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What is death? How does our being mortal shape the possibilities of our cognition and our desire? How should we live in order to come to terms with the term of life, and how does our orientation towards a good death become an art of living? How does the history of thinking about death shape our understanding of these possibilities, and how do the cultural and other differences surrounding the treatment of death play a part in constituting those very differences—the demarcations of ethnicities, nations, religions, genders, etc.—all the lines drawn on this side of the division between life and death? What does thinking about death in general reveal to us about death in our culture—about our medical industry, about our political furor over “death panels,” about a culture industry obsessed with the equation of youth and beauty, for example?
We will discuss these themes as they are developed in two of Derrida’s major works on death: The Gift of Death and Aporias. In all of our thinking about life in this world, about responsibility, authenticity, temporality, finitude, or mortality, for example, it seems that we always surreptitiously introduce some infinite beyond into the constitution of the here-below, a transcendence that may be utterly unknowable despite our complete reliance on it. It has gone by many names throughout history: the Form of the Good, God, the unnameable possibility of the name, the Unconditioned, the Inverted World, Being, Differance, or the secret; we will consider what it would mean to nickname it “Death.”
Jonathan Basile is a volunteer with the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, visiting hospice patients and their families. He currently studies at Brooklyn College, working towards an MFA in Creative Writing. This past summer he organized a series of discussions on death in Western philosophy through The Public School New York, focusing on the work of Plato, Hegel, Heidegger, Levinas, and Derrida.
For more information, including the related readings and writing assignment, go to: http://nyc.thepublicschool.org/class/3753