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  • 2019aquilinaphd

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The death of me: literature, relational death, and the human thing

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

  • Aaron Aquilina
Publication date2019
Number of pages247
Awarding Institution
Award date5/11/2019
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This thesis argues that literary fictions of the death penalty, which present us with the liminal status of those who are condemned to death, are a means of reading the political and philosophical subject otherwise.

To be sure, a certain strand of (post-)Heideggerian thought has always posited the idea of “my death”, where death is only and always mine, which makes any ontological dissolution of the “I” unthinkable. However, this thesis reads fictions of the death penalty by Sophocles, Dickens, Hugo, Greene, Sartre, Nabokov, and Blanchot, among others, to show how the death penalty also condemns to death Heideggerian “Being-towards-death”.

By being condemned to death, a state not solely bound to the cells of death row, the thesis argues that the self and death collide in a post-Heideggerian way. When the supposed futurity of death is brought into the here and now, or even the past, we encounter what this thesis will call “relational death”: that is, living on with the death one has already died, when the subject’s foremost relation to death puts under erasure all other relations—to itself, the Other, and to political sociality as a whole—and puts into question not the individual subject but subjectivity itself.

In a sustained engagement with Blanchot’s thought, which also encompasses the work of Hegel, Heidegger, Levinas, Derrida, and Agamben, this thesis concludes by re-evaluating the human, less as a named and recognisable “being” than as an anonymous living corpse or “thing”, residing beyond names and concepts.