January 23, 2004 – Robert Pogue Harrison: Seminar on “The Dominion of the Dead”

Friday, January 23 / 12PM – 2PM / Oakes Mural Room

Seminar Reading:
 The Dominion of the Dead, pp. 1-36, 142-159 (first, second, and last chapters). The seminar reading is optional but strongly encouraged. Please pick up readings at the Center for Cultural Studies, or contact Stephanie Casher (scasher@ucsc.edu) one week in advance for campus mailing of the reading. Copies of the book will also be available for purchase at the Literary Guillotine.

Robert Pogue Harrison is Professor and Chair of the Department of French and Italian at Stanford University. He has published widely on Italian literature. His previous book, Forests: The Shadow of Civilization (Chicago, 1992) was a profound and stylistically rich exploration of the role of forests in the Western literary and philosophical imagination. In The Dominion of the Dead (Chicago, 2003), Harrison turns to death, the dead, burial, and the material and psychic relations that the living maintain with the dead. Drawing on the work of Vico, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and a diverse range of poets and thinkers, Harrison makes a convincing argument for the primacy of death within multiple spheres of human existence. The book touches on such topics as burial and its relation to place and possession of place, the roots of architecture in tombs, and grief and the origin of language.

The dead, who in effect set up their dominion in human guilt, do not only need our help to sustain their afterlives, they also provide us with help from beyond the grave. The contract between the living and the dead has traditionally been one of mutual indebtedness, for reasons that Vico probes and that I, in his wake, have sought to clarify. The dead depend on the living to preserve their authority, heed their concerns, and keep them going in their afterlives. In return, they help us to know ourselves, give form to our lives, organize our social relations, and restrain our destructive impulses. —from The Dominion of the Dead