Death, Desire and Loss in Western Culture

Jonathan Dollimore, Author
Jonathan Dollimore, Author Routledge $60 (384p) ISBN 978-0-415-92174-9
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In his prodigiously intelligent, deeply challenging and ultimately rewarding book, Dollimore (Sexual Dissidence) argues that the death/desire dynamic, while banefully associated in recent times with AIDS, is not a new or alternate phenomenon but was crucial in the formation of Western culture. In chapter after chapter, inspired, finely honed analysis of canonical works of philosophy, fiction, drama and more shows how early civilization's ambiguous ideas about death repeat themselves and shape gender and identity. In the Renaissance, for example, death was fused with desire via the concept of mutability and its inherent paradox. To put it simply, if man loves most what is fleeting (especially beauty, which will eventually fade), then will his desire always be unfulfilled. Similarly, Socrates, accused of corrupting the youth of Athens, willingly takes the poison that kills him and his cravings while ""the sun is still on the mountains,"" putting a strange twist to Seneca's carpe diem. Since Dollimore's analysis is structured by intellectual trends rather than by era, there is a dizzying effecthere, and one begins to wonder what kind of ""non-specialist"" reader the author has in mind, particularly given the density of many of the thinkers he takes on. Yet his hopeful conclusion works toward a way out of the death/desire rubric with convincing passion. (Oct.)
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