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Literature and Death

Literature and Death

Chapter:
(p.1) Introduction Literature and Death
Source:
Arts of Dying
Author(s):
D. Vance Smith
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226641041.003.0001

Finitude is a paradox: we cannot experience it without being outside it. When we talk about death, therefore, we talk about something impossible to understand. We can really only talk about dying, and literature allows us to do that. This book argues that the formalist resources of literature are used throughout the English Middle Ages to try to think about the impossibility of death—as dying, indeed, but also as forms of language that imaginatively resolve the problem. There are three modes, with stylistic and philosophical traits distinctive to each, that medieval English literature uses: ensoulment, cryptic writing, and the archive.

Keywords:   late style, cryptic writing, archive, ensoulment, Edward Said, Theodor Adorno, formalism

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