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The Final Crossing

Death and Dying in Literature


Edited By John J. Han and Clark C. Triplett

Since ancient times, writers and poets have grappled with death, dying, grief, and mourning in their works. The Final Crossing: Death and Dying in Literature compiles fifteen in-depth, scholarly, and original essays on death and dying in literature from around the globe and from different time periods. Written from a variety of critical perspectives, the essays target both scholars and serious students. Death and dying is an important area of study for a variety of disciplines, including psychology, psychiatry, sociology, gerontology, medical ethics, healthcare science, health law, and literary studies. The Final Crossing is a landmark compendium of academic essays on death and dying in literary texts, such as the Iliad, Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān, Hamlet, The Secret Garden, and The Grapes of Wrath. This collection of essays not only brings an international flavor, but also a unique angularity to the discourse on thanatology. The novelty of perspectives reflects the diverse cultural and intellectual backgrounds of the contributors. This diversity opens up a fresh conversation on a number of age-old questions related to «the final crossing.» In this volume, readers will find an intriguing array of topics for further reflection and research.
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Chapter Three: Christian and Muslim Concepts of Death and the Afterlife in Postmodern Agnostic Poetry


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Christian AND Muslim Concepts OF Death AND THE Afterlife IN Postmodern Agnostic Poetry


In this diachronic study of Elizabeth Bishop’s agnostic poetry, we argue that the subject of death takes on epistemological and ontological concerns deeply rooted in Judeo-Christian and Muslim ideologies. In her work, we identify three fundamental approaches to the phenomenon of death: dialectics, exegesis, and taxonomy. We define dialectics as the creation of symbols to express the opposing states of being and non-being and exegesis as explicating the literal and deeper meaning of this primitive and eschatological language. In addition, taxonomy describes an innate human desire to classify and order the world, and this arises from a deep sense of anxiety about death and the afterlife. This essay partly rests upon the premise that “demand for organization is a need common to art and science […] ‘taxonomy, which is ordering par excellence, has eminent aesthetic value’” (Simpson, qtd. in Levi-Strauss 13).

In confronting the subject of death, Bishop’s poetry—and here we are thinking primarily of “Crusoe in England,” “The Man-Moth,” and “A Miracle for Breakfast”—reveals a peculiar hybrid of religious dogma and agnosticism. She does not reject out of hand propositions that maintain belief in a higher being, but insists upon a methodical evaluation of the evidence based on the principle that the attainment of knowledge must be preceded by doubt about the existence...

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