Mortalism: Readings on the Meaning of Life

Mortalism: Readings on the Meaning of Life

by William Shakespeare, Soren Kierkegaard, Virginia Woolf
     
 

The inevitability and finality of death have prompted some of the world’s most poignant and memorable literature, from the Epic of Gilgamesh of ancient Babylon to the works of contemporary poets and novelists. The conviction that death means everlasting extinction, with no possibility of an afterlife, is described by Peter Heinegg as "mortalism." In this

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Overview

The inevitability and finality of death have prompted some of the world’s most poignant and memorable literature, from the Epic of Gilgamesh of ancient Babylon to the works of contemporary poets and novelists. The conviction that death means everlasting extinction, with no possibility of an afterlife, is described by Peter Heinegg as "mortalism." In this unique anthology he has collected more than fifty selections of poetry and prose that reflect this view.

Contrary to what one might expect, mortalism does not invariably lead to pessimism, despair, or the sense that life is absurd. Although such sentiments are found in some of the quoted passages, many others give one the opposite impression: since life is brief and terribly finite, it should be treasured and celebrated for all its pleasures and rich experiences. Also noteworthy is the fact that the mortalist point of view is not necessarily confined to unbelievers. Heinegg presents quotations from Job, Ecclesiastes, the Venerable Bede, Blaise Pascal, and Søren Kierkegaard, as well as from such unbelievers as Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud.

Heinegg calls mortalism the great open secret of our culture—open because the arguments in its favor are clear, powerful, and perfectly accessible, and a secret because acknowledging it has been seen either as impious or as simply too depressing to discuss. In perusing this intriguing volume the reader will find that mortalism was the viewpoint shared by many of the most profound and creative minds in history.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Aiming to provide a "sampling" rather than the definition of Mortalism-the conviction that death means extinction and that there is no possibility of afterlife-Heinegg (English and comparative literature, Union Coll.) has collected and chronologically sorted poetry and prose from more than 50 authors and five centuries, including brief extracts from the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Bible. Although most date back to 19th and 20th centuries, some European authors from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries are also included, as well as a few Greek and Roman poets and philosophers. Each author receives a very brief introduction, which provides insufficient information. Although this is the first work on the subject of Mortalism since Norman Burns's Christian Mortalism from Tyndale to Milton, it contributes little or nothing to the scholarship. Not only does it lack theoretical context and comprehensive analysis but most of its content is already available in other sources. Not recommended.-Paolina Taglienti, New York Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781591020424
Publisher:
Prometheus Books
Publication date:
05/28/2003
Pages:
120
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.98(h) x 0.49(d)

Meet the Author

Peter Heinegg is professor of English and Comparative Literature at Union College in Schenectady, NY, and the translator of more than forty books.

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