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Pure Formalities: Living With the Nescient Dead, or the Dead Who Don’t Know They Are Dead

Pure Formalities: Living With the Nescient Dead, or the Dead Who Don’t Know They Are Dead RICHARD HARDACK Pure Formalities: Living With the Nescient Dead, or the Dead Who Don’t Know They Are Dead The world came to an end in 1914. Like the mindless dead, who don’t know they’re dead, we are as little aware as they of having been in Hell ever since that terrible August. Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day poiler alert: We are already dead. In this essay, I assess and explicate a contemporary genre of writing about the dead who do not know they are dead. In these works, such charac- ters do not necessarily speak from the grave (a hoary conceit Alan Ball refurbished in American Beauty and Six Feet Under), but fail to realize they have died. While critics have scrutinized the cul- tural signic fi ance of zombies and the undead, the related but distinct condition of being dead without knowing it has remained largely un explored. For Slavoj Žižek, the “fundamental fantasy of contem- porary mass culture” is “the return of the living dead” (Looking 22). But the most important variation of that fantasy pertains not to the condition of being undead, but to our ignorance of it. These “mindless” g fi ures―whom we might call http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Contemporary Literature University of Wisconsin Press

Pure Formalities: Living With the Nescient Dead, or the Dead Who Don’t Know They Are Dead

Contemporary Literature , Volume 59 (2) – May 28, 2019

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Publisher
University of Wisconsin Press
Copyright
Copyright © 2008 the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin.
ISSN
1548-9949

Abstract

RICHARD HARDACK Pure Formalities: Living With the Nescient Dead, or the Dead Who Don’t Know They Are Dead The world came to an end in 1914. Like the mindless dead, who don’t know they’re dead, we are as little aware as they of having been in Hell ever since that terrible August. Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day poiler alert: We are already dead. In this essay, I assess and explicate a contemporary genre of writing about the dead who do not know they are dead. In these works, such charac- ters do not necessarily speak from the grave (a hoary conceit Alan Ball refurbished in American Beauty and Six Feet Under), but fail to realize they have died. While critics have scrutinized the cul- tural signic fi ance of zombies and the undead, the related but distinct condition of being dead without knowing it has remained largely un explored. For Slavoj Žižek, the “fundamental fantasy of contem- porary mass culture” is “the return of the living dead” (Looking 22). But the most important variation of that fantasy pertains not to the condition of being undead, but to our ignorance of it. These “mindless” g fi ures―whom we might call

Journal

Contemporary LiteratureUniversity of Wisconsin Press

Published: May 28, 2019

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