Summer 2008
Fully Enrolled

HUMS 646
Death and the Limits of Representation


06/16/2008 - 06/20/2008
Monday-Friday 09:00 AM - 05:00 PM

Butterfield C314

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 events such as the "black death" and the Shoah, 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 Levinas.

Authors to be read will include Martin Heidegger, Emmanuel Levinas, Edgar Allan Poe, Plato, William Shakespeare, and Virginia Woolf. We will also view films, works of art, and listen to musical performances.

Students will be graded on an in class presentation, one final paper due at the end of the term, and class participation.

A syllabus for this course is available at:
Course Syllabus

Ethan Kleinberg (B.A., University of California, Berkeley; M.A., Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles) is associate professor of history and letters, and director of the College of Letters. Click here for more information about Ethan Kleinberg.


Consent of Instructor Required: No

Format: Seminar

Level: GLSP Credits: 3 Enrollment Limit: 11

Texts to purchase for this course:
Philippe Aries, WESTERN ATTITUDES TOWARD DEATH (Johns Hopkins University Press), Paperback

Maurice Blanchot, THE MOST HIGH (University of Nebraska Press), Paperback

Plato, PHAEDO (Oxford University Press), Paperback

Edgar Allan Poe, COMPLETE TALES AND POEMS (Castle Books), Hardcover

William Shakespeare, MACBETH (Folger), Paperback

Virginia Woolf, MRS. DALLOWAY (Harvest Books), Paperback

Optional Text:

Martin Heidegger, BEING AND TIME (Harper One), Hardcover


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