Blind Seeing: Deathwriting from Dickinson to the contemporary

Autumn/Winter 2016
DOI: 10.3898/NEWF:89/90.11.2016

The essay traces a tradition of what is here called ‘deathwriting’ as it stretches from Emily Dickinson, to Franz Kafka, to Samuel Beckett, to Cormac McCarthy. The work of all these writers, the essay argues, is driven by the urge to give a poetic form to the experience of death, to make death thinkable and narratable. Alongside this tradition of deathwriting, and interwoven with it, one can discern too, a fascination with ‘blind seeing’, an attempt to make darkness visible, or to overcome the distinction between the light and the dark, the visible and the invisible. In reading the connection between deathwriting and blind seeing as it runs from Dickinson to the contemporary, the essay argues that these writers allow us to glimpse a differently constituted relationship between the living and the dead, and between the perceptible and the imperceptible. At a contemporary moment when it has become urgent to rethink our apparatuses for world picturing, with the emergence of the Anthropocene as a critical context for all of our imaginings, the essay offers this history of deathwriting as a radically different way of seeing, without the aid of human light.

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New Formations 89/90: Death and the Contemporary