Death and Dying in Literature
Edited By John J. Han and Clark C. Triplett
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
MARWAN A. NADER AND MYRNA A. NADER
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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