ACLA 2016: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Death Representations in Literature: Epistemological, Social, Anthropological and Aesthetic Aspects

Adriana Teodorescu's picture
March 17, 2016 to March 20, 2016
Massachusetts, United States
Subject Fields: 
Anthropology, Cultural History / Studies, Literature, Popular Culture Studies, Social History / Studies

This is a call for presentations for a seminar to be held as part of the American Comparative Literature Association's Annual Meeting, that will take place at Harvard University between 17th-20th March, 2016, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Scholars from various fields are invited to submit an abstract (maximum 250 words), by uploading it to the ACLA website ( between 1st- 23rd  September 2015 for the proposed seminar, “Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Death Representations in Literature: Epistemological, Social, Anthropological and Aesthetic Aspects”.

Those interested are encouraged to contact the seminar organizer ( before uploading their abstracts to ACLA website.

No one can escape death. Yet, for every human being death has its own particularity. This ambivalence of death functions in two directions: death shapes human culture (Scheler, 1952) and human culture shapes death (Simmel, 1988) so that one can say that any death is already cultural (Picard, 1995). Even society is organised as a death system (Kastenbaum, 2007), integrating death (Berger and Luckmann, 1966) but seeking, at the same time, means of counteracting it (Ziegler, 1975).  Ontologically speaking, death is a binding structure if we admit that human beings do not just die, but become aware of their mortality (Heidegger, 1927) and that the death of the significant Other inflicts an ontological wound (Levinas, 1992).

Death proved of utter importance when it became the object of study of two cross- and multidisciplinary fields---death studies and thanatology. However, both seem to manifest a certain mistrust or lack of interest regarding the capacity of literature to provide socio-anthropological information about death and dying as essential features of human condition. On the other hand, many literary studies tend to trivialize the literature-death connection, in the sense that death representations are interpreted in an over-aestheticized manner, ignoring their broader historical and cultural background. The multiple meanings of death often collapse beneath a thematically narrow approach.

The seminar seeks to explore epistemological, social, anthropological, and aesthetic aspects of death representation in literature, considering topics such as:

-Is the literary representation of death and dying meaningful for the anthropological/historical understanding of death?

-Can the concepts/theories pertaining to death studies (e.g. death denial, the five stages of grief) be applied when analysing death in literature?

-Comparative approaches: death in literature and in other connected fields (philosophy, religion, visual art, cinematography, etc.).

-Social and cultural meanings of displaying particular ways of dying and causes of death: illness, suicide, euthanasia, martyrdom, murder, terrorism.

-Death representations in literary movements, literary genres or in a particular literary work.

-Immortality and afterlife images: anxiety management, anthropological need of transcendence or deconstruction of mortality?

-Representations of grief, mourning, bereavement, and funerary rites in literature.

-Can writing be helpful in coping with the death of the significant Other?

-How can writing function as a strategy for accepting or even provoking one’s one mortality?

-Death and creativity: reality, myth, cliché?

-Does literature offer a means of understanding death or on the contrary, of fictionalising death?

-Can literature teach the reader how to die? If so, what is the specificity of a literary pedagogy of death?

This call for abstracts can be found also on ACLA's website:


Contact Info: 

Adriana Teodorescu (Petru Maior University, Romania)