The one absolutely certain thing is also the one unthinkable thing. Death is a surd. What can a conscious mind make the end of consciousness – of the end of itself? In this module we approach the unthinkable from seven different angles, in each case studying an extract from a classic piece of writing. We consider death and hell (James Joyce’s account of damnation in Portrait of an Artist); death and æsthetics (Edgar Allan Poe and the glamour of being buried alive); mental attitudes to dying (Philippe Ariès’ The Hour of Our Death); the economics of extinction (Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Death); death, forgetting and remembering (James E. Young’s The Texture of Memory); philosophising about the end (Karl Jaspers and ‘Deathlessness’); and the archæology of death (H.V Morton’s account of opening the tomb of Tutankhamun). We finish with a class visit to Kerepesi cemetery, which preserves three or four attitudes to death, including the socialist one. This module will be useful for students interested in history, literature, art history, philosophy or the social sciences.
Module Leader:Richard Major
Division:Arts and Humanities