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Arts of DyingLiterature and Finitude in Medieval England$
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D. Vance Smith

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226640853

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226641041.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 18 September 2021

Literature and Death

Literature and Death

(p.1) Introduction Literature and Death
Arts of Dying

D. Vance Smith

University of Chicago Press

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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