a space of complete absence, raising what was implied throughout the novel to its fullest pitch: “here was a world in which [Terence] would never see Rachel again” (413). The surviving 220

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members of the expedition attempt to deal with Rachel’s death by trying to impose an explanation of it that serves to confirm their own personal worldviews: one character explains the incident based on Rachel’s bodily constitution, and another aestheticizes the dead by calling them “beautiful” (420). Their various responses ironically underscore the unbearable event of death and their collective refusal to face up to its traumatic impact. As the last chapter of the novel makes clear, Rachel’s death recedes from the genteel talk that shores up questionable notions of class privilege and the continuance of society which is ultimately transient and contingent. However, the presence of death still lingers in the closing pages through the ambiguous presentation of nature, which portends annihilation while gesturing toward rebirth: “The sky was once more a deep and solemn blue, and the shape of the earth was visible at the bottom of the air, enormous, dark, and solid, rising into the tapering mass of the mountain, and pricked here and there on the slopes by the tiny lights of the villas” (436). If all attempts to impose an order upon an event which is precisely the loss of symbolic meaning prove futile, then art that functions as elegy by transforming the “experience of negation [into] … the stimulus to create” (Knox-Shaw 706) might provide its own consolation. To the Lighthouse simultaneously raises the possibility of this condition while exposing its limitations.

After Such Knowledge, What Consolation?: Order and the Limits of Vision in To the Lighthouse Death and the question of how to continue living and creating in the aftermath of loss are central to Woolf ’s aesthetic structure and concerns in To the Lighthouse (1927). Critics of the novel have often quoted Woolf ’s diary entry linking her thoughts about forging a new kind of novel with the elegiac enterprise as such: “I have an idea that I will invent a new name for my books to supplant ‘novel.’ A new – by Virginia Woolf. But what? Elegy?” (DiBattista 68). The absent signifier in this quotation provides an uncanny correlative for the design of the novel, which suspends the eventual trip to the lighthouse by the evocative middle section “Time Passes,” opening up a gap of ten years in which the inhuman passage of time brings with it “negative space” (Rubenstein 42) and the gaping openness of trauma that the third section struggles to transcend. At the heart of the first section of the novel stands Mrs. Ramsay, who embodies a maternal life-force creating domestic order and happiness against the antagonistic forces of indifference, dry rationalism, and unfulfilled expectations. As opposed to the masculine bent to “pursue truth with such astonishing lack of consideration for other people’s feelings [and] to rend the thin veils of civilization so wantonly” (Lighthouse 29), Mrs. Ramsay seeks to create domestic bulwarks against that knowledge which will, for a time, integrate people with a communal sense of being. For instance, as she reads to James, she senses how “the monotonous fall of the waves … beat a measured and soothing tattoo to her thoughts and seemed consolingly to repeat over and over again … the words of some old cradle song” (16–17). Nature and culture are brought into temporary harmony through language, and this sight of “her reading a fairy tale to her boy” seems to William Bankes to have the elegant simplicity of “the solution of a scientific problem” (41). Mrs. Ramsay’s vision culminates in the orchestration of the dinner party, which creates the space through which the boundaries between self and other are temporarily transcended and the existential loneliness imposed by the limits of existence can be forgotten: “Some change at once went through them all, as if this had really happened, and they were all conscious of making a party together in a hollow, on an island; had their common cause against the fluidity out there” (80). Yet, try as Mrs. Ramsay might to arrest the flow of time, she is deeply aware of the ineluctability of transience and how things tend toward inevitable disintegration. In her fight against “her old antagonist, life” (66), 221

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she is as much determined to ensure the continuity of the epiphanic moment through the marriage of Paul and Minta as she is irresistibly drawn toward personal annihilation, implied in a reverie that echoes Keats’s sentiment of being “half in love with easeful Death”: “Losing personality one lost the fret, the hurry, the stir” (53). This train of thought significantly culminates in her imagined merging with the object of her vision, which is the Lighthouse: One could not help attaching oneself to one thing especially of the things one saw; and this thing, the long steady stroke, was her stroke. Often she found herself sitting and looking, sitting and looking, with her work in her hands until she became the thing she looked at – that light for example. (53) Mrs. Ramsay thus becomes the central symbol of the novel, not only functioning as the lost object of desire that Lily Briscoe must struggle with in order to complete her painting, but also fracturing the narrative through the space of her absence. It is thus in the section “Time Passes” that Woolf makes the resonance of absence so palpable by delinking language from any of its claims to anthropocentrism (Beer 41). If the merging of Mrs. Ramsay with the Lighthouse repeats the motif of the loss of individuality in its surrender to the impersonal, the narrative voice of this section returns perception to a world denuded of all human significance. The point is thus not to speculate philosophically, as Mr. Ramsay does, about the reality of a kitchen table when nobody is there, but to examine the tenuous and arbitrary meanings we have imposed on nature and objective being in our own emergence as speaking beings, thus reflecting on what future order can surface after great loss. The narrator thus foregrounds the “profusion” of an “immense darkness” which, in an inversion of the language of Genesis, swallows up the objects of the house, leaving “scarcely anything left of body or mind by which one could say ‘This is he’ or ‘This is she’” (Lighthouse 103). This surrender to the decay wrought by time further enacts a dialectic between the vanishing of human concerns from the narrative (most famously displayed by the parenthetical comment concerning Mrs. Ramsay’s death) and what Minogue describes as “impersonality strengthening its grip as the section progresses, to the point that it is difficult to remember that there is a living author behind it” (287). If The Voyage Out engages in a critique of the values of civilization by relativizing its scope in the contrast to the realm of nature, Woolf shatters all notions of human comportment toward absence through the emphasis on fragmentation. Woolf highlights the point that all representation in language is tragically re-presentation or recollection, an effort to come to terms with the past through retrieving it. The objects that are left behind in the house evoke, as Gaston Bachelard puts it, a haunted realm of significance in which they “kept the human shape and in the emptiness indicated how once they were filled and animated” (106). Language is thus marked by irrevocable loss, and the modal verbs used in the phrases “visions of joy there must have been at the wash-tub” and “some cleavage of the dark there must have been” (Lighthouse 107, emphases mine) indicate how writing is punctured by ineluctable deferment of meaning which ultimately cannot reinstate a full moment of presence, despite what Mrs. Ramsay had thought. Roberta Rubenstein has usefully delineated how the empty signifier “Nothing” seems to dominate the texture of the narrative, arguing how it “assumes architectural form as a vacant house bereft of life” (43). I extend Rubenstein’s insight to argue that, for Woolf, negation structures the ontological conditions of both language and narrative. The resumption of the journey to the Lighthouse in the third section, which at one stroke brings emotional closure by allowing Cam and James to relate to their father, and providing Lily with the artistic vision she needs to complete her painting, is not so much a perfect reconstitution of meaning after the abyss opened up by existential nullity than it is a failed attempt to 222

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revive the significance of the past as represented by Mrs. Ramsay. Lily’s attempts at artistic mastery are thus measured by the distance she places between herself and the earlier artist figure, which ironically hints at her anxieties about the possibility of creating out of the vacuum of the past. Although she senses that with “Mrs Ramsay … faded and gone … we can override her wishes, improve away her limited, old-fashioned ideas” (143), there is no assurance that her art can articulate better aesthetic and cultural paradigms with which to address humanity’s powerful dislocations from fullness of meaning. Mourning thus emerges as the paradoxical source of creativity for the modern artist: Lily’s pained exclamations willing Mrs. Ramsay to return are inextricably linked to her desire that this return will enable “those empty flourishes [on her canvas to] form into shape” (148). In the aftermath of total loss, language always returns belatedly, and what is captured ironically demonstrates the failure of mastery that precipitates the capturing in the first place: “She owed this revelation to [Mrs. Ramsay]” (133). In this light, I read James’s famous epiphanic recognition – that “the other was also the Lighthouse. For nothing was simply one thing” (152) – not as a supreme moment of assertion that modernist art can apprehend the complexities of reality that is multi-dimensional, but as a failure to recover a metaphysics of presence associated with notions of finality, closure, and the termination of mourning (in Lacanian terms, the constitution of subjectivity in the Symbolic realm of language precipitated by the lost object of desire and the traumatic encounter with the unrepresentable Real). The Lighthouse emerges as a signifier that exceeds both presence and absence, paralleling Mrs. Ramsay’s reappearance as spectral apparition. In a similar way, Woolf ’s novel “becomes not a single, fixed entity, but an iridescent, vacillating one” (Lidoff 696). Thus, we can understand the putative “conclusion” of the novel to perform yet another deferment of signification, for the moment Lily has her triumphant vision, the act of narration consigns it to the past: “I have had my vision” (Lighthouse 170, emphasis mine). Vision belongs both to the terrible past and the ephemeral present; language cannot imbue it with more significance beyond that. However, I want to suggest that Woolf rises above her artist figures by acknowledging the sheer materiality of being which grounds all things, including the processes of artistic creativity; the words on a page and the colors on a canvas belong as much to a humanistic heritage as to the perishability of paper and fabric. To do so, the condition of being a subject in language must be washed away, in order to intuit how the things on “a level of ordinary experience” can also seem to have the significance of “a miracle [and] … an ecstasy” (164). The Waves demonstrates how impassive observation of things stripped of meaning gives rise to a new aesthetics of vision which fully countenances death as the horizon of being.

Resting Securely in Impermanence: The Waves as Final Statement The Waves (1931) redefines the way we read by positing a new relationship between the world and the language that attempts to constitute it. In the place of narrative focalization that sustains the diegetic momentum of storytelling, we get a staging of different speech acts set against things of the world that cannot speak. Lanser charts the respective stages of Woolf ’s composition of the “voice” of the text as a gradual erasing of personality: “Woolf first conceived for this novel an omniscient and explicitly female narrator, a ‘She,’ who ends up in the drafts as a vague meditative figure speaking ‘briefly in the first person’ … [before] giving up the authorial form in favour of ‘a series of dramatic soliloquies’” (111–12) which anticipate the later minimalistic experimentations in the theater of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter. In this way, language is divorced from any of our need to mean; as Kemp highlights, “the writer no longer converts things into centres of value … [for] things imprint themselves on consciousness irrespective of ‘sense’ … [and] details become intransigent and opaque” (512). In what can be 223

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argued to be an expansion of the aesthetics of vision in “Time Passes” as applied to an entire text, the novel’s nine sections are framed by an objective rendering of the world in the course of a single day. In these prologues, Woolf charts the interplay of light and shadow unencumbered by metaphysical signification; as the rising of the sun turns the landscape into “one incandescence which lifted the weight of the woollen grey sky on top of it and turned it into a million atoms of soft blue” (Waves 3), color and texture are presented as pure signifiers that cannot avail themselves for human signification. As light provides its own source of vision, it also gives things their proper place in a flow where life and death appear as natural processes: It gave to everything its exact measure of colour; to the sandhills their innumerable glitter, to the wild grasses their glancing green; or it fell upon the arid waste of the desert, here wind-scourged into furrows, here swept into desolate cairns, here sprinkled with stunted dark-green jungle trees. (86) Against this unity, human speech may be read as a falling from nature in its insistence of signification that creates arbitrary boundaries between self and other, hence reading death as the absolute opposite of life. The Waves criticizes language’s potential to divide and separate as much as it “caricatures patriarchal ceremonies [such as] partings for schools, graduation ceremonies, religious sermons, the mating rituals at dance parties, and school reunions” (Cramer 449) wherein the façade of solidarity and shared values disintegrates as soon as each character recognizes his or her utter isolation. In fact, Woolf demonstrates how language entrenches disenfranchisement in terms of gender: whereas Bernard tries to “lay hands upon the world” (Waves 39) through narrative and Neville senses “an order in this world” by understanding the difference incarnated in “each tense” which “means differently” (11), Susan is anguished by how she is “tied down with single words” (8), and Rhoda tragically intuits how she is forever “outside the loop” (11) created by the recirculation of meaning in words, prefiguring her suicide. And yet, each character senses how language ceaselessly points toward that which exceeds it. Bernard’s inability to (di)still the moment in “some final refrigeration” due to his use of “warm soluble words” (39) reminds him of the dissolution of conceptual edifices which returns being to the ebb and flow constituted by the movement of the waves. Both Susan and Neville resist being “mere phrases in Bernard’s story” (40), for in opposition to his tendency to seek “integration” (46) through narrative, the deepest core of human personality “cannot be tossed about, or float gently, or mix with other people” (57). Indeed, as Love points out, each of the monologues of the six characters particularizes itself as “a creative thrust of individuality that rises wavelike out of silence and recedes into silence once more” (199); the moment of articulation emerges and returns to its own demise. As Naremore argues, “even while the voices assert their personalities, they imply knowledge of a life without personality, an undifferentiated world like the one described by the interchapters” (173). Threatened by the impending prospect of dissolution which renders all meaning ultimately transient and contingent, the characters project their collective sense of value onto Percival, who like Mrs. Ramsay can impose order upon flux due to his embodiment of patriarchal ideals. Inasmuch as Percival functions as a metonym for the British empire and the standards of Western civilization, his presence recuperates the workings of time and history into a coherent narrative of progress and enlightenment. Bernard thus constructs an idealized image of Percival which sees him “righting” the disorder in India and solving “the Oriental problem” by “applying the standards of the West” and “by using the violent language that is natural to him” (Waves 79). With his masculine confidence imposing forceful order onto the otherness of the landscape, “the world that had been shrivelled, rounds itself; remote provinces are fetched up 224

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out of darkness; we see muddy roads, twisted jungle, swarms of men … as within our scope, part of our proud and splendid province” (80). Percival’s imaginary presence thus supplements the absence at the core of the other characters, revealing an utter lack that not only exposes the absurdity of his rhetorical construction, but also demystifies the British empire’s claims to permanence. Indeed, Percival’s bathetic death from a fall (and his ironic echo of Arthurian legend) only makes clear his textual function as an absent signifier with no reality beyond the symbolic register of language. Woolf thus continues her critique of the ideological discourses of politics and culture that are violent, and ultimately illusory, impositions of order upon the nature of things as they find their place within the totality of temporal being. By juxtaposing “the historical moment of the nation” symbolized by Percival “against the calendar of astronomical time” (Dalgarno 109), Woolf folds the transience of historical narrative into a generalized understanding of ephemerality. McIntire argues how Woolf in The Waves targets “the violence of monologism – of forcing the truth-value of a single discursive and rhetorical understanding onto an uncontainable diversity of voices, ideas and idioms” (31), further suggesting how the hero-worship of Percival signals Woolf ’s evocation of the dangers of Fascism. I shift McIntire’s focus in emphasizing how Woolf ’s main concern is not so much pitting monologic attitudes toward truth against dialogic ones, but in underscoring how the concept of the individual subject is intertwined with ideological constructions of permanence and stability that cannot give voice to what Woolf’s fiction gestures toward. Woolf enacts the death of the author to give birth to the sense of a seeing without a subject. It is thus in the transformation Bernard undergoes with respect to language that Woolf comes to what might be seen as a final statement regarding the final annihilation of subjectivity. If he starts by using words as opaque screens between himself and reality, thereby “help[ing] him attain that state of strength which alleviates for a time the terrifying spectacle of pure phenomena” (Moore 229), he ends by recognizing how language as thematic domination must give way to a poetics of pure observation which allows things to shine and present themselves in all their frailty and transience. He becomes as spectral as Mrs. Ramsay and all the other ghosts that haunt the texts of Woolf, emphasizing the paradoxical status of the work of art that emerges out of absence and mourning. In this state of (non)being, he “walks alone in a new world, never trodden; brushing new flowers, unable to speak save in a child’s words of one syllable; without shelter from phrases” (Waves 171, emphasis mine). As with Blanchot and Rilke, language does not provide the self with protection with which to escape death’s interminability. Instead, language turns us toward the impossible space of our annihilation, which is the horizon of being. Bernard adumbrates a new way of using language, which allows perception to penetrate concepts without hiding. In its wake, “loveliness returns as one looks” (Waves 172), as the old language is left behind in the act of perceiving the world anew. However, as Moore reminds us, Woolf cannot return to the mode of “pastoral sensibility” (236) and reawaken outworn literary tropes in the hope they can return us to where we were before. The perception of the world points the observer toward “things in themselves” (Waves 176) when “all this little affair of ‘being’ is over” (172). Shorn of all human constructs, nature is not just inimical toward our need for comfort and solace, but also forms the primordial space where all is “immeasurably receptive, holding everything, trembling with fullness, yet clear, contained” (174). By the end of the novel, utterance once again recedes into objectivity, as if language returns to its source of silence, ready to resurface in future lives and times. If in her fiction Woolf continually searches for an order that transcends language and appearances, then I argue that she achieves this in The Waves in the patterned evocation of the space of death as the abysmal lack of foundation to which animate and inanimate being return to. If the image of Percival riding on a horse is repeated more fruitfully with Bernard riding against death with his spear, this clarion call to 225

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resume the fight against time linking all of Woolf ’s artists cannot be divorced from an unacknowledged commitment to an embrace with mortality as danse macabre: Against you I will fling myself, unvanquished and unyielding, O Death! The waves broke on the shore. (177)

Conclusion The ironic apostrophizing of death that concludes The Waves aptly marks Woolf ’s gradual incorporation of the materiality of language into the scope of narrative, along with the evacuation of subjectivity and its will to impose illusory permanence upon that which will not guarantee stability. By writing obsessively about death and dissolution, Woolf brings language to the utmost condition of its (im)possibility, thereby transforming it from an indifferent system of signification into a vessel of historical meaning which signifies beyond the deaths of individuals and ideological systems. In a Hegelian fashion, language achieves its appropriate measure of determination through the process of its negation. In fact, death effects the transmissibility of narrative, for it opens up the reader’s affective experience of the past in terms of an absence held in the presence of language.2 The space of death thereby measures out not only the writer’s relationship to his or her tradition as something that should be continued because it is disrupted,3 but also returns perception to the contours of material and cultural objects that cannot survive annihilation, but have to be revivified through the artistic gaze.

Notes 1

2 3

For Maurice Blanchot, the “mastery” associated with transcendent vision is predicated upon the writer’s ability to abstract himself from the anonymous temporality of writing, which evanesces spacing as absolute interruption: “The writer’s mastery is not in the hand that writes, the ‘sick’ hand that never lets the pencil go – that can’t let it go because what it holds it doesn’t really hold; what holds it belongs to the realm of shadows, and it is itself a shade … Mastery consists in the power to stop writing, to interrupt what is being written, thereby restoring to the present instant its rights, its decisive trenchancy” (25). This aesthetic pulsation of presence which inaugurates the modernist (re)configuration of time as the precipitation of a spatial form in narrative is of course foregrounded by Joseph Frank in his seminal reading of Marcel Proust, James Joyce, and Djuna Barnes. The relationship between the transmission of experience and the authority of the storyteller whose act resurrects the embeddedness of narrative within the lifeworld of a people is examined by Walter Benjamin in his essay “The Storyteller: Reflections on the Works of Nikolai Leskov.” The dialectic between tradition and modernity is of course explored by T. S. Eliot in “Tradition and the Individual Talent.”

Works Cited Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space, translated by Maria Jolas. Penguin, 1964. Beer, Gillian. Virginia Woolf: The Common Ground. Edinburgh UP, 1996. Beja, Morris. Epiphany in the Modern Novel. Peter Owen Limited, 1971. Benjamin, Walter. “The Storyteller: Reflections on the Works of Nikolai Leskov.” Illuminations, edited by Hannah Arendt, translated by Harry Zohn. Schocken Books, 1968, pp. 83–109. Blanchot, Maurice. The Space of Literature, translated by Ann Smock. U of Nebraska P, 1982. Briggs, Julia. Reading Virginia Woolf. Edinburgh UP, 2006. Cramer, Patricia. “Jane Harrison and Lesbian Plots: The Absent Lover in Virginia Woolf ’s ‘The Waves.’” Studies in the Novel, vol. 37, no. 4, 2005, pp. 443–463. Dalgarno, Emily. Virginia Woolf and the Visible World. Cambridge UP, 2001. DiBattista, Maria. Virginia Woolf ’s Major Novels: The Fables of Anon. Yale UP, 1980.

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Spatialization of Death in Woolf Eliot, T. S. Selected Prose of T. S. Eliot. Edited by Frank Kermode. Faber and Faber, 1975. Foley, Matt. Haunting Modernisms: Ghostly Aesthetics, Mourning, and Spectral Resistance Fantasies in Literary Modernism. Palgrave, 2017. Frank, Joseph. The Idea of Spatial Form. Rutgers UP, 1991. Frye, Joanne S. “The Voyage Out: Thematic Tensions and Narrative Techniques.” Virginia Woolf: Critical Assessments: Volume III, edited by Eleanor McNees. Helm Information Ltd, 1994, pp. 22–40. Kemp, Sandra. “‘But how to describe a world seen without a self ?’ Feminism, Fiction and Modernism.” Virginia Woolf: Critical Assessments: Volume IV, edited by Eleanor McNees. Helm Information Ltd, 1994, pp. 509–526. Knox-Shaw, Peter. “To the Lighthouse: The Novel as Elegy.” Virginia Woolf: Critical Assessments: Volume III, edited by Eleanor McNees. Helm Information Ltd, 1994, pp. 699–721. Lanser, Susan Sandra. Fictions of Absence: Feminism, Modernism, Virginia Woolf. Cornell UP, 1992. Lidoff, Joan. “Virginia Woolf ’s Feminine Sentence: The Mother-Daughter World of To the Lighthouse.” Virginia Woolf: Critical Assessments: Volume III, edited by Eleanor McNees. Helm Information Ltd, 1994, pp. 681–698. Love, Jean O. Worlds in Consciousness: Mythopoetic Thought in the Novels of Virginia Woolf. U of California P, 1970. McIntire, Gabrielle. “Heteroglossia, Monologism, and Fascism: Bernard Reads ‘The Waves.’” Narrative, vol. 13, no. 1, 2005, pp. 29–45. Minogue, Sally. “Was It a Vision? Structuring Emptiness in ‘To the Lighthouse.’” Journal of Modern Literature, vol. 21, no. 2, 1997–1998, pp. 281–294. Moore, Madeline. “Nature and Community: A Study of Cyclical Reality in The Waves.” Virginia Woolf: Revaluation and Continuity, edited by Ralph Freedman. U of California P, 1980, pp. 219–240. Naremore, James. The World Without a Self: Virginia Woolf and the Novel. Yale UP, 1973. Nicholls, Peter. Modernisms: A Literary Guide. 2nd ed. Palgrave, 2009. Rubenstein, Roberta. “‘I Meant Nothing by the Lighthouse’: Virginia Woolf’s Poetics of Negation.” Journal of Modern Literature, vol. 31, no. 4, 2008, pp. 36–53. Smythe, Karen. “Virginia Woolf ’s Elegiac Enterprise.” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, vol. 26, no. 1, 1992, pp. 64–79. Walsh, Kelly S. “The Unbearable Openness of Death: Elegies of Rilke and Woolf.” Journal of Modern Literature, vol. 32, no. 4, 2009, pp. 1–21. Woolf, Virginia. The Complete Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf. Edited by Susan Dick. The Hogarth Press, 1985. Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse. Edited by David Bradshaw. Oxford UP, 2008. Woolf, Virginia. “A Sketch of the Past.” Moments of Being, 2nd ed. edited by Jeanne Schulkind. Harcourt Brace & Company, 1985. Woolf, Virginia. The Voyage Out. Edited by Lorna Sage. Oxford UP, 2009. Woolf, Virginia. The Waves. Edited by David Bradshaw. Oxford UP, 2008.

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21 “MEMENTO MORI” Memory, Death, and Posterity in Singapore’s Poetry Jen Crawford

Modernization, Death, and Poetic Strategy “Writing about death is a small triumph over death,” wrote Singapore poet Yeow Kai Chai in an account of his own poetics in 2014 (“Death”). For writers and other cultural practitioners in contemporary Singapore, the implications of “triumphing over death” are social and civic as much as they are personal and creative. Familiar habitats and landmarks in the small city-state are frequently a casualty of the extraordinary pace at which public, corporate, and residential sites have been remade over the past few decades. Renovation of the cityscape is a high priority for the state, part of a comprehensive program of modernization in place since Singapore assumed self-governance in 1959 (Wee 124). Redevelopment of the city’s physical sites and structures has intervened in the continuities of embodied cultural life, disrupting the “localised sense of community constituted by social biographies, affective ties, local referents and daily routines [in order] to make way for the ‘imagined community’ of nation-building” (Yeoh and Kong 60, citing Benedict Anderson). As official and unofficial sites of cultural practice are dismantled on the ground, some are reimagined within literature. These acts of literary memorialization emerge both independently and with the support and encouragement of state curation, as in the example of an officially designated receptacle for citizen remembrance, the Singapore Memory Project. The literary works featured on this website, as elsewhere, show this reimagining to be consistently bound up with images of death, as writers commemorate and grieve lost sites and engage in various ways with the state’s own aspirations to “triumph over death” through creative renewal. This chapter uses the Singapore Memory Project to offer an opening survey in its consideration of the relationships among death, memory, and civic engagement in Singapore’s poetry and its curation into official discourse. It then goes on to explore, beyond the site, representations of death in the works of three living poets – Edwin Thumboo, Boey Kim Cheng and Yeow Kai Chai – who each offer distinctive and very different negotiations of the theme. Where Thumboo’s work examines nation-building through claims to civic perpetuity that defy the finality of death, Boey takes an elegiac stance in relation to modernization. Yeow’s work, the primary focus here, responds instead with an aesthetics of teeming mortality and entangled civic engagement. Its dense playfulness points out the irony of the struggle to “triumph over death,” evoking urban crowding and situating it within a broader vision of 228

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human hubris and biocultural saturation. Thumboo’s and Boey’s works are well known and celebrated in Singaporean letters, with their poetic influence visible in the works of other poets and their achievements taken up in criticism. Yeow’s destabilization of the lyric mode and deployment of representational disruption offer an important, if less-often considered contribution to Singaporean poetry’s writing of modernization.

Grief and the Virtualization of Attachment In Singapore, geographical signs of political and economic hegemony are primarily projected through the state-sanctioned remodeling of the city. Renovation dismantles the old, creating the opportunity to define the trajectories of the national narrative. “Given the intimate connections between the spatial and the temporal,” write cultural geographers Brenda Yeoh and Lily Kong, “the state’s active and prominent hand in constructing place must necessarily mean an active and prominent hand in constructing history” (62). “Defining the past […] involves defining the nature of place in the present” (61), which in turn necessarily defines and asserts a particular future. This construction of the future is closely tied to the vision and aspirations of the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has held power in Singapore since its ascendancy in 1959; as cultural theorist C. J. W.-L. Wee observes, from the earliest years of PAP governance, “[t]he ongoing eradication of the old colonial city became an expression of the spatial will-to-power of PAP modernization” (124). With rapid increases in population density and an accompanying intensification of land use, not only the city’s urban core but also its ancillary spaces, including cemeteries, farmlands, kampongs, and beaches, have been subject to repurposing, usually with little physical trace left of their previous functions and histories. This modernization has effected radical change not only of physical sites but of the cultural practices that accompany their use as lived spaces. Much work has been done across the cultural sphere to contend with the rate of change and its personal and social implications. Individual artists draw on the capacity of art to evoke private and shared memory, and their efforts dovetail with the state’s efforts to use arts and heritage investments to foster and hold virtualized representations of place and community attachment – described in terms of the nurturing of “bonds,” “belonging,” and “social cohesion” – in the face of the loss of physical sites of cultural continuity. The Singapore Memory Project is one such heritage investment. Described by the state as “democratic” (Ng 4330), it has individuals contribute “memories,” in the form of written texts and images documenting and reflecting on Singapore’s past, to a publicly accessible website. This flagship project has, as of early 2019, more than a million citizen “memories added,” well short of the original five-million entry target (Cheng 69), but still representative of a large-scale government and popular investment. The poetry of established writers has a notable role in the project, with a gallery of poems and recorded readings, “Poetry and Place,” compiled in 2013 and still featured as a “Highlight” in early 2019. No editor is named on the site, which notes the collaboration with the National Institute of Education and the Arts House. The poetic works selected for this gallery show a heavy emphasis on a particular kind of poetic remembering that is widespread in Singaporean poetry: the commemoration of places irrevocably changed through modernization, with concrete details of sites and the lifestyles they once anchored invoked through lyrical reflection. The titles of the poems indicate both this dominant focus and something of its association with death: “Remembering Jalan Kayu” (Aaron Maniam), “The Portrait of a Sentenced Library” (Alfian Sa’at), “Elegy for Changi Beach” (Robert Yeo). “Nostalgia is a habitation with many names,” notes Edwin Thumboo’s poem “Bukit Panjang: hill village town,” and in this collection of 43 poems, longing for the 229

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past is variously inflected with notes of regret, protest and relinquishment. There is pleasure shared with the reader through the verbal “re-membering” (E. Tay 78) of places and times past, and there are occasional celebratory or hopeful moments as sustenance to cultural life is found even in emblems of change, memorialization, and conscious nation-building (as in Grace Chia’s “Kucinta” or Alvin Pang’s “Finding Enlightenment in the HDB Heartland”). The overriding affect, though, is unmistakably one of grief. An introductory note provided on the site from Boey Kim Cheng on his poem “Change Alley” describes the impulse to memorialization that is implicit in many of the poems: following the loss of the iconic marketplace Change Alley “in a tide of makeover,” Boey felt “a profound sense of loss,” with the loss itself becoming a founding principle of his creative activity. For me [Change Alley] seems to be a source, an omphalos, of what I have done, who I have become, and I am still the child held captive before it, wanting to enter the dim passage lit with voices, faces and memories that will never fade. Boey connects the loss of Change Alley as he once knew it with the death of his father, and both become synecdochal of the loss of Singapore as he once knew it. A similar association is made in Gwee Li Sui’s poem “Edward,” which associates the decline of an aging transvestite with the closure of the red-light district that once supported him. Other poets make a more metaphorical association between the landscape and the trials of the human body. Lee Tzu Pheng’s renowned poem “Singapore River” describes the river subject to renovation as an old woman who has undergone a heart bypass – which may have saved her life, but which has also erased her history. Lee’s poem is consciously echoed in Joshua Ip’s “Bukit Timah, Singapore,” which “updates” Lee’s poem by comparing a renovated road to a heart patient – in both poems, as in Gwee’s poem, it is left open to interpretation whether the character (both of the poem and of the nation) will survive. Other poems leave no doubt. Eileen Chong’s “Shophouse, Victoria St,” records memories of extended family life in a shophouse that has been home to four generations, until the death, “alone,” of the speaker’s great-grandmother; the poem archives memories as remnants of a lost lifestyle. A second poem by Chong, “Singapore,” “examines […] architectural, cultural, and familial amnesia,” as its note describes. The poem’s references to Change Alley, “the ghosts of red lights” and “long-dead horses” make overt connections between the modernization project, loss, and the persistence of memory – while also nodding to Boey’s work in this vein. For Chong, writing like Boey in a period of expatriation, this persistence is an ambivalent, perhaps unchosen bond with the home country that seems to make a ghost of the speaker: “It’s as though I can never leave.” Yet her poems, like others in the collection, are also both conscious and determined in their work to counteract amnesia. Robert Yeo’s “Elegy for Changi Beach” ends with the aphorism that “what we lose as adults we lose indeed,” suggesting that it is the very prospect of such irrevocable loss that prompts poetry to its memory work. The poems featured here, almost all originally published in the 1990s or later, are quite consistent in their use of the lyric mode to reach across elegiac distance toward recuperation. Jonathan Culler writes that “lyrics are poems made to be uttered by readers, who may come ritualistically to occupy the place of the lyric I” (126), and most of these poems draw on a shared palette of freeverse lineation and aural accents (alliteration, assonance, controlled rhythms, repeated words and structures) to stress voicing and achieve this song-like ritualistic function. Culler also asserts that the lyric is “at bottom, a statement about this world” (124) in which tensions between “fictional elements and […] ritualistic elements” may play out (126). In these poems, “this world” is clearly marked out by geographical and temporal references to Singapore of the post-independence 230

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period. Many use a first-person speaking voice to anchor the utterance within this world and its historical circumstances; others use a third-person voice and metaphorical conceits, while leaving intact that impression of geographical and historical faithfulness. The invitation to the reader to occupy the poem through its voicing is also made through the handling of tense in ways that emphasize the poem as enunciation, often through the use of the non-progressive present tense to suspend incidents described in the “strange time of the lyric now” (Culler 128) – for example, Chong’s “Shophouse,” which begins “The lame man draws the accordion gate shut,” though it closes with a funeral described in past tense, as though finally yielding to an end. Frequently the poems pull past incident “into the present of lyric enunciation” (Culler 127), such as Boey’s “Ahead My Father Moves,” in which that present is flexible enough to encompass both the past and its future: “I know the moment when he will […] pause to light the cigarette that will keep/ him going but also kill him.” Such flexible and tenacious uses of the present of enunciation are key to its elegiac capacity, as Paul Hetherington notes in a 2019 essay. Through them, “lyric utterance is able to conjure what is past or passing and hold it within a poem’s immediacy of expression.” This is not to say that lyric poetry actually recuperates what it conjures. Rather, Hetherington writes, quoting Richard Stamelman, “with [its] ‘insistence on speaking’ […] lyric utterance becomes a form of present lament for the impossibility – despite the attempt – of ‘chang[ing] an irreversible absence and shap[ing] it into a tangible present.’” It is notable that this “present lament” survives so distinctively the curated interaction between literature and the state presentation of the “Singapore Story.” Images of death, and the expressions of grief that they support, do not assert the narrative of “progress and optimism” that geographers Chang and Huang identified in 2005 as being key to the state’s presentation of the “Singapore Story” (269). Yet one might read the prioritization of loss within this collection as being consistent both with the poetry of the time and with the heritage activity that was used to shore up government hegemony in the years leading up to Singapore’s Jubilee (2015), “[involving] the sponsorship of widespread national nostalgia in ways that depoliticise the past” (Tan 243). In this light the role of the poems on the Singapore Memory Project might be seen as therapeutic or even palliative, offering cathartic relief, or a roadmap of acceptable memories and expressive responses to the state’s hegemonic assertions over heritage and history. Not all memories and responses are acceptable; Tan notes that those in the literary arts enjoy relative freedom to venture on issues that fall outside the authorized version of the “Singapore Story,” pointing to Alfian bin Sa’at’s poems on political detainees and exiles (absent in this showcase, though published elsewhere) as an example of the subject matter that often meets censorship in the more popular media of documentary film and blogs. Individual poems always both exceed and elude any purpose they might be put to, and national narratives manifest not only in top-down directives, but also through a much broader interpellation of drives and understandings – for which reasons it would be unwise to overinterpret the inclusions and exclusions of this gallery. That said, the commonalities of this collection offer a window into the bounds and desires of the sponsoring narrative in the period of its presentation, and in particular its openness to expressions of grief that reinforce the value of an affirmatively shared, if now virtualized, heritage. What this window doesn’t provide, but which the following discussion aims at, is historical context for the poetics at play, both shaped by and shaping what is available to be expressed.

Edwin Thumboo and the Crafting of Posterity Singaporean architect Tay Kheng Soon notes that there is a socio-economic advantage to selective forgetting: “To survive and prosper in material terms, we have become the generation 231

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that remembers to forget,” he writes, in an afterword to the poetry anthology No Other City (182). “We forget what is prescribed not to remember.” Tay’s comment appears in “Zooming Out,” an essay which, in considering the work of poetry in relation to civic narratives, underscores the necessity of distance perspectives, including those of memory, for the achievement of narrative continuity in art and subjecthood. Such scope is not always easily found, Tay suggests, particularly for those who experience themselves as inside a national story as its objects, rather than outside, crafting it. “A river must have a start and an end,” he writes, “but our view of the present reality has taken the form of discrete slices of disembodied time, soundbites in the official storyline” (182). Edwin Thumboo is persistently described as the “unofficial poet laureate” and founding figure of Singapore’s English-language poetry, partly because he has been overt about his participation in crafting a national narrative in ways that have at times overlapped with the “official” storyline. The most renowned poems of Thumboo’s output since the 1950s have been devoted to what he describes in “National Library” as “preserv[ing] the past, ensur[ing] the future” (A Third Map 99). Though Thumboo has described his own voice as that of the “man-in-the-street” (in 1977s “The Way Ahead,” Gods Can Die 58), the perspective assumed in these well-known poems is the long view. Famously, “The Way Ahead” describes a poet overtly undertaking the task of imagining the city. With his collaborators (“A Professor, much travelled and artistic,/A Senior Civil Servant who knew the way ahead/The Town Planner”), he is authorized in this work both by the state and by his own willingness to assume a visionary perspective. Thumboo’s nationalistic poems hold their public station partly because of their work to memorialize historical milestones (the “9th of August” poems, “May 1954,” etc.). But where memory has been fundamental to this project, it is generally cast in terms of its service to the future. For Thumboo, drawing on the lyrical present tense, The perfect poem is future tense. Meanwhile, neat incompletion must suffice. Life goes on. Meditate on words for modern times, alive to This surge, this minute, and the next, curving Towards us, to reveal poet on poem’s calling. (“A Poet Reading” 182) The eye (a public eye), is engaged in a deliberate refocusing from the moment-to-moment “surge” to an emergent destiny. The socius waits for a poet, and the poem’s calling includes the project of modernization. “The city is what we make it,/You and I: We are the City” continues “The Way Ahead.” If there is a certain finality to the visions projected, that finality does not figure as death or remembrance, but as transcendence into a sublime imperishability: “A City should be the reception we give ourselves,/What we prepare for our posterity” – a future in which polity and civitas, as collective self, survive. Perhaps in an attempt to perfect the sublimation into the possibilities of the future, “National Library 2007” (Still Travelling 58) updates Thumboo’s 1993 epithet to “Know the past, live the present, command a future.” Though the past is not fully relinquished, in the wake of the demolition of the iconic library building that was the site of the earlier poem, the replacement of “preserve” with the virtualized “know” synchronizes with the modernization project’s own ongoing revisions. Poet and critic Gwee Li Sui, in a nuanced and comprehensive appraisal of Thumboo’s contribution, cautions against conflating “the state’s and the poet’s form of nation-building” in “the familiar charge that Thumboo writes to endorse and vindicate the PAP’s political dominance” (“Understanding Edwin Thumboo”). At the same time, he acknowledges the work’s own ambivalent relationship to state power: “as the realms of postcolonial empowerment and 232

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state complicity often overlap, we just cannot be sure which is pursued only in the other’s service or whether both are, in fact, embraced.” In any case, Gwee notes that the impact on Thumboo’s peers and inheritors is apparent, producing both “a whole genre of fiercely nationalistic […] writing” followed by a reactive rejection, since the mid-1990s, of the “symbiosis between art and politics” that has come to be seen as the defining feature of Thumboo’s work. Rejected, too, is the relentless future focus, creating the space for the exploration of death and its images and affects as concretizations of the ever-receding past.

Boey Kim Cheng and Elegiac Distance The key figure in this turn is Boey Kim Cheng. The exemplary title poem of his 2012 collection, Clear Brightness, was occasioned by news of a cemetery closure, pinpointing a moment when the locus of memory shifts from physical to representational space. “Clear Brightness” is written from the perspective of a poet who has left the city-state, and like much of Boey’s writing, it works toward the expression of an exilic gap that becomes symbolically available to all who are displaced from the past. The collection opens and closes in Australia, where bushfires fill the air with ash, pushing the poet into memories of tending ancestral graves with his family on the day of Qing Ming (“Clear Brightness” or “Ancestor’s Day”) in his Singaporean past. In the present, the poet reflects on “grave” news from Singapore: the cemeteries are dug up, razed, the dead expelled, their bones unhoused, ashed and relocated to columbaria to make room for progress. No more tomb-sweeping and picnicking with the dead. (Clear Brightness 1) The poem references one of a series of cemetery closures that raise the question of what to do with cultural and physical remains that are excessive to the space allotted to them through social practice – of what happens when, to borrow theater visionary Kuo Pao Kun’s formulation, “the coffin is too big for the hole.” Boey’s work, as we have already seen, answers by turning toward the affective grip of the past, rather than away from it. Shirley Chew makes the compelling assessment that Boey’s poems “are not only a critique of progress, of the nation’s ‘high-rise dreams’ (AF170) […] the poems sing and, in singing, call forth the Singapore he knows and remembers, keeping – against heedless changes as well as token nostalgia – its history alive, living, and meaningful” (51). But fundamental to this singing is its close attention to the experiential logic and emotional range of loss. In the passage just quoted, the violence of the change is conveyed by the energetic onslaught of the verbs that describe the exhumation (“dug up,” “razed,” “expelled,” “unhoused”) as balanced with the flat single noun, “progress,” that describes its rationale. Public loss is personal grief, as conveyed by the layering of time frames in the images of ash. The fate of the cemeteries is inextricable from the other losses that cross the distance of the poet’s relocation: the ash-drifts of the burning bush are also those of childhood’s burnt joss, the charred remains of the trees are also the remains of the speaker’s father, cremated even before the death of the cemeteries. At the moment of the poem’s narration, the poet’s emigration away from the “progress” of modernization is a fait accompli. Yet this displacement also provides the speaking position from which the poem is narrated, so that the event of emigration may be seen as a fundamental part of the poet’s response to what he describes. Boey does not represent emigration in itself 233

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as offering the kind of self-renewal that would provide a sense of full resolution. Though images of Australian bushfire might promise renewal, this promise is not directly articulated in Boey’s poem; instead, the layers of fire present multiple iterations of the old life and its conflagrations, which may be fled but not escaped. Fire is followed by the settling of ash, on which image the poem ends. Ash represents the speaker’s ambiguous desires in relation to the past and the home that’s been left: “on my sleep it is still raining/ash, flakes falling like memory, on my dead settling/like a snowdrift of forgetting.” Chew takes “the enigmatic phrase, ‘flakes falling like memory’ (CB 2), to mean the dissolution of memory (and not, even though this is a possibility, the activity of memory), [making] the transition into ‘like a snowdrift of forgetting’ both inevitable and starkly pessimistic.” I suggest that the ambiguities invoke questions that run to the core of emigrant experience, but also to the experience of any who see their landmarks vanish: In response to loss, is one wiser to remember or forget? Might memory in the forms of nostalgic fantasy be a form of forgetting? Does forgetting offer danger or comfort? The poem is set close to Christmas, and its images of snow and ash are significant both to Boey’s negotiation of these questions, and to his choice and craft of English-language poetry in the elegiac mode as a formal response to the incursions of “progress.” For Australians and Singaporeans alike, a snowy white Christmas is one of a set of inherited images that shift genre from realism to fantasy by virtue of being transplanted from the seat of the old empire to the colonies. In the body of Boey’s work, such images are close to the impulse to poetry, part of a pastoral landscape found in the works of his early influences (in particular, John Keats and Edward Thomas), that he has adapted to a function explicitly described in his memoir, Between Stations: Poetry was an escape for me but it also offered a greater and more comforting sense of reality; the Singapore of gleaming towers and malls seemed unreal, an illusion I was countering with my own images of England, my England. In literary terms, it was a pastoral I needed to resist the conditions of postmodernity and postcolonialism. (138) Where Boey as reader might have escaped into this imaginary other, Boey as writer performs a different operation: in the schema of “Clear Brightness” and other poems, personal grief is mobilized further in its social dimension – its resistance – through the poems’ function as public documents. Nonetheless, the risk and temptation of amnesia remains active at the center of this relationship, present throughout the poems’ “continuous signature of absence” (“Painting into Life,” After the Fire 121).

Yeow Kai Chai and Teeming Presence The title of Yeow Kai Chai’s “Memento Mori” poems, in its injunction to remember one’s death, stands guard against the temptation to amnesia and the “snowdrift of forgetting.” The sequence of 12 poems across 40 pages, which appears in his 2006 collection, Pretend I’m Not Here, positions memory not as a keeper or inventor of the past, but as the harbinger and witness of projected mortality. Together with the poems’ kinetically lively use of situational parataxis, this positioning can be read as a kind of intervention into the poetics of posterity as command of the future, and an alternative to elegiac distance as spatial relation to the modernized present. Yeow’s poems evoke an experience of place that is defined by a density of surfaces and density of activity. In Yeow’s sequence, the need to find a means for encountering urban density is formalized not around the signature of absence, but through a structuring affect of teeming presence. Density is most obviously present in Yeow’s use of parataxis, in the frequent 234

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clause-by-clause and line-by-line addition of apparently disjunctive situating terms that the poems move through but rarely sustain or elaborate. Yeow’s poetry is unusual in Singapore for his early exploration of this technique, one sign of the interest he has taken in postmodern North American poetry of the Language period. Indeed, the relationship of poetic parataxis to contemporary urbanity has a significant role in definitions of the literary postmodern that circulated in this period; the link appears, for example, in Fredric Jameson’s “The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” which discusses how “urban squalor […] expressed in commodification, and […] an unparalleled quantum leap in the alienation of daily life in the city can now be experienced in the form of a strange new hallucinatory exhilaration” (146). Jameson found that exhilaration expressed, among other places, in the “New Sentence” of Language poetry, as well as in city architecture. It’s worth noting that Jameson’s emphasis in discussing the New Sentence was on its “discontinuities” or “schizophrenic fragmentation,” but that others have recognized the parataxis he describes there as (in the words of Bob Perelman) a “gesture of continuity”(64), because it is an expressive mode that can explicitly acknowledge and inhabit the fragmentation of contemporary experience without requiring the speaker to appear to transcend it. Death immediately announces itself as a presence in the “Memento Mori” poems; the imagining of death is in the title both of the sequence and, less directly, in the name of the collection in which they appear, Pretend I’m Not Here. It is also the negative complement, activated through transience, of the teeming that organizes affect at several levels of the sequence. One of these levels is that of the action of resituation, which is immediately present in “Memento Mori I”: Flogged, I break down in full, 5,000 kilometres away from the Faradised House of Wax where you remain hog-tied calling for kelp. The ghostwriter’s left a lasso of tadpoles for your convenience while a subtle Tom or two peep over my casserole despite spam protection and a winking bedpost to be wary of creepers. (16) At the denotative level the imaginary environment is in a state of constant dissolution and remaking; one is hard-pressed to take such lines as a “statement about this world,” whether Singaporean or otherwise. One can blend the presented concepts to construct a narrative situation (a reinvention of the film House of Wax? Mutual victims, brothers or lovers continents apart?), but unstated terms must be invented rather than assumed, and new terms as they are added are likely to replace rather than elaborate on what has come before. Also unlikely to be sustained are the poem’s actors, who often bear names that, with their definite articles and nominalized actions, suggest allegorical heft (“The ghostwriter,” “the hitchhiker,” “the Spectral Gleaner”) that the poems soon blithely undercut. The names are

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the characters’ only concrete performance of their roles, and they almost never return, unless one interprets them as versions of other characters. “I” and “you” do appear repeatedly, and while they are easier to imagine as continuous presences, their identity is also kept in motion: “depending on the television/neighborhood, I am also you” reads “Memento Mori V” (58). The final poem asks, in unattributed quotation marks, “Where do I begin/And when does the rest of the city take over?” (118). The “city” is in some sense at least the crowds of characters moving through the poems; there are 41 humanoid individuals or groups named in the first (seven-page) poem alone, each engaged in activity that creates syntactical but not causal links with the other objects, events, and characters. Read as a response to Thumboo’s all-in inducement to civic participation (“We Are the City”), Yeow’s question about identity suggests that the lifespan of individuated subjectivity in the city may be tenuous and brief, and perhaps that the impression of individuated subjectivity is mistaken altogether. Is this, then, a poetry subsumed by the city, if not the official narrative, reproducing its soundbites, its “discrete slices of disembodied time”? The use of collagic effects, and the loss of familiarity and continuity in individual narrative, appear to suggest so. But the perception of teeming is also a distance marker, which might suggest a perspectival mobility that has something in common with Thumboo’s maneuvers from the interior to the exterior, from “man-in-the-street” to social architect. Yeow’s sequence seems to exaggerate the effect found in Thumboo’s work: individuals disappear but the whole goes on, suggesting the ephemerality and replaceability of individual actors, an effect achievable only by representing activity at a scale greater than the individual. Yeow’s semantic mobility, like his treatment of death, resists resolution into a totalizing narrative, but it also accommodates awareness of such narratives through the specificity of its signs, which include reference to the tools and mechanisms of social design. The poems neatly subvert the “long view” through repeated mentions of surveillance action and the evasion of it, in film noir evocations of fugitive information and identity. In the first poem there is talk of “squealing to a badge,” “dusting for fingerprints,” “solvent contact with the informant,” “faked ID,” and “dubbed Underwolves sniffing for a rise among the polygraphs.” Later “the security camera records without rhyme or treason” (51). In “Memento Mori VIII,” reproducing a familiar pattern, surveillance operations at (virtual) ground level lead to the view from above: Metal detectors scan the weblogs for contraband, Programmed by a sharp nose for national purpose, To the ultimate penthouse, a bird’s eye view Of the Singaporean skyline. (84) The “bird’s eye view” might here be considered in temporal as well as spatial terms. The poems’ suspicious consciousness of “national purpose” conditions their awareness of the “long view” of posterity, and of the claims made for the sustaining power of the written word, both in a local and broader literary history. Yeow’s treatment of death itself is reactive and subversive to such claims; in the activity of the “Memento Mori” poems there is no firm boundary between life and death to be heroically overcome, and little reverence is in attendance. Corporeal decay is integrated into the action through the swarms of worms, flies, and other bugs that populate the poems, forming semantic links as they go with the terms of surveillance, authority, and futurity:

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the basic tapeworm swallows us up then turns us over to the sheriff (77) a kamikaze of mayflies Which mate for future proof in a matter of tics (84–85) So what’s the latest buzz out in the field? All the bugs are creepy aren’t they? They don’t even wait for the sun to go down these days. (83) Beyond these examples there are luscious slugs, colossal worms that are “unearthed,” and certain humans that seem a little wormish, such as slithery paparazzi. Although the swarming and slithering speak of vitality, the ephemerality and replaceability they conjure are also part of the discourse of death, as is the reminder that once the individual’s life (and subjectivity) ends, and perhaps even before that moment, the body is subject to being consumed by other living organisms, through parasitic processes that might otherwise be segregated to the cemetery or preempted by flame. In Annie Dillard’s words, “[e]very glistening egg is a memento mori” (160). In keeping with this sense of teeming immediacy, Yeow holds to the sense of a lyric present, even while overrunning lyric’s representational containment with a maximalist profusion of references. Again Dillard seems memorably apt: “I don’t know what it is about fecundity that so appalls. I suppose it is the teeming evidence that birth and growth, which we value, are ubiquitous and blind, that life itself is so astonishingly cheap, that nature is as careless as it is bountiful” (160). Yeow’s realm of reference points collapse boundaries between the natural, (pop-)cultural, and technological, while also rupturing the image of the ultra-clean, virtualized Singapore that William Gibson characterized in his infamous 1993 essay, “Disneyland with the Death Penalty.” This is not to say that Yeow eschews impressions of authoritarian intervention; it is notable how often he connects the more abject processes of death to the surveillance activity of the imagined state, as though consciously eroding the human exceptionalism that helps to propel fantasies of omniscience and perpetual power. Indeed, Yeow’s epistolary speaker concretizes and responds directly to the idea of suspending death in order to extend life: after considering cryogenics. I’m afraid I’ve chickened out. With its professional gaze, The permafrost scares the bejesus out of me. (29) Yeow’s speaker, faced with a “teeming” environment in the shadow of the “Spectral Gleaner,” fears an inanimate permanency or suspended animation. His fears or something like them very quickly come to pass. “And before I could take flight,” the poem continues, the barrel of a gun was pressed against my head. Blow me away and the next thing I knew, A benign, brow-less caretaker shook me awake. (29) The image of the speaker as vampire is one that then recurs through the poems. “Blown away” and reanimated, he appears in Transylvania, led to a sinister woman by his “fecund blood.” 237

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Along the way he’s “scorched by the sun” yet not extinguished. This development, in being as close to sustained characterization as one might find in these poems, is a particularly pointed turn for a sequence under the title “Memento Mori,” in that it disorders the temporal positioning conjured by that phrase. How does a vampire remember he will die? Perhaps a nostalgia is implied for a time when the threat of death was possible – before the prospect of literary eternity and perpetual poiesis (under the care of a figure who for some readers may recall Lee Kwan Yew) took hold. “Life goes on,” as Thumboo writes, and as this injunction is literalized in Yeow’s poems, the implications for affect are substantial: once immortality afflicts the speaker, there is little room for the longings of nostalgia and grief, with their attendant desires to reach toward a past world through words. Nor do the poems offer figures of reflective distance that are common to the work both of elegy and of visionary nation-building. In Boey’s work, the distance of exile itself evokes this spatial relation. Thumboo, too, makes use of it when he represents the work of poetry, as in a poet described “standing by the pool […]. [H]er brow, lifted gently by rising lotuses, /Receives the sky’s deep reverence” (“A Poet Reading” 238). Yeow, in contrast, seems to warn against the contemplative posture for those at street level, as when we see his vampire figure as Death itself, an active participant in the crowded air. “I have come for you, Mr Merrick,” he writes in “Memento Mori IV,” and “Memento Mori V” begins: As I fly over rows of twin chimneys And live tripwires and survey the repeated skyline for hungry hornets and luscious slugs, hear the recondite contexts and the everyday buzz of birds and bees crowding the open sky. How you look up from the page, and in a nanosecond I have swooped down and made lunch out of you, my sweetest engineer. (58) In this particular instance, immortal Death, the vampire, might well be speaking to – and indeed preying upon, the poet: the kind of poet who is, in contemplation, engineering the future. Again it is worth pointing out that these performances of Death are among the few sustained moments of characterization in the poems: it is in predation that the speaking voice becomes a character, participating in the sky’s commerce and in the construction of narrative. Through mobile subjectivity and the employment of this figure of gothic suspension, Yeow creates a vehicle that is both implicated in and responsive to the instrumental use of poetic posterity for the enscription of a particular civic future. Through this narrative maneuverability, Yeow’s poems access conflicts at the core of the relationship between poet and civitas that might otherwise remain repressed. Gods Can Die, asserts the title of Thumboo’s 1977 collection, but the death his title warns of is ultimately deferred by the claimed posterity of the endlessly modernizing city, while that modernization continues to render the spaces of the dead, among other repositories of personal and shared memory, increasingly unavailable to the embodied experience of the living. Boey’s elegiac recuperations offer a reaction to this loss of embodied memory that reclaims the vanishing space and its emotional investments. Written from an engaged, articulate outside, these poems allow resistance as well as reclamation, but are dependent for their speaking 238

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position on removal of the subject from the city-space, a removal which risks the sacrifice of memory itself. Yeow’s poetry, in contrast, stays within the changing city. Indeed, the poems can be seen to perform the kinetics of the city itself, in their redeployment of fragmentation into paratactic play, and in the mobility of their distance perspectives and situational terms. This work intervenes in modernization’s poetics through the articulation of terms that might otherwise remain repressed, as the nation-building narrative accompanies the ongoing dismantling of physical history and habitat. In voicing both prey and predator within the interior of this landscape, and dissolving boundaries between cultural and biological human experience, Yeow opens the poetry to the return of death’s abject contents, and to the experience and expression of the gothic animus of posterity itself.

Works Cited Boey, Kim Cheng. After the Fire. Firstfruits, 2006. Boey, Kim Cheng. Between Stations. Giramondo, 2009. Boey, Kim Cheng. Clear Brightness. Epigram, 2012. Chang, T. C., and Shirlene Huang. “Recreating Place, Replacing Memory: Creative Destruction at the Singapore River.” Asia Pacific Viewpoint, vol. 46, no. 3, 2005, pp. 267–280. Wiley Online Library, doi. org/10.1111/j.1467-8373.2005.00285.x. Cheng, Nien Yuan. “‘This is my doodle’: Non-Participation, Performance, and the Singapore Memory Project.” Performance Paradigm, no. 14, 2018, pp. 64–86. www.performanceparadigm.net/index.php/ journal/article/view/213/224. Chew, Shirley. “‘A Kind of Pursuit’: On Boey Kim Cheng’s Poetry.” Singapore Literature and Culture: Current Directions in Local and Global Contexts, edited by Angelia Mui Cheng Poon and Angus Whitehead. Routledge, 2017, pp. 44–61. Culler, Jonathan. “Theory of the Lyric.” Nordisk Poesi: Tidsskrift for lyrikkforskning, vol. 2, no. 2, 2017, pp. 119–133. www.idunn.no/nordisk_poesi/2017/02/theory_of_the_lyric. Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Jonathan Cape, 1974. Gibson, William. “Disneyland with the Death Penalty.” Wired, 1 Apr. 1993. www.wired.com/1993/04/ gibson-2. Gwee, Li Sui. “Critical Introduction: Understanding Edwin Thumboo.” Poetry.sg, 2013. www.poetry.sg/ edwin-thumboo-intro. Hetherington, Paul. “Present Absences: The Lyric Poem’s Reconstruction of Loss.” Axon, vol. C4, 2019. axonjournal.com.au/issue-c4/present-absences. Jameson, Fredric. “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.” New Left Review, vol. 11, no. 46, 1984, pp. 59–92. Ng, Irene Phek Hong. Parliamentary Debates Singapore, Official Report, 86:20, 2010, Column 4330. Perelman, Bob. The Marginalization of Poetry: Language Writing and Literary History. Princeton UP, 1996. “Poetry and Place.” Singapore Memory Project. 2013. www.singaporememory.sg/collections/11?nextrecord= 9&listtype=collectionMain&id=11. Tan, Kenneth Paul. “Choosing What to Remember in Neoliberal Singapore: The Singapore Story, State Censorship and State-Sponsored Nostalgia.” Asian Studies Review, vol. 40, no. 2, 2016. Taylor and Francis Online. doi/full/10.1080/10357823.2016.1158779. Tay, Eddie. “A Luxury We Cannot Afford: The Poetry of Yong Shu Hoong, Toh Hsien Min, and Boey Kim Cheng.” Singapore Literature and Culture: Current Directions in Local and Global Contexts, edited by Angelia Mui Cheng Poon and Angus Whitehead, Routledge, 2017, pp. 62–81. Tay, Kheng Soon. “Zooming Out.” No Other City: The Ethos Anthology of Urban Poetry, edited by Aaron Lee and Alvin Pang. Ethos Books, 2000, pp. 179–189. Thumboo, Edwin. Gods Can Die. Heinemann, 1977. Thumboo, Edwin. “A Poet Reading.” The Best of Edwin Thumboo. Epigram Books, 2012, pp. 181–185. Thumboo, Edwin. Still Travelling. Ethos Books, 2008. Thumboo, Edwin. A Third Map: New and Selected Poems. Unipress, 1993.

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Jen Crawford Wee, C. J. W.-L. “Imagining New Asia in the Theatre: Cosmopolitan East Asia and the Global West.” Rogue Flows: Trans-Asian Cultural Traffic, edited by Koichi Iwabuchi, Stephen Muecke, and Nabdt Thomas. Hong Kong UP, 2004, pp. 119–151. Yeoh, Brenda, and Lily Kong. “The Notion of Place in the Construction of History, Nostalgia and Heritage in Singapore.” Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, vol. 17, no. 1, 1996, pp. 52–65. Wiley Online Library. doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9493.1996.tb00084.x. Yeow, Kai Chai. “Death, My Funny Valentine.” International Writing Program Archive of Residents’ Work, 539, 2014. ir.uiowa.edu/iwp_archive/539. Yeow, Kai Chai. Pretend I’m Not Here. Firstfruits, 2006.

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PART IV RITUALS, MEMORIALS, AND EPITAPHS

To be sure, this Companion would not fulfill its intent to chronicle literature’s relationship to the dead if it wasn’t also something of a memorial to the dead itself, especially in its commitment to memorializing the profound cultural importance of death, dying, and the dead. The diversity of this section (and of the Companion as a whole) speaks to the profound polysemy of ways in which we memorialize the dead. Humankind’s recourse to the rituals, memorials, and epitaphs explored here derives in part from what Paul Ricoeur (vis-à-vis Augustine) terms “memories that spill over the threshold of memory, presenting themselves one by one or in bunches according to the complex relations of their themes or circumstances, or in sequences more or less amenable to being put into narrative form” (22). Ritual is central to “install[ing] the dead into collective memory,” as Dennis Klass argues, providing an “inter-subjective space in which survivors reconstruct the meanings of the life now over, the meanings of the death, and the meanings of the deceased’s ongoing presence and influence” (435) – a memorializing impulse that underpins the eight essays collected in this section. In her essay “Death and the Dead in Verse Funerary Epigrams of Ancient Greece,” Arianna Gullo introduces the unfamiliar reader to the complex and diverse manifestations of epitaphs and epigrams from throughout Ancient Greek culture, which come down to us today either through archaeological remnants or having been written in various ways into Classical Greek literature. Gullo argues that the commonly held distinction between “classify[ing] an epigram as literary or epigraphic” breaks down under closer scrutiny, as such distinctions cannot be “‘made on the basis of their form or tone alone.’” As “the closest ancient literary genre to the material object,” the epigram served as a means of “guarantee[ing] the permanent survival of the individual after death” – a preoccupation similarly shared in many of the essays that follow. Helen Swift’s essay “Fictional Will” describes a shift in the epitaph genre that occurred in medieval France, where writers would compose their own fictional “will and testament,” which functioned variously “as a pretext for reflection on personal life history […] or as a vehicle for social commentary.” These “‘mock’ testaments” often employed “parodic or satirical aspects” to “highlight key questions of what constitutes human identity or how legacy is constructed, including the idea of a literary will – an author’s textual legacy and bibliographic genealogy.” In doing so, Swift explains how such “late-medieval fictional wills display the process and the precarities of identity construction.”

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John Tangney traces the importance of producing offspring as monument in his essay, “Monumentalism, Death, and Genre in Shakespeare,” as well as addressing the various complications associated with paternity and succession implicit in the sociocultural desire to create monuments via one’s progeny. Tangney reads Shakespeare against a historical backdrop that considers how our own era’s “new sense of death’s mystery can also lead to loss of soul in the turning away from death toward worldly achievements and recognition.” Tangney concludes by emphasizing our ongoing “need [for] Shakespeare and the poets he is in conversation with across the field of history.” In her essay “Death and Gothic Romanticism: Dilating in/upon the Graveyard, Meditating Among the Tombs,” Carol Margaret Davison examines “the Gothic in relation to death, dying, mourning, and memorialization.” With reference to writers including Percy Bysshe Shelley, Thomas Parnell, Robert Blair, Ann Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis, Charles Robert Maturin, and Mary Shelley, Davison illustrates how the Gothic’s “trinity of deathcentered literary forms” (the elegy, graveyard poetry, and the Gothic novel) symbolically negotiated “a new social contract between the living and the dead,” highlighting the Gothic’s crucial significance in “laying the conceptual and cultural groundwork for what Gerhard Joseph and Herbert Tucker term the ‘necroculture’ of the Victorian era.” Jolene Zigarovich in turn sets her investigation of “Death, Literature, and the Victorian Era” against a backdrop of “[r]apid industrialization and urbanization,” where she links the Victorians’ elaborate treatments of death to sociocultural anxieties about “absence, separation, and displacement” during a period of declining “faith and belief in the afterlife.” This “resulted in attempts to invent performances of spiritual certainty, seen in the aestheticization of mourning rituals and the overall Victorian ‘cult of death.’” Zigarovich traces Victorian poetry’s fixation on the ambiguity between the material and the spiritual, as well as the eroticization of death in Victorian fiction, in the intersections among death, sex, and the body/corpse. In her essay “The Aura of the Phonographic Relic: Hearing the Voices of the Dead,” Angela Frattarola also begins with the Victorian era, chronicling the various death relics that make up what Zigarovich referred to in the previous essay as “the cult of death.” Responding to the idea that new technologies “disrupted Victorian relic culture, as the personal, corporeal touch of handwriting became less common,” Frattarola investigates “the practice of remembering the dead through phonographic recordings,” pointing out that “although vocal recordings were disembodied rather than corporeal relics of the deceased, the trace and residue of the physical body that the voice retained in its recording perhaps gave them the intimate and spiritual associations of the relic.” Amid “a growing skepticism of the afterlife,” Frattarola’s close readings of Jules Verne’s The Castle in Transylvania, Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Story of the Japanned Box,” and Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain” make a clear case for recordings of a loved one’s voice as “a surer means of hearing her or his voice after death.” The final two essays in this section return to the textual nature of such memorializing impulses, as Laura Davies and Ira Nadel consider the mode of biography and its efficacy for extending one’s life(story) beyond the grave. Laura Davies’s essay, “Anecdotal Death: Samuel Johnson’s Lives of the English Poets,” attends to intersections between “the work of history and the writing of death” in Johnsonian biography, where Davies explains how fictionality in Johnson’s nonfictional mode of biography writing draws “attention to the construction of the discourse.” Specifically, Davies considers the role of the anecdote in historiographical studies and explains how Johnson’s use of conflicting anecdotes complicates reductive accounts of the deaths of Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, and other English poets, exemplifying a “narrative incoherence” that “enacts how death resists our grasp conceptually.” 242

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Ira Nadel’s “Biography: Life after Death” in turn bluntly questions the efficacy of the biographical mode: “Can biography extend a life after death? Can it create and sustain individual and cultural memory, presenting both in a single narrative? Can it do more than provide fragmented, disconnected anecdotes?” Nadel traces evolving attitudes toward biography through the ages, noting that biography’s necessarily incomplete nature lends itself to Virginia Woolf’s exhortation “that every biography should be written twice: once accurately with facts without comment, and then again as fiction” (qtd. in Lee 10).

Works Cited Klass, Dennis. “The Cross-Cultural Study of Grief.” The Routledge Companion to Death and Dying, edited by Christopher M. Moreman. Routledge, 2018, pp. 432–441. Lee, Hermione. Virginia Woolf. Chatto and Windus, 1996. Ricoeur, Paul. Memory, History, Forgetting. Translated by Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer. U of Chicago P, 2004.

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22 DEATH AND THE DEAD IN VERSE FUNERARY EPIGRAMS OF ANCIENT GREECE Arianna Gullo

Cast a cold eye On life, on death. Horseman, pass by! (W. B. Yeats, “Under Ben Bulben,” Last Poems, 1939) An epigram (“inscription”) is a metrical text written (gramma) upon (epi) something. In Greek culture, carving a funerary epigram (or epitaph) – that is, a funerary inscription – was meant to guarantee the permanent survival of the individual after death, especially for the “anonymous” ones within the society; consequently, the absence of a written and visible sign implied the cancellation of a man’s earthly transition. In Homer’s Odyssey (11.71–78), the ghost of Elpenor reminds his fellow-mate Odysseus about the religious duty of burial, in order to prevent him from becoming a victim of the anger of the gods, and also of the need to erect a tomb for himself in order for posterity to be informed. Menelaus himself, king of Sparta, erects a cenotaph in Egypt for his brother Agamemnon – the king of Mycenae killed by his wife Clytaemnestra upon his return home after ten years spent fighting at Troy – so that he might have “immortal glory” (Homer, Odyssey 4.584).1 Seemingly, attestations of the first funerary epitaphs from the Greek world can be found in Homer too. Two passages in the Iliad can be read as funerary epigrams stemming from the imagination of the Trojan hero Hector: these are an epitaph for a fallen soldier (Iliad 7.89–90) and an epitaph envisaged both for Hector himself and perhaps his widow, Andromache (Iliad 6.460–61). In general, an inscription “gives voice” to the stone or the object it is written on or claims to be written on, by conveying a message and recording words. Since the beginning, the verse inscription as a concrete and visible form of communication has lived alongside its less pretentious, though more numerous, prose cousins: one of its peculiarities, which it surely shares with the prose inscriptions, is that of having been conceived as a written text, not as the transcription of a pre-existent oral message.2 Therefore, since the writing support on which the inscription is carved forms an indivisible whole with it, epigram is the closest ancient literary genre to the material object, and funerary and votive inscriptions in particular are inextricably tied to the material supports bearing them.3 In the sepulchral realm, an inscription “gives voice” to the tombstone or to the tomb itself, according to the pattern of the speaking object, yet it 245

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gives voice to the deceased as well, often speaking in the first person in the deceased’s position (especially when the dead person is identified with the tomb itself ): After I played many pleasant games with youths of my age, I, sprung of earth, have become earth again; I am Aristocles from Piraeus, the son of Meno. (Peek, GVI 1702; Hansen, CEG 482)4 The verse funerary inscription – originally in hexameters (even just a single one) and later in elegiac couplets – is one of the first and more typical manifestations of epigram as a literary genre; the funerary epigram is actually one of the two subgenres to which stone inscriptions belonged and that gave birth to the literary epigram. Structured according to precise canons, the funerary inscription was an inseparable part of the tomb throughout pagan and Christian antiquity: sema (“sign,” “mark”) left to mark a given person’s passage into the world of the living, which testifies to the fact that these remains are buried in a particular place; mnema and monumentum5 (“memorial”)6 of the dead for the living according to a consolation pattern, intended for all the human categories displayed before us in an endless series of men, women, children, citizens, slaves, craftsmen, fishermen, hunters, traders, poets, philosophers, priestesses, physicians, artists, mimes, hetairai, athletes, nurses, soldiers, and even animals, all swallowed by the same dark and hidden Underworld, whether it is the reign of Hades, the lord of the Underworld, the halls of tearful Acheron, or the thalamos (“bridal chamber”) of Persephone7 – each of whom has its own exemplary testimony to deliver to those who come in the future. Originally the funerary inscription consisted only of the name of the dead, carved or otherwise recorded,8 because it was thought that reading the name aloud – as was the custom in antiquity9 – would allow the dead to live again, keeping his or her memory alive. Therefore, by pronouncing the name aloud, the dead person was brought back to life. However, the name alone was not sufficient to fulfill the fundamental aim of the poetical inscription: this is why, in its short form and in the turn of few verses, a funerary epigram soon started to offer a speech in which (very few) biographical data and emotions were framed, accompanied by very simple contents in general. The verse inscription, more than other literary forms, is subject to the practical and immediate need of information. In the narration, the biographical facts prevail: therefore, the lives of the dead are told in terms of professions, and thus of the social classes the deceased belonged to; of skills and talent; of relationships; of merits and qualities such as wisdom, beauty, magnanimity, cleverness, and other virtues praised within an eulogy. Even the facts that led to the individual’s death are retold: along with the claims of a happy and long-lasting life which allowed the deceased to see “the children’s children,” the narration covers experiences of life anomalously broken off, often brutally and unexpectedly but, foremost, unfairly. This is particularly the case for shipwrecked men, and for the so-called aoroi10 (“untimely”), who died early: before everything, before getting married and having children, before living more broadly. The stories of children unnaturally buried by their parents fall within this last category, as do those of maidens “kidnapped by Hades,” in analogy with the myth of Persephone,11 anthropologically meaning that they died before they were married. There are also young men fallen bravely in battle because of the violent Ares, and newborns and mothers who did not survive the dangers of birth and childbirth. The life, the virtues of the dead, the ways of death, and the facts of life that are presented in Christian epitaphs can also be read on the tombstones of many “pagan” – that is, Classical – men and women. In fact, Christian epitaphs are so soaked in classicizing themes that it is right to speak of a completely unbroken tradition from the archaic age until the Byzantine era. 246

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Before such events, for those who remain there is the rigorously sober declaration of feelings conventionally associated with death and mourning. At the same time, the epitaph may thus express, before death, the emotions of even those still living; in doing so the epitaph becomes not only the bearer of the promised eternal memory, but also the interpreter of piety, often in the form of individual and common prayer, sorrow, and mourning; protest and resignation (often accompanied by consolatory formulae); regret and grief; and feelings of loss and desolation. All this is framed according to various formal patterns, of which the oldest and most widespread are the auto-deictic (in the first person) or the deictic indication (in the third person) of either the “speaking” object (the tomb, tombstone/stele, funerary monument, or statue portraying the dead) or the dead buried (“I am/this is the tomb of X”; “here lies the body of Y”), as in the following epigrams: I am the marker of Phrasikleia. I will always be called ‘maiden’, having received this name from the gods instead of a marriage. (Peek, GVI 68; Hansen, CEG 24)12 Here I lie, a hard-working woman as much as frugal. Nicarete. (Peek, GVI 328; Hansen, CEG 537)13 There may be also reference to the person(s) – e.g., one of the two parents of the deceased, or even both – who commissioned the tomb or ordered the burial for the kin (“this tomb has been made by Y for X”; “Y erected this sema/mnema for X”),14 an act guaranteeing the survival and persistence of a bond even after death, despite the dead/alive disparity: Here father Semon made a sema for Lyseas. (Peek, GVI 140)15 The name of the dead itself must appear, for the name allows communication; when the name is missing, communication is forbidden. Moreover, these formulae are explicit answers to implicit questions by a hypothetical speaker in that continuous relationship of communication with the living of which the inscribed stele is an expression. This relationship, stretched between the anxiety of asking and answering, later becomes a true dialogue16 and is put into effect through the consequent creation of the character of the so-called passer-by17 (the horseman addressed in the lines by Yeats!), who represents the natural development of the mechanism on which the inscription itself is based, which works only if someone who could “bring it to life” by the process of reading is present. Yet the passer-by is created also because originally tombs were situated on the sides of the roads.18 The passer-by may just be greeted, or may become an active and emotional participant in an intense conversation, filled with information on life and death, requests for mourning, words of consolation, and other exhortations, wishes, and expectations:19 Who brought you up? – “Cilician of Athens.” – Noble family. What is your name? – “Numenius.” – At what age did you die? – “Forty.” – You should have lived longer. – “Yet I had to die as well.” – You say excellent things, greetings! – “And to you, stranger! You still have a claim to joy, ’tis enough for us.” (Peek, GVI 1866; Moretti, IGUR 1286)20

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Such a variety of sentimental linguistic expressions implies a similar variety of forms for the verse epitaph. By the fourth century BCE, inscriptional epigrams became more elaborate, and this aspect was extensively developed and experimented with in the Hellenistic age,21 with the result that the practice of writing “fictitious” epigrams – poems in the form of dedications and epitaphs (sometimes ironic but not intended for inscription) – also arose. Therefore, around the third century BCE it is possible to observe the rise of a phenomenon that ought to be called, most correctly, “crystallization,” “fixing,” or even “codification” – rather than “birth” or “creation” – of fictitious funerary verse epigrams as a literary subgenre or category, detached from any concrete epigraphic aim and allocated to a very fortunate secular journey. The development of real (epigraphic, inscriptional) funerary epigrams proceeded totally in parallel, according to a continuity and contiguity of forms and contents, which contributed to establishing at a broader level the codification of the epigram as a literary genre tout court.22 Although the fictitious funerary epigram became independent of real epitaphs, the literary epigram itself is nothing but the arrival point of the evolution of the previous epigraphic tradition. The fundamental development establishing the complete independence of the literary epigram was the physical separation of the text from the object on which it was inscribed. This process, which brought the epigram on stone into competition with a notable variety of other writings, messages, and inscriptions, seems to have been completed by the end of the fourth century CE,23 even as it was supplanting the preceding tradition.24 It is well-proven that from the mid-third century BCE onward it was the literary epigram – as well as the establishment of a writing and authorship culture25 – that massively influenced the metrical inscriptions. It has also been convincingly argued that book collections of literary epigrams circulated as handbooks of models for the epigraphic poets.26 Literariness – that is, a certain level of conscious formal elaboration – can be a more or less marked aspect of the real epigraphic epigrams themselves, but it is not their raison d’être, as in the case of the fictitious ones. Another characteristic feature of the literary epigram, is the Ergänzungsspiel (“play/game of supplementation/completion/complement”),27 already present in some preHellenistic epigraphic epigrams. In this type of writing, the author voluntarily interweaves a thick plot of allusions to give the reader the illusion of a real inscription, by reconstructing a fictitious material context,28 as in this poem by Callimachus (third century BCE), a sort of mise en scène of the act of reading and recognition of the monumental context on the part of the passer-by: “Timonoe.” Who are you? For the gods’ sake, I would have not known you, if the name of your father Timotheos and Methymna, your city, would have not come next on the stele. For sure I can firmly say that Euthymenes, your widowed husband, is full of grief. (Anthologia Graeca [AG] 7.522)29 As a general rule, it is not possible to exclude a priori that a literary text had been later carved or that an epigraphic text had previously been written on a support other than a stone:30 it sometimes happened that the same text was used for both an epigraphic and a literary aim.31 Particularly in the case of funerary epigrams, the channel through which the text reached us is the last stage of a tradition that cannot be easily reconstructed. Among the cases of funerary epigrams which can be identified with certainty as real inscriptions, very often only the mere texts are extant, deprived of their primary material writing support: eventually collected and preserved in manuscripts, they are surgically removed from their original monumental context (funerary monuments or richly decorated stelae, statues, or reliefs), at the price of unavoidable and irreparable mutilations of their meaning. 248

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Seven hundred and fifty-six Greek epigrams, mostly funerary with few exceptions, ranging roughly from the fifth century BCE to the Byzantine era, are preserved in that literary graveyard which is printed by modern editors as Book 7 of the so-called Anthologia Graeca (Greek Anthology), a huge collection of Greek epigrams of various kinds (erotic, votive, funerary, satirical, ekphrastic, and so on) – not only literary, but also inscriptional texts that were originally carved into stone – by numerous poets, more or less known, more or less celebrated, and some unknown (several epigrams were transmitted as anonymous). In Book 7, which is our main source of knowledge about Greek funerary epigrams, are also collected real epitaphs copied from stones, as evidenced by the numerous anonymous epigrams or those whose lemmata (“subheadings”) claims the provenance –, but many of these poems are poetical exercises without a concrete epigraphic function; fictitious inscriptions for the fictional dead; variations on themes already treated by others and proposed again and again, ad nauseum; and repeated competitions of the poet with himself and/or with those who preceded him, sometimes even after many centuries. Werner Peek suggests an inscriptional origin for 190 out of the 756 epigrams preserved in Book 7, though this is almost certainly too high a number. The epigrams in this section of the Greek Anthology that actually show their documentary identity untouched are very few,32 but for most of the supposedly inscribed ones, in the absence of the undeniable evidence of the inscribed stone bearing them, there is no proof (and certainty) that they were epigraphically attested to. In the epigrams from Book 7 of the Greek Anthology, an absolute correspondence with the themes, patterns, and tones of the real epitaphs is recorded. Some poems give general indications about the dead, whereas others offer a precise detail of his life or death; sometimes it is the dead who speaks about himself in the first person, whereas in other cases it is the tomb, the tombstone, or the funerary monument that provides the necessary information. There are also several cases of dialogue between the dead and passers-by. Concise or redundant, work of illustrious poets or lousy poetasters, effective in their direct originality or banal in their tiresome reproposal of formulae, literarily elaborated or formally careless up to being wrong in spelling and grammar, in most cases they document, if not what the ancient Greeks actually wrote on the tomb of a man, at least what they thought might have been written. The funerary inscription contains a reflection, often accompanied by consolatory patterns, on life and the unavoidability of death, which, in every aspect and theme, is related to the universe of Greek tragedy: death is part of the natural order of the things, which can only be welcomed with resigned acceptance and serenity, although the possibility of not being born is to be preferred, as the famous Silenus’ statement asserts. Perhaps the best-known example can be found in Sophocles (Oedipus at Colonus 1224–27). Other themes derived from Greek tragedy are the conception of death as a release from evil;33 the metaphorical wedding with Hades for those young girls who died before marriage (or with Persephone in the case of young men), first attested in Sophocles (Antigone 810–13 and 816; see also lines 653–54 and 1240–41); the regret for the labors of giving birth, made vain by the untimely death of the child: its most significant expressions are with certainty Euripides (Medea 1029–31; Hippolytus 1144–45). The greeting chaire (“hi!,” “hello!,” “greetings!”), which is found in funerary epigrams as early as the mid-fifth century BCE, and is usually attributed to the dead,34 is the same as that used among the living. In Homer’s Iliad (23.19), Achilles starts his lament over Patroclus’corpse by employing this expression, and it is addressed by the chorus to Alcestis going to Hades in Euripides’ Alcestis (1000–05). The dead tell little or nothing at all about their afterlife; on the contrary, they always look back nostalgically and regretfully at their earthly life, especially in the case of expectations dashed by a sudden death. The theme of continuity and preservation, even after death, of habits, feelings, and characteristics shown during life, extends as well to antisocial characters like Timon the misanthrope or the Greek lyric poets Archilochus (seventh century BCE) and 249

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Hipponax (sixth century BCE), famous for their polemics and aggressive poetry, all wishing for immortality. In the case of antisocial characters, this theme is often tied in with a warning against approach of passers-by, which is exasperated with the explicit exclusion of the name in a few epigrams on Timon. Closely related to this theme of continuity and nostalgia for life is the idea of being continuously tormented after death by the anguishes and fears experienced in life. Because they tell biographical information and call upon personal, distinctive characteristics of the dead, epitaphs by nature often contain satirical components. Comic characters are usually the addressees of such epitaphs: favorite “victims” are, for example, slave-traders, mean old people, and notably (old) bibulous women, who were enthusiastic drunks in their past lives and still desire to drink even in the Underworld. Within Book 7 there are many epigrams for shipwrecked men,35 of which the most ancient seemingly date back to the Hellenistic age, although the theme already appears in the epigraphic texts from the seventh century BCE.36 The bodies of these dead remain often unburied, missing at sea. Although the sea provides some kind of burial, by hiding the body within the waves or depositing it on some unknown shore, the only consolation left to their kin is to erect a cenotaph, that is, an “empty” tomb, often dedicated by the deceaseds’ parents or wives:37 Not anticipating the evil setting of rainy Arcturus, Theotimus, you undertook a cold journey by the sea, which, as you ran across the Aegean in your many-oared ship, brought you and your companions to Hades. Alas, Aristodice and Eupolis, who gave you birth, mourn you, embracing an empty tomb. (AG 7.539)38 The safety guaranteed by agriculture or by the land in general, in comparison with a life spent at sea, is sometimes disavowed by the numerous paradoxical deaths on solid ground that happened to those who escaped death at sea,39 which alternate with the epitaphs for shipwrecked men in various sequences of Book 7 of the Greek Anthology. The confutation of the thesis asserting that safety can be found only on earth is simply and wonderfully summed up and explained in a distich falsely attributed to Plato, where the popular theme of death as common to all is also introduced as a memento mori:40 This is the tomb of a shipwrecked man, and that opposite is the tomb of a husbandman. So death equally occurs at sea and on land. (AG 7.265) There are also collective epitaphs for men fallen in battle, who are privileged addressees of the epigraphic honor; these epigrams were intended for the so-called polyandria, public common funerary monuments dedicated by the community to fellow citizens:41 the beautiful death in war, the glorious death in battle, allows the memory of these heroes and their deeds to survive in the collective memory, securing for these men immortality exclusive of their heroic status. The more general theme of common burial of (usually) two individuals and of the associated mourning is related to this, modeled after the image of the common rest to which the bones of Achilles and Patroclus were consigned (Homer, Iliad 23.83–92), and which concerns a varied commonality of affections, more or less related to love and sexual spheres: spouses, brothers, teachers and pupils, athletes, and even animals.42

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The theme of parents not being meant to bury their children, because it goes against the natural order of things,43 is shown in the following sample epitaph: The old Nico crowned the tomb of maiden Melite. Hades, was your judgment right? (AG 7.187)44 This claim of the natural law, according to which the old should die before the young and are not supposed to bury them, also appears in tragedy: see, e.g., Euripides’ Trojan Women (lines 1185–86), where the old, former Trojan queen, Hecuba, Priamus’ wife, complains about the horrifying destiny of her grandson Astyanax, Hector’s and Andromache’s child (“But you are not burying me, but I you, poor boy,/while you are still so young and I am an old woman without a city or child left”); immediately thereafter, she utters the (imagined) epitaph for Astyanax, which run as follows (lines 1188–91): “What epitaph/could a poet compose for your grave-stone?/The Argives once killed this child/in fear of him. The epitaph inscribes Greece’s shame.”45 Next to the name of the young dead, mothers often stand out46 as co-protagonists in funerary epigrams, whether they are the deceased themselves, they perished while giving birth, or they survived their children, whose untimely death means the labors of childbirth were in vain: The dust is recently dug, on the surface of the stele half-withered garlands of leaves wave; deciphering the letters, passer-by, let us see whose wretched bones the stone says it covers. “Stranger, I am Aretemias; my homeland was Cnidos; I went to the marriage bed of Euphron; I was not unaware of the labors of childbirth. Bringing to life twins, I left one as a guide for my husband in his old age, and I take the other one away as a remembrance of my spouse.” (AG 7.465)47 What use is it to labor in childbirth, what use to bear children, if she who bears them is doomed to see their death? For his mother erected a tomb for the young Bianor: yet it was suitable for him to build it for her. (AG 7.261)48 More broadly, since the archaic age the death of women in childbirth had been the only ones to be heroicized like deaths on the battlefield or in the public arena.49 The epitaphs for women express the same values commonly attested to in the Greek funerary epigrams for men, such as prudence, chastity, familiar values, physical beauty, birth nobleness, and fame.50 When it comes to untimely deaths, as has been already pointed out, numerous epitaphs are dedicated to the young who died too soon, at marriageable ages or even earlier. Within this group are epitaphs concerning young girls who died on the very day of their wedding. The Greek wedding and sepulchral ceremonies share many similar elements, especially from the bride’s perspective (torches which are used to lighten both the bridal chamber and the pyre; veils; the journey toward a new and unknown home; fear and sorrow for the loss of the dear

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ones; assignment to a new lord), so that the tragic theme of a marriage transformed into a funeral is very widespread:51 No wedding, but Hades as her groom Clearista received once she loosed her maiden belt. Just now at the door of the bride the evening flutes were making music, and the threshold of her chamber echoed to knocking hands; in the morning a loud cry was shouted, and the wedding song, silenced, changed into a funeral song. The same torches both lighted round the marriage bed and showed the dead the way to the Underworld. (AG 7.182)52 Epigrams frequently provide the reader with essential details about the physical objects on which they are inscribed, revealing fundamental information about their materials, on which our knowledge of ancient craftsmanship often depends. Therefore, funerary epigrams represent quite an appropriate category to host ekphrastic (descriptive) characteristics: they often contain references to the monumental context such as a funerary monument, headstone, or the image of the dead – whether those those objects/works of art/monuments are real or fictitious. Several of the distinctive technical elements of the ekphrastic epigrams find precise parallels in the funerary epigrams: primarily, the use of verbs of seeing, looking, and watching is frequent, as is use of verbs meaning to make or to build. Another such element is reference to the material the tomb is made of: comments on the beauty of the funerary monument or of the statue/portrait of the dead, or even on the skills and ability of the artist, are frequent as well. A common ekphrastic topos deployed is to praise the funerary artwork or the artist who made it – to the paradoxical point that the representation of the deceased seems so alive and real that it renews the grief of the dead’s kin every time they look at it: The painter depicted Theodote just as she was. If only he had failed of his art, and he had given forgetfulness to us mourning her. (AG 7.565)53 Finally, there are themes running like threads all through the thick frame of Book 7 of the Greek Anthology. The interpretation of death as a separation from something and someone – the loved ones – involves the distinction between soul and body54 and the end of the joys of life. The theme of exchange is employed in cenotaphs (in place of the shipwrecked man’s body missing at sea, only a tomb remains), in the epigrams dedicated to brides dead too early (Hades instead of Hymenaeus, divine personification of the wedding song and, more generally, of marriage itself; a pyre for the corpse instead of bridal torches; funeral lament and moaning instead of songs and dancing). There is also a group of epigrams on a corpse unburied by the murderer or where a tomb is presented as a reward. The motif of silence after death is a paradox when it concerns dead animals, musicians, singers, and rhetors. Previously the neat distinction between real inscriptions, fixed on stone and waiting for any passer-by, and fictitious epigrams, circulating in search of a certain reader or an audience, was considered essential, for it implied the arrangement of the different textual functions under different anthropological, cultural, and semiological profiles. Today, in the light of all these observations on Greek epitaphs, such distinctions seem fruitless. It is impossible to determine unambiguous criteria that would help to classify an epigram as literary or epigraphic,55 especially 252

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for the sepulchral poems, where different means of expression can be found in both the literary and epigraphic spheres, merged in a unique reference code and language, both formal and thematic.56 The epigraphic hypothesis is due to remain a hermeneutic crux in most cases: without any documentary evidence and unambiguous and indisputable criteria, it is basically impossible, and even useless, to speculate on the inscriptional origin of any given epigram. I believe it remains absolutely true what Alan Cameron (Callimachus 180) observed on the topic: “commentators on the epitaphs preserved in the Anthology like to debate which are ‘real’ and which are ‘literary,’ as though a distinction could be made on the basis of their form or tone alone.”

Notes 1 On the meanings and function of the grave monument in the Homeric death-ritual, see SourvinouInwood 108–22. On the ancient Greek funerary customs and the ideology upon which they are based, see at least, among the endless bibliography, Kurtz and Boardman; Vermeule; Parker 32–48 and 53–73; Morris; Humphreys 79–88; Garland; Alexiou; Oakley, “Death and the Child,” and Picturing Death 11–13 and passim; Mirto 65–91; González González. 2 Cf. Svenbro 28; Tueller, Look Who’s Talking 2–5. 3 Cf. Tueller, Look Who’s Talking 16–27 for the seventh to fourth centuries BCE. 4 Attica, beginning of the fourth century BCE. 5 On the various words of burial and their meanings, see Sourvinou-Inwood 122–36. Whereas in Homer mnema never refers to the grave monument, in the archaic period (eighth to sixth centuries BCE) mnema is often used to denote the grave monument. 6 On the memory-survival function of the grave monument, see Sourvinou-Inwood 139–47. Cf. also M. Fantuzzi in Fantuzzi and Hunter 307: “After all, reading a funerary or dedicatory inscription meant first of all, in anthropological terms, performing a kind of ritual to commemorate the dead or the dedicator.” 7 For the representation, the gods, and the spirits of the Underworld, see Lattimore § 15, 87–88, and § 18, 95–96. Sometimes the dead goes to the Elysium or the Blessed: cf. Lattimore § 4, 33–36 e 40–43, and § 90, 313–14; Sourvinou-Inwood 18–20 and 32–56; Garland 60–61, and 156. 8 Cf. Häusle 106–31; Sourvinou-Inwood 162–68. 9 The passage from reading aloud to silent reading is usually situated in the fifth century CE, although the topic is much more problematic. On the act of reading in the ancient world see at least Knox; McLuhan; Havelock. 10 For a complete study see Vérilhac, Paides Awroi. Cf. also Lattimore § 48, 184–87; Griessmair. 11 On the gods of the Underworld as divine agents of death, see Lattimore §§ 30–33, 146–51. 12 Attica, sixth century BCE. On death before marriage in Greek epitaphs, see Lattimore § 50, 192–95. 13 Attica, before the mid-fourth century BCE(?). 14 On these expressions in epitaphs, see Sourvinou-Inwood 148–51. 15 Attica, end of the sixth century BCE. 16 Cf. Tueller, Look Who’s Talking 42–43. 17 Cf. Lattimore §§ 63–65, 230–37; Tueller, Look Who’s Talking 32–35 and 65–81; Tueller, “The PasserBy.” Cf. also Schmitz; Tueller, Look Who’s Talking 36–42 and 44–46; Vestrheim, 71–75. The address by the living to the dead is a form that was to become very common, especially from the third century BCE, whereas in the archaic age it was the dead who greeted the passer-by (cf. Fantuzzi and Hunter 297). Tueller, Look Who’s Talking 14–15, states that the passer-by is often the addressee, as evidenced by the mid-sixth century BCE, and sometimes plays the role of the speaker from the same date, while the dead is greeted by the passer-by from the second half of the sixth century BCE and acts as the speaker starting from a bit later. “Unusual” passers-by are attested, for example, in epitaphs for people buried on the shore, where the role of the passer-by can be taken up by others, e.g., the sea itself or sailors (cf. Tueller, Look Who’s Talking 81–93). 18 Cf. Humphreys 91. 19 Cf. Sourvinou-Inwood 174–75. 20 Greek inscription from Rome, third century CE. 21 On the passage from stone to book, see especially Gutzwiller, in particular 47–114; cf. also Meyer 96–101; Höschele 86–99.

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Arianna Gullo 22 On the distinction between epigraphic inscription/epigram and literary epigram, see Bing, “Between Literature”; Bruss; Meyer 130–43; Kaczko; Garulli (with further bibliography); Agosti, in particular 13–14; Christian. Cf. also Bing, “The Un-Read Muse?” (about inscriptional poems). 23 Cf. Cameron, The Greek Anthology 2; Fantuzzi and Hunter 289; Tsagalis 4 and 7. 24 Cf. Petrovic 21; Garulli 18–19. 25 Cf. Garulli 22–25. Cases of signed inscriptional epitaphs are already attested in the fourth century BCE: on the topic of signed funerary epigrams on stone, see especially Santin, but also Fantuzzi and Hunter 289–90. 26 Cf. Garulli 217. 27 Cf. Bing, “Ergänzungsspiel.” 28 Gutzwiller uses the effective idiom “illusion of inscription” (4). 29 All translations are mine, based upon Beckby’s edition of the Anthologia Graeca. 30 Cf. Garulli 22 and 28, with footnotes 65–66. 31 Laurens 43–48 and 51–53. This double function is evidenced by cases of “double transmission” on both stone and papyrus/parchment (Garulli, in particular 37–110). 32 The epigraphic transmission is certainly proven for only four out of the 756 epigrams preserved in Book 7. 33 Cf. Lattimore § 56, 205–8, and § 95, 326–27. 34 On the use of chaire, addressed to the dead or to the passer-by, see Sourvinou-Inwood 180–216. 35 Funerary epigrams for sailors are so markedly characterized that they are often considered to form a very distinct subcategory on their own: cf. Tueller, “Sea and Land.” 36 Cf. at least Lattimore § 53, 199–200; cf. also Magnelli 272–73; Bruss 88–167. 37 The practice of erecting in the homeland a funerary monument for someone who died faraway and whose remains could not be collected (perhaps because the dead perished at sea) is already attested to in Homer (Odyssey 1.91; 4.584) and continues through antiquity, up until the late Christian era. 38 Perses of Thebes (fourth-third century BCE). 39 Cf. Laurens 178. 40 Cf. Lattimore §§ 71–72, 250–58. 41 Cf. at least Clairmont, Gravestone and Epigram 6 and 12; and Clairmont, Patrios Nomos. 42 Cf. Lattimore § 70, 247–50. 43 Cf. at least Lattimore § 49, 187–91; Griessmair 4–47. 44 Philip of Thessalonica (first century CE). 45 All translations mine. 46 Cf. at least Loraux, Mothers; cf. also Stehle 180–81 and 184 n.19. More in general, on the representation of women in epitaphs see Lattimore § 82, 299–300; Pircher; Vérilhac, “L’image”; Martínez-Fernández; Pérez Cabrera. 47 Heraclitus of Halicarnassus (third century BCE). 48 Diotimus (third century BCE?). 49 On the theme of death in childbirth seen as a heroic death, see Loraux, Experiences 23–43; de Nazaré Ferreira. 50 In Greek funerary inscriptions women are continuously praised for beauty, virtue, modesty, behavior, and dignity: feminine characteristics which were visually portrayed in their funerary stelae (Dillon 69), where women were depicted of undefined age and idealized (108). 51 On this topic see at least Seaford; Rehm. 52 Meleager of Gadara (second-first century BCE). 53 Julian the Egyptian (sixth century CE). 54 Cf. Lattimore, §§ 2–4, 21–43, and § 85, 304–6. 55 Cf. Garulli 30 with footnotes 74–75. 56 Cf. Bettenworth. Cf. also Day.

Works Cited Agosti, Gianfranco. “Per uno studio dei rapporti fra epigrafia e letteratura nella tarda antichità.” Il calamo della memoria, vol. 6, 2014, pp. 13–33. Alexiou, Margaret. The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition. Rowman and Littlefield, 2002. Baumbach, Manuel, Ivana Petrovic, and Andrej Petrovic, editors. Archaic and Classical Greek Epigram. Cambridge UP, 2010.

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Verse Funerary Epigrams of Ancient Greece Beckby, Hermann. Anthologia Graeca. Griechish-Deutsch, I–IV. Heimeran, 1967–1968. Bettenworth, Anja. “The Mutual Influence of Inscribed and Literary Epigram.” Brill’s Companion to Hellenistic Epigram, edited by Peter Bing and Jon Bruss. Brill, 2007, pp. 69–93. Bing, Peter. “Between Literature and the Monuments.” Genre in Hellenistic Poetry, edited by Annette Harder, Remco F. Regtuit, and Gerry C. Wakker. E. Forsten, 1998, pp. 29–40. Reprinted in Bing, Scroll, pp. 194–216. Bing, Peter. “Ergänzungsspiel in the Epigrams of Callimachus.” A&A 41, 1995, pp. 115–131. Reprinted in Bing, Scroll, pp. 85–105. Bing, Peter. The Scroll and the Marble: Studies in Reading and Reception in Hellenistic Poetry. U of Michigan P, 2009. Bing, Peter. “The Un-read Muse? Inscribed Epigram and Its Readers in Antiquity.” Hellenistic Epigrams, edited by Annette Harder, Remco F. Regtuit, and Gerry C. Wakker. Peeters Publishers, 2002, pp. 39–66. Reprinted in Bing, Scroll, pp. 116–146. Bruss, Jon Steffen. Hidden Presences: Monuments, Gravesites, and Corpses in Greek Funerary Epigram. Peeters Publishers, 2005. Cameron, Alan. Callimachus and His Critics. Princeton UP, 1995. Cameron, Alan. The Greek Anthology from Meleager to Planudes. Oxford UP, 1993. Christian, Timo. Gebildete Steine: Zur Rezeption literarischer Techniken in den Versinschriften seit dem Hellenismus. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015. Clairmont, Christoph W. Gravestone and Epigram. Greek Memorials from the Archaic and Classical Period. Philipp von Zabern, 1970. Clairmont, Christoph W. Patrios Nomos: Public Burial in Athens During the Fifth and Fourth Centuries B. C., 2 vols. Oxford UP, 1983. Day, Joseph. “Reading Inscriptions in Literary Epigram.” Greek Epigram from the Hellenistic to the Early Byzantine Era, edited by Maria Kanellou, Ivana Petrovic, and Chris Carey. Oxford UP, 2019, pp. 19–34. de Nazaré Ferreira, Luísa. “A bela morte des mulheres segundo o livro VII da Antologia Palatina.” Humanitas, vol. 68, 2016, pp. 99–124. Dillon, Sheila. The Female Portrait Statue in the Greek World. Cambridge UP, 2010. Euripidis Fabulae, I–III. Edited by James Diggle. Oxford UP, 1984–1994. Fantuzzi, Marco, and Richard Hunter. Tradition and Innovation in Hellenistic Poetry. Cambridge UP, 2004. Garland, Robert S. J. The Greek Way of Death. Cornell UP, 2001. Garulli, Valentina. BYBLOS LAINEE: Epigrafia, letteratura, epitafio. Pàtron Editore, 2012. González González, Marta. Funerary Epigrams of Ancient Greece: Reflections on Literature, Society and Religion. Bloomsbury Academic, 2019. Griessmair, Ewald. Das Motiv der Mors Immatura in den griechischen metrischen Grabinschriften. Wagner, 1966. Gutzwiller, Kathryn J. Poetic Garlands: Hellenistic Epigrams in Context. U of California P, 1998. Hansen, Peter Allan. Carmina Epigraphica Graeca, 2 vols. de Gruyter, 1983–1989. Häusle, Helmut. Einfache und frühe Formen des griechischen Epigrams. Wagner, 1979. Havelock, Eric A. The Muse Learns to Write: Reflections on Orality and Literacy from Antiquity to the Present. Yale UP, 1986. Homeri Ilias, I–II. Edited by M. L. West. B. G. Teubner, 1998–2000. Homeri Odyssea. Edited by Helmut van Thiel. Olms Weidmann, 1991. Höschele, Regina. Die blütenlesende Muse: Poetik und Textualität antiker Epigrammsammlungen. Narr Verlag, 2010. Humphreys, Sarah C. The Family, Women and Death. U of Michigan P, 1993. Kaczko, Sara. “From Stone to Parchment: Epigraphic and Literary Transmission of Some Greek Epigrams.” Trends in Classics, vol. 1, 2009, pp. 90–117. Kanellou, Maria, Ivana Petrovic, and Chris Carey, editors. Greek Epigram from the Hellenistic to the Early Byzantine Era. Oxford UP, 2019. Knox, Bernard M. W. “Silent Reading in Antiquity.” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies, vol. 9, 1968, pp. 421–435. Kurtz, Donna C., and John Boardman. Greek Burial Customs. Thames & Hudson, 1971. Lattimore, Richmond. Themes in Greek and Latin Epitaphs. U of Illinois P, 1942. Laurens, Pierre. L’abeille dans l’ambre: Célébration de l’épigramme de l’époque alexandrine à la fin de la Renaissance. Les Belles Lettres, 2012. Loraux, Nicole. The Experiences of Tiresias: The Feminine and the Greek Man. Princeton UP, 1995.

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Arianna Gullo Loraux, Nicole. Mothers in Mourning. Cornell UP, 1998. Magnelli, Enrico. Alexandri Aetoli testimonia et fragmenta. Università degli Studi di Firenze – Dipartimento di Scienze dell’Antichità ‘Giorgio Pasquali,’ 1999. Martínez-Fernández, Angel. “La mujer en los epitafios métricos de Creta de época helenística.” Fortunatae, vol. 4, 1992, pp. 119–150. McLuhan, Marshall. The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man. U of Toronto P, 1962. Meyer, Doris. Inszeniertes Lesevergnügen. Das inschriftliche Epigramm und seine Rezeption bei Kallimachos. Franz Steiner Verlag, 2005. Mirto, Maria Serena. Death in the Greek World: From Homer to the Classical Age. Translated by A. M. Osborne. U of Oklahoma P, 2012. Moretti, Luigi. Inscriptiones Graecae urbis Romae, 4 vols. Istituto Italiano per la Storia Antica, 1968–1979. Morris, Ian. Burial and Ancient Society. Cambridge UP, 1987. Oakley, John H. “Death and the Child.” Coming of Age in Ancient Greece: Images of Childhood from the Classical Past, edited by Jenifer Neils and John H. Oakley. Yale UP, 2003, pp. 163–194. Oakley, John H. Picturing Death in Classical Athens: The Evidence of the White Lekythoi. Cambridge UP, 2004. Parker, Robert. Miasma. Oxford UP, 1983. Peek, Werner. Griechische Vers-Inschriften. Akademie-Verlag, 1955. Pérez Cabrera, Juana. “Consideraciones sobre la mujer en el epigrama funerario helenístico de la Antología Palatina.” Fortunatae, vol. 4, 1992, pp. 183–192. Petrovic, Andrej. Kommentar zu den simonideischen Versinschriften. Brill, 2007. Pircher, Josef. Das Lob der Frau im vorchristlichen Grabepigramm der Griechen. Wagner, 1979. Rehm, Rush. Marriage to Death: The Conflation of Wedding and Funeral Rituals in Greek Tragedy. Princeton UP, 1994. Santin, Eleonora. Autori di epigrammi sepolcrali greci su pietra. Firme di poeti occasionali e professionisti. Bardi editore, 2009. Schmitz, Thomas A. “Speaker and addressee in early Greek epigram and lyric.” Archaic and Classical Greek Epigram, edited by Manuel Baumbach, Ivana Petrovic, and Andrej Petrovic. Cambridge UP, 2010, pp. 25–41. Seaford, Richard. “The Tragic Wedding.” Journal of Hellenic Studies, vol. 107, 1987, pp. 106–130. Sophoclis Fabulae. Edited by Hugh Lloyd-Jones and Nigel G. Wilson. Oxford UP, 1990. Sourvinou-Inwood, Christiane. “Reading” Greek Death: To the End of the Classical Period. Clarendon P – Oxford UP, 1995. Stehle, Eva. “The Good Daughter: Mother’s Tutelage in Erinna’s Distaff and Fourth-Century Epitaphs.” Making Silence Speak: Women’s Voices in Greek Literature and Society, edited by André Lardinois and Laura McClure. Princeton UP, 2001, pp. 179–200. Svenbro, Jesper. Phrasikleia: An Anthropology of Reading in Ancient Greece. Cornell UP, 1993. Tsagalis, Christos. Inscribing Sorrow: Fourth-Century Attic Funerary Epigrams. de Gruyter, 2008. Tueller, Michael A. Look Who’s Talking: Innovations in Voice and Identity in Hellenistic Epigram. Peeters Publishers, 2008. Tueller, Michael A. “The Passer-By in Archaic and Classical Epigram.” Archaic and Classical Greek Epigram, edited by Manuel Baumbach, Ivana Petrovic, and Andrej Petrovic. Cambridge UP, 2010, pp. 42–60. Tueller, Michael A. “Sea and Land: Dividing Sepulchral Epigram.” Greek Epigram from the Hellenistic to the Early Byzantine Era, edited by Maria Kanellou, Ivana Petrovic, and Chris Carey. Oxford UP, 2019, pp. 192–209. Vérilhac, Anne-Marie. “L’image de la femme dans les épigrammes funéraires grecques.” La femme dans le monde méditerranéen, vol. I. Maison de l’Orient, 1985, pp. 85–112. Vérilhac, Anne-Marie. Paides Awroi. Poésie funéraire, 2 vols. Grapheion Demosieumaton tes Akademias Athenon, 1978–1982. Vermeule, Emily. Aspects of Death in Early Greek Art and Poetry. U of California P, 1979. Vestrheim, Gjert. “Voice in Sepulchral Epigrams: Some Remarks on the Use of First and Second Person in Sepulchral Epigrams, and a Comparison with Lyric Poetry.” Archaic and Classical Greek Epigram, edited by Manuel Baumbach, Ivana Petrovic, and Andrej Petrovic. Cambridge UP, 2010, pp. 61–78.

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23 FICTIONAL WILL Helen Swift

“I want to prepare for my end” (de Hauteville line 23) In late-medieval France, the fictional will and testament emerged as a popular genre used by writers to place their personas on the brink of dying and sometimes to stage death itself. It thereby contrived a very particular narrative point of view. This functioned not only as a pretext for reflection on personal life history (on the cusp between autobiography and autothanatography) or as a vehicle for social commentary (exploiting the prerogative that “a dying man has the right to speak freely” (Villon line 728)),1 but also as a locus for focalizing the relationship between death and human identity: prescribing one’s own epitaph, defining one’s life as end-oriented, and considering the nature of one’s posterity, whether immediate posthumous treatment or longer-term survival in and as memory, in a religious context or otherwise. Often referred to as “mock” testaments for their parodic or satirical aspects (such as assuming the persona of an animal or burlesquing testamentary convention), these works are more than comic turns; indeed, it is often through humor that they highlight key questions of what constitutes human identity or how legacy is constructed, including the idea of a literary will – an author’s textual legacy and bibliographic genealogy. This chapter examines the fourteenth- and fifteenth-century vogue for this genre, building on Jacqueline CerquigliniToulet’s essay, L’Écriture testamentaire à la fin du moyen âge. It brings a selection of these works – by Philippe de Mézières, Pierre de Hauteville, and François Villon – into conversation with very recent examples of testamentary fiction: Sarah Dunant’s The Birth of Venus (2003), Vickie Gendreau’s Testament (2012, trans. Aimee Wall 2016), and Petina Gappah’s The Book of Memory (2015), to consider modern inflections of the earlier wills’ characteristics. In his survey of the testament as fictional form through literary history and across languages, Eber Carle Perrow proposes that this formal document has given rise to an unparalleled quantity of literature, and enumerates that literature’s salient shared features: autobiographical and confessional elements; moral reflection and/or instruction (recognizing, alongside a juridical model, the biblical heritage of “testament” as covenant) (Cerquiglini-Toulet 3); the postmortem disposition of the body and property; and political or social commentary, mobilized through satire. The form’s popularity in medieval literature, and especially the French late Middle Ages, has received several partial explanations: for Philippe Ariès, the great theorist of 257

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death in the history of mentalities, the use of wills (both historical and literary) is one of the most significant elements of “the death of the self” (Ariès 201), an increasing preoccupation with individual destiny and personal death. For Cerquiglini-Toulet, it is important to recognize “a period which has replaced the art of loving with the art of dying” (18). Late-medieval artes moriendi – “texts that offer or depict a way of dying well” (Appleford 4) – are clearly a pertinent context; Philippe de Mézières’s Testament (1392) emerges from a preface that insists: “it is good, then, to think about death often, to study how to prepare […] and to desire to die well” (300). Mézières’s work also presents us with one of the methodological challenges of studying medieval testamentary fiction: the frequent absence of a title identifying it as such (Perrow 694; Swift, Representing), so that we must work instead by recognizable features or function, such as reflection on imminent death or the enumeration of testamentary dispositions. There is diversity of form: prose, for Mézières, but more often verse, both lyric (such as Charles d’Orléans’s ballade 70) and narrative (the stanzaic verse of Pierre de Hauteville, François Villon, or Jean Molinet). There is also plurality, in that one author may be associated with more than one will: “the last will [volenté]” (Mézières 320) is not necessarily unitary. Mézières’s vernacular literary text complements his earlier, Latin historical will; Villon produces both the Lais (1456) and the Testament (1463?), which were designated in the first printed edition of 1489 as Le Petit Testament and Le Grand Testament. Villon is himself a methodological challenge: his is perhaps the most famous example of a fictional will, and certainly the most notoriously irreverent within a Francophone tradition; it is, for example, a repeated cultural reference point for Gendreau. There is, therefore, the risk of mistaking example for template, or, within the latemedieval period, of treating his ironic, rhetorically spectacular text as paragon, or as the teleological culmination of previous writers’ experiments. Finally, and similarly in the interests of avoiding too tidy an account of the form’s use, we should consider whether the testament is serving as point or pretext in a given work: whether concerns of death, identity, and legacy are its primary focus (as with Villon or de Hauteville) or function as launch-pad for another project, such as social commentary or, in the case of Jean Molinet’s Donnet baillié au roy Charles VIII (1491?), a grammatical instruction manual. How most fruitfully might we approach these texts? Their most distinguishing feature is arguably not a matter of content, but a question of positioning and its implications: “it is as if death offered a viewpoint, a promontory, from which to observe the world and one’s own life” (Cerquiglini-Toulet 6). The testament situates its subject on the brink between life and death,2 which entails urgency and, consequently, a need to assert control in this exercise of will (over the story of one’s life and death, and over what one bequeaths, materially or otherwise), and a need for witness.

A Matter of Life and Death: Writing on the Brink If the ars moriendi is “essentially a bridging genre, its most urgent function to make smooth the passage between life and death” (Appleford 218), fictional wills may seek either to facilitate this transition or to disrupt it.3 The testating persona looks in several directions at once, being concerned with a 360-degree view of their death: in the case of my epigraph quotation from de Hauteville’s Confession et Testament de l’amant trespassé de deuil (1447), “de ma fin” represents both for my end (preparation beforehand as well as what follows after) and of my end (the moment of death itself ). The perspective that this thereby affords the testator on their life is a peculiar one, making the subject both author and spectator of the narrative of their demise. The enabling fiction of Villon’s Testament is its persona’s proclaimed physical degeneration through old age, pungently professed through alliterative, even onomatopoeic self-portraits: 258

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Je congnois approucher ma seuf, Je crache blanc comme coton Jacoppins groz comme ung estuef. (Villon lines 729–31) I feel my thirst approaching, I spit cotton-white gobs as large as a handball. However, what jams the cogs and disables this plausible fiction is enigmatic self-contradiction: I bear the voice and accent of an old man, When I’m only a young fool. (Villon lines 735–36) Interspersed amongst the poem’s narrative octaves are fixed-form lyric items. The persona’s purported moment of death, so heavily (and heavily ironically) anticipated, is elided at the end of the poem between two ballades in an instant of narrative hiatus: the so-called “Ballade de merci” issues a first-person invocation for clemency in its refrain (“I beg pardon of everyone,” Villon line 1975); the “Ballade de conclusion” issues a third-person invitation to the persona’s funeral (“Come to his interment,” Villon line 1998) and terminates his tale: Here ends and finishes The testament of poor Villon. (Villon lines 1996–97) This abrupt, linear transition between pre- and post-mortem points of view contrasts interestingly with Mézières’s depiction of an elderly avatar of himself, a soldier retired to the Celestine cemetery in Paris, who uses his so-called Testament to stage “the hour of his death” in its most imminent sense: imagining his future self “dying and passing over from this world” (Mézières 304); in the very moment of expiration, he projects specific scenarios for the days, hours, and minutes preceding and following his death. What his dispositions provide for – or, more accurately, implore and exhort from the Celestine fathers – is the treatment of his body and soul. The work’s 18 chapters circle ritualistically round the instant of death, oscillating between pre- and post-mortem moments. What distinguishes Mézières’s text from those of Villon and de Hauteville is an absence of irony – not only, or even primarily, in terms of a lack of macabre or playful humor, but also and especially an absence of narratological distanciation between author and testator: Mézières’s textual persona is intended sincerely to represent his future self, such that his text may serve as a practical tool for the Celestines. In this respect, and also in his text’s structural oscillation around death, Mézières’s “poor pilgrim” persona is akin – albeit in a very different context – to Gendreau’s autofictional “Vickie,” a projection of the young female author who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in June 2012. Gendreau’s text moves back and forth between the voice of the terminally ill narrator and those of her friends’ and family’s imagined responses to her death. A further post-mortem perspective, one unanticipated by Vickie or Gendreau, came in 2016 in the form of Aimee Wall’s translation of the work into English, thereby revisiting the autofictional “je” with a posthumous “I.” De Hauteville, like Villon, presents an “I” acting out the role of dying man, and one doing so paradoxically, disrupting any life/death binary or continuity, as he languishes in lovesick mourning for his deceased lady: Lying abed grievously ill, Stricken with grief and bitter torment. (de Hauteville lines 3–4) 259

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He is both dead and alive, “I die and perish whilst still alive” (line 115), and, at the same time, neither: “I can neither die nor live” (line 117); stuck, suspended temporally and spatially in a liminal deathbed state, he nonetheless portrays death’s importunate intrusion: “[death] already gnaws away at my life” (line 10).

Writing in Earnest: An Urgent Cause The temporal adverb “already” [desja] immediately raises the dramatic excitement of the de Hauteville persona’s situation. The imminence of the end and the threats that it carries – interruption leaving wishes unfulfilled, erasure of identity – endow a testamentary fiction with urgency, making for an unusually compelling scenario and ensuring rapt reader attention. Gendreau’s Vickie expresses the consequence of the lack of time afforded by her fatal illness: “everything is imperative in my life now” (Gendreau, trans. Wall 15–16). Petina Gappah’s Book of Memory stages its recollecting narrator as an imprisoned woman awaiting the result of her appeal against a murder conviction. Such a highly charged situation, which Villon faced historically in 1462 on the charge of having killed one François Ferrebouc, is exploited by the medieval author for poetic purposes in a ballade that has predictably become labelled “L’Appel de Villon,” addressing the head gaoler of the Châtelet with a refrain questioning the lodged appeal: “Was that, then, my moment to stay silent?” (Villon, Œuvres pp. 229–31). Urgency for his Testament’s persona is provoked both by a lack of time lying ahead and by forces pressing upon him from behind: “pain closes in” (Villon line 1966), he laments in the “Ballade de merci.” His decrepitude risks robbing him of a voice to dictate his will to his putative scribe: I feel my heart getting weaker And I can no longer speak. Frémin, sit close to my bed So that nobody can spy on me. Take up ink, pen, paper immediately! Copy down quickly what I say! (Villon lines 785–90) The testator’s imperatives and temporal adverbs both evoke the time-critical nature of the enterprise and confer implied importance upon it, an effect redoubled by evoking a furtive audience. His besetting pain is, we infer, more physical than moral; irony tinges the persona’s profession of his sins (“I am a sinner, I know it well” (line 105) – proclamation rather than penitent confession), whereas Mézières’s persona seems to derive his urgency, albeit unexplained, from his earnest self-perception as a singularly worse sinner than others (“other Christians of his rank who have not fallen into such terrible sin” (317)), who thereby needs to work penitentially harder to make a good end. Returning to de Hauteville, we find the most ironically pressed testating persona: his posture is that of a martyr for love, a lover who perfectly fulfils his devotion by dying for love – the comedy of the poem lies in his failure to do just that. As we saw above, he is stuck. He imposes all possible constraints on his existence: “It is time for my life to end” (line 130), reasons the logic of his appropriate demise (“It will be better for me to be dead/Than to live on in the world forever in regret” (lines 146–47)), and defines himself as being dead, or wanting to be so (“For I deem myself to be dead” (line 528)), but he cannot argue himself to death. He languishes in unfulfillment, unable to enact the role to which he aspires. His testament is a failed exercise of will.

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Making Disposition: An Exercise of Will De Hauteville’s persona’s aforecited assertion, “I want to prepare for my end [de ma fin disposer je veulx],” now reads more desperately as an effortful attempt rather than a secure undertaking, with hyperbaton and the explicit subject personal pronoun (non-mandatory in medieval French) underscoring his earnest endeavor. Dispositions are needed to counter the dispossession threatened or already effected by death. De Hauteville’s person laments the loss of his lady as a disinheritance, imprecating personified death: You have wrongly disinherited me And stolen my true inheritance. (de Hauteville lines 73–74) His testament serves, it is implied, to compensate as best it can for this lost legacy. A testamentary “last will [volenté]” is thus an exercise of agency under the spotlight. In the autofictional context of Gendreau’s Testament, this enables the author “to gain back in writing some of the agency lost in the battle with terminal illness; writing her own death, she takes control of that narrative, at least for these moments, in this particular context” (Wall 37). This exercise is conveyed by the text’s creation as well as within its fiction: diegetic Vickie sends to her friends USB keys enclosed in brown envelopes, whose document contents constitute part of the text of each chapter; there is, in consequence, a constantly shifting sense of narrative perspective in terms of person and tense: in the voice of her friend Mathieu she adopts a third-person point of view on her identity: “she was going to be posthumous. The queen is dead. She was so trashy, so sparkly, so explosive, so much of her generation. François Villon in a tuxedo” (Gendreau, trans. Wall p. 120). Self-designation as specifically of her moment and as an avatar of Villon may seem an ironic juxtaposition, but given that, as Jane Taylor notes, every age creates its own Villon (1), this is not an irony pushing toward contradiction. Gendreau demonstrates how testamentary disposition occurs in two, related phases: putting one’s own identity in order, and arranging what one bequeaths to others. The phases are intimately linked: the constructed self is itself a legacy (and already carrying inheritance, as in the alignment with medieval Villon), just as the most pertinent burial site of “poor Villon,” heralded in the Testament’s final ballade, is the very text of that poem. Putting one’s own identity in order relates to the historical practice of making provision in one’s will for the disposition of the body; in medieval literary testaments, it binds together the typical three sections of the text: confession, bequests, and prescribed epitaph (Cerquiglini-Toulet 6). Confession offers a retrospective gaze on one’s life as narrative, while the epitaph furnishes a digest of that life’s key features in the deictic present: a “here lies” that will be the here and now of future readers.4 Confession, and the kind of narrative it generates, fosters as much a sense of concealment as of revelation, and often privileges obfuscation or confusion. In Dunant’s The Birth of Venus, the main text comprises “The Testament of Sister Lucrezia,” which discloses the narrator’s contrived suicide. A prefatory “Prologue” provides a third-person, posthumous account of the nuns’ chance discovery of her suicide and the misunderstandings that lead to this knowledge, which is achieved by their disrobing – literal uncovering – of her corpse. The effect is to privilege perplexity, and is one sought most sedulously by Villon’s testator, whose aforementioned self-contradictions and evasions render impossible any straightforward reading of seductively confessional-style statements. For example, “I am the most imperfect of all” (Villon line 261), which might read penitentially, seems more likely self-promotion – cultivating covert prestige of superlative slyness – than self-deprecation. The order that one chooses for one’s identity narrative is thus not necessarily linear or orderly in a conventional sense; 261

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deliberate disarray may be encouraged, as when Villon’s testator insists that his epitaph be inscribed “in charcoal or a lump of coal,/Without at all marking the plaster” (lines 1880–81). He seeks to unfix his identity as evanescent and friable.5 A more conventional approach to putting oneself in order seems to be supplied by Mézières. His Testament exhorts the Celestines to prepare his body for burial, but does so with extraordinary specificity and dramaturgical precision: according to Chapter 1, for instance, his corpse should be stripped naked, chained by its neck, roped to a plank and dragged around the cloister, through the vestry and into the body of the church, where it should be deposited by the oblates, covered in black cloth, and surrounded by four candelabra. This corporeal degradation is not, however, a spectacle of self-display to preserve particular memory; on the contrary, in Chapter 18, he orders the destruction of the plank and candelabra: “to erase the memory of any unusual singularity concerning the poor pilgrim” (Mézières 321). For pious Mézières, what matters beyond his own last will is the will of God: “‘Not my will, but thy will be done’” (301). The greater disposition is divine: “man proposes and God disposes” (320). Similar testamentary specificity is furnished in the very different, non-devotional context of de Hauteville’s persona’s peculiar wishes for his interment: he is avowedly eccentric in his dispositions “that one should behave differently/From how one is accustomed” (de Hauteville 1139–40), such that, for example, mourners should wear green coats with yellow hoods. In such poems, where ironic distance separates narrating persona from implied author, the more insistent the expression of will, the more this is highlighted as a subjective, partial viewpoint, as Villon’s testator demonstrates: For I want to start testating [tester]. Before my clerk Frémin, who heeds me – if he’s not napping – I want to protest [protester] That I do not intend to cut off [detester] anyone. (Villon lines 778–81) His three-fold assertion of intention ironically draws attention to the fact that he is affirming a wish to begin when already a third of the way through the poem. His annominatio on “tester” reveals how the act of testating can function as a personal settling of scores – whether through exclusion (“de-test” as “un-will”) or through inclusion in an unflattering light (“detest”). Although the persona denies vigorously that he is throwing shade, his repeated imprecation of his alleged imprisoner, Archbishop Thibaut d’Aucigny, argues otherwise. A testator’s claim to recount accurately – often supported by asseverations of truth – not only relays personal rather than objective truth, but furthermore exposes the non-unitary nature of someone’s true story: one’s identity, and the narrative that composes it, is fundamentally plural and composite. In Gappah’s Book of Memory, the persona’s relationship with Lloyd, the murder victim, is uncertain: she presents him as an adoptive parent; the prison guards assume he was her lover; her memory – what constitutes the persona’s onomastic identity as Memory – is haltingly perceived, foggy, undocumented. Her life is precarious because its narrative is uncertain, unrecognized, and not sure of being legible; testamentary writing raises Judith Butler’s urgent question, “whose lives count as lives? And, finally, what makes for a grievable life?” (20). The identity of the testating subject exposes individual human identity, not as a tale waiting to be told, but as a telling that is always in process and contested. Cerquiglini-Toulet states that “the ‘I’ is constitutive of what it writes” (5), but this writing is not uniquely “its,” because it is also constituted by other voices – whether other manifestations of the persona (such as Vickie’s Word documents in Gendreau’s Testament or, in Villon’s poem, acrostics of the authorial name or its repeated use as a rich rhyme) or first/third persons ostensibly separate from theirs (the direct discourse of a helmet seller quoted by 262

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Villon’s persona or the projected interventions of Vi