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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 Nine: Those Left Behind: The Non-Endings of Primo Levi’s If This Is a Man and Aharon Appelfeld’s The Immortal Bartfuss


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Those Left Behind

The Non-Endings of Primo Levi’s If This Is a Man and Aharon Appelfeld’s The Immortal Bartfuss


In her seminal text On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross notes the fear and aversion surrounding death: “When we look back in time and study old cultures and people, we are impressed that death has always been distasteful to man and will probably always be” (16). She continues: “Death is still a fearful, frightening happening, and the fear of death is a universal fear” (19). While this anxiety surrounding death exists regardless of time and place, the Holocaust distinguishes itself as a period in world history characterized by death. Thus, discussing and representing the Holocaust has been, and continues to be, problematic and controversial. The magnitude and sheer horror of the Holocaust make it a particularly sensitive subject to approach and attempt to represent or depict, particularly for its survivors.

Of the numerous scholarly works surrounding Holocaust testimony or survivor writing, the subject of memory is one of the most discussed topics. Psychoanalysts since Freud have been concerned with the interrelationship between memory and trauma. Although this essay will not address the psychoanalytical aspects of survivor testimonies, I am particularly concerned with the debates surrounding traumatic memory that spill over into the literary field. For a survivor attempting to recount his or her experience of the Holocaust, memory plays a primary...

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