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ACLA 2016 Seminar: “To Die Content”: Death, Writing, and Creativity (Harvard University; March 17-20, 2016)

DEADLINE: September 23rd, 2015

In his diary, Kafka once revealed that the best of what he has written is based on his “capacity to die content.” While Kafka’s characters (such as The Trial, The Metamorphosis, etc.) do not always experience actual death, they seem to carry out their actions in death space in the main narrative. Inspired by Kafka, Blanchot rethinks the close and dynamic relationship between writing and death in The Space of Literature. He argues that writers are drawn to death in the same manner as they are drawn to the origin of creativity. Good writing requires a profound and mysterious relationship with death, which is marked by freedom and equality. In other words, a writer must constantly live within the indefinite time of “dying.” In this sense, death can empower one’s writing and boost one’s creativity. In Blanchot’s words, “You cannot write unless you remain your own master before death; you must have established with death a relation of sovereign equals … Why death? Because death is the extreme. He who includes death among all that is in his control controls himself extremely. He is linked to the hold of his capability; he is power through and through. Art is mastery of the supreme moment, supreme mastery.”

How can we make sense of this fundamental interconnectedness between writing and death in the space of literature? What does it mean to “die content”? How is it possible to die content or die well? Does it mean to reach a transcendent stage in which all values go beyond the human values? How can death be turned into a driving force of creativity? How do other critics respond to the relationship between writing and death in different theoretical contexts (Roland Barthes’ Death of the author, Derrida/Agamben’s death and language, etc.)? In other realms of art (such as photography, film, painting, etc.), how is creativity and death conceptualized?

This interdisciplinary seminar invites papers which explore the relationship between writing and death in different genres and cultural/national contexts. We will not only focus on death as a theme in the narrative, but also the role it plays between the creators and their works of art. Potential topics include (but are not limited to):

creativity and death/mortality

death/dying as a literary device/trope/rhetoric

writing as a form to defeat/surpass/contest/respond to death living with death and dying; living dead

the significance of “dying content” or “dying well”

the character’s death and the author

the death of the author

death, alienation, separation, absence

suffering and art nothingness, emptiness, meaninglessness in writings

Seminar Keywords: life/death, writing, creativity, Blanchot, narrative, film/literary studies

Submission: 250-word abstracts must be submitted through the ACLA online portal by Sept. 23, 2015. Please select “To Die Content”: Death, Writing, and Creativity” in the Seminar drop box. If you have any questions about this seminar, please feel free to contact Dr. Mavis Tseng at


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