Death's Following: Mediocrity, Dirtiness, Adulthood, Literature

Death's Following: Mediocrity, Dirtiness, Adulthood, Literature

by John Limon
     
 

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Almost all twentieth-century philosophy stresses the immanence of death in human life-as drive (Freud), as the context of Being (Heidegger), as the essence of our defining ethics (Levinas), or as language (de Man, Blanchot). In Death's Following, John Limon makes use of literary analysis (of Sebald, Bernhard, and Stoppard), cultural analysis, and autobiography to

Overview

Almost all twentieth-century philosophy stresses the immanence of death in human life-as drive (Freud), as the context of Being (Heidegger), as the essence of our defining ethics (Levinas), or as language (de Man, Blanchot). In Death's Following, John Limon makes use of literary analysis (of Sebald, Bernhard, and Stoppard), cultural analysis, and autobiography to argue that death is best conceived as always transcendentally beyond ourselves, neither immanent nor imminent.

Adapting Kierkegaard's variations on the theme of Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac while refocusing the emphasis onto Isaac, Limon argues that death should be imagined as if hiding at the end of an inexplicable journey to Moriah. The point is not to evade or ignore death but to conceive it more truly, repulsively, and pervasively in its camouflage: for example, in jokes, in logical puzzles, in bowdlerized folk songs.

The first of Limon's two key concepts is adulthood: the prolonged anti-ritual for experiencing the full distance on the look of death. His second is dirtiness, as theorized in a Jewish joke, a logical exemplum, and T. S. Eliot's "Ash Wednesday": In each case, unseen dirt on foreheads suggests the invisibility of inferred death. Not recognizing death immediately or admitting its immanence and imminence is for Heidegger the defining characteristic of the "they," humanity in its inauthentic social escapism. But Limon vouches throughout for the mediocrity of the "they" in its dirty and ludicrous adulthood. Mediocrity is the privileged position for previewing death, in Limon's opinion: practice for being forgotten. In refusing the call of twentieth-century philosophy to face death courageously, Limon urges the ethical and aesthetic value of mediocre anti-heroism.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
". . . [U]nimpeachably brilliant, a marvelous addition to the discourse about contemporary literature. . . ."-JONATHAN FREEDMAN, University of Michigan

"My pleasure in reading Death's Following, my pleasure also in the painful truths it kept recalling, is the pleasure of reading something genuinely great. I can't remember the last time a book haunted and changed my thinking so much."-William Flesch, Brandeis University

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780823242795
Publisher:
Fordham University Press
Publication date:
08/14/2012
Pages:
212
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.70(d)

Meet the Author

JOHN LIMON is John J. Gibson Professor of English and chair of the English Department at Williams College. His previous books are The Place of Fiction in the Time of Science, Writing After War, and Stand-Up Comedy in Theory.

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