HUMS 646
Death and the Limits of Representation

Ethan Kleinberg

Course Description

Using death as the subject of study, this course will explore the limits or representation, that is, the practice of communicating abstract ideas, visions, or arguments through concrete or recognizable forms.  Death, which is ultimately unknowable, is nonetheless made "known" through images, discourse, and doctrine.  Indeed, what is the concept of the "ghost" but an attempt to represent someone who is dead in the recognizable form of the body that once was alive. The ghost, who appears and disappears and is not bound by the laws of time or space, is largely present in its absence. By exploring texts by such authors as Plato, Shakespeare, Poe, Woolf  and Levinas; and studying historical case studies (such as the Nazi "Final Solution"), we will attempt to understand the discourses and limits of representation.  Thus our reading of Plato will focus on the ways his argument verges on defining death but is never definite.  Similarly we will explore the attempt to represent death via metaphor and allegory as in the work of Shakespeare and Poe.  This will lead us to explore the possibility of allowing death to remain radically “other” and thus unrepresentable as in the work of Heidegger and Blanchot.

Requirements and Grading

1.  Class attendance and active participation are essential to pass this course. 

2.  One in class presentation/discussion leader based on materials and topics distributed in class. 

3.  One paper, 10-15 pages long.

Required Reading
Authors to be read may include (but will not be limited to):  Phillipe Aries, Maurice Blanchot, Martin Heidegger, Edgar Allan Poe, Plato, William Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf.
Course Schedule
Meeting 1

Introduction (Death and Representation).
Plato, Phaedo (I)
Plato, Phaedo (II)

Meeting 2

Heidegger,  Being and Time I (§§ 46-49)
Heidegger,  Being and Time II (§§ 50-53)

Meeting 3

Shakespeare, Macbeth
Poe, The Mask of the Red Death, The Imp of the Perverse, The Man of the Crowd, The Raven

Meeting 4

History and Death pt. I  (Western Attitudes Toward Death, Philippe Aries)
History and Death pt. II (Test Case), the “Final Solution”.

Meeting 5

Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
Blanchot, The Most High 

Paper Due