Talking to the Dead
The death of Wordsworth’s sailor brother, John, in February of 1805 brought forth the writing of “Distressful Gift.” Written in memory of his brother, it contained the agreement that Wordsworth had with his brother: that John would perform the task of earning a living for them while Wordsworth would do something for the world through his language and poetry. This type of elegiac address possibly finds it precursor in Milton’s “Lycidas.” Derrida’s The Work of Mourning (2001) also echoes this unheard address to the dead. In Derrida’s case, however, the elegies are replies and after-thoughts, conversations with the dead. Where Freud speaks of the ego detaching itself in order for life to move on, Derrida insists that we continue to converse with the dead through the hearing of their voices, the reading of their books, and the seeing of their faces.
Keywords: elegiac address, Distressful Gift, Freud, Work of Mourning, Lycidas, Derrida, elegies, converse with dead