E 379S • Inventions of Death
11:00 AM-12:00 PM
As a society, we have come to associate death, in implicit and uncritical ways, with a rich and horrifying (andfrom an outside perspectiveabsurd) menu of physical and emotional phenomena. For example, we view susceptibility to death in gendered terms. We also fear certain specifically gendered mythicized figures. We see proximity to death as polluting on the one hand, empowering on the other. We imagine the dead as experiencing agonies of remorse or isolation, and we are forever reinforcing our rooted notion of death as punishment. Why is all this so?
Literature is largely to blame, as are all the other media. Where they are not themselves specifically to blame, literature and other media preserve the old, old fingerprints of still other cultural culprits. So now we can, like cultural detectives, trace our own superstitions and anxieties back through the words and pictures of the past, toward their unnatural origins. In other words, the novels, plays, and poems we will read, and the pictures we will look at, will serve as lenses of a sort, revealing clues to the genetics of our current attitudes toward death.
The course is aimed at morally and emotionally mature students who like the literature of the past as well as the present, sensitive readers interested in playing emotional detective, thoughtful people who will enjoy writing four careful, exploratory essays.
The grade will be no lower than the average of the four 4-page essays.