From Publishers Weekly
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.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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The German thinker Arthur Schopenhauer once said that "without death there would hardly have been any philosophizing." Dollimore attests to this thought in his engaging study of death and its corresponding link to desire. In presenting funereal discourses of thinkers, writers, poets, and other literati throughout the ages, he offers a substantial contribution to Western intellectual history. As he examines the conversations between philosophers and writers, beginning with the pre-Socratics and finishing with postmodern theorists, his findings prove interesting--death has always been linked to desire in Western culture. He touches upon the work of almost every conceivable thinker: Heraclitus and Camille Paglia, Machiavelli and Marx, Shakespeare and Wagner, and, of course, the venerable Foucault. He concludes with a study of homoeroticism and AIDS, perhaps the most poignant modern example of desire linked with death. Although a little shaky on facts that are not within his usual academic milieu, and despite some antiquated bibliographic sources, Dollimore presents a marvelous, enrapturing, and accessible work for both the scholar and the armchair philosopher. Michael Spinella
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