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The Knowledge of Death


The essay offers an introduction to „The Knowledge of Death” ("Ştiinţa morţii", see Cărţi de autor). This syntagm is taken from Eminescu‘s poetic laboratory and uses both senses of the word „knowledge” in Romanian: that of knowing something, of being aware of something, but also that of ability to do something, of mastering a skill.

Taking as a starting point the suggestions of some well known books on death (written by Philippe Ariès, Georges Bataille, Edgar Morin, Emmanuel Levinas, Jean Ziegler, Louis Vincent Thomas, Vladimir Jankélévitch, Jean Baudrillard etc., but also by Emil Cioran, Ion Biberi, Mircea Eliade) the book approaches the problem of finitude from a reforming and unprejudiced perspective. Irina Petraş selects and comments freely upon statements concerning the state of deadness, emphasizing certain ideas again and again from different viewpoints, almost turning them into leit motifs: death is a process, not a punctual event; intravital death is worth all the manifestations of life and it alone gives them meaning and importance; a reform of death would restore man ‘ s dignity, lost under the pressure of deceptive dogmas; the mortal condition, as the supreme sign of the humanness, can become a force; „the immortal” - either „the new man” of the totalitarian system or the serene and irresponsible „consumer” of the post-industrial society - endangers not only the quality of life, but the existence itself of menkind; the existence dictated by fate is man ‘ s necessary evil in order to value his passing life; the only salvation that man has is art, creation.

The process of making the being less and less responsible for self - assiduously assisted by the totalitarian political regime or by the economical system of the consumer society, on both cases the society being more and more indifferent and, somehow, more abstract, made up of individuals whom, paradoxically it does not contain any more - can be stopped by a lucid assumption of the finitude.


Works written by Eminescu, Creangă, Macedonski, Blaga, Bacovia, Camil Petrescu, M. Blecher, Marta Petreu, Rieke, D.R. Popescu, Marin Preda, Tolstoi, Kazantzakis, Saramago etc., in order to sketch aspects of death in the literature. The analyses start from the idea that even if the reform of death has become a social reality and a sociological theme only for the last decades, great poetry has always contained it. The great themes: love, life and death are, after all, one and the same eternal theme, death. It is the only one that does not lend itself to direct experience, but impregnates all the others. Any poem about love, nature and even patriotism is a „Song toward death”. The ineffability of poetry comes exactly from this effort of putting into words what there is without being. Love, man‘s communion with nature and the affiliation with a home are necessary myths but also, once invented, possible direct experiences. They are often noble and operative at a historical level because they establish affiliations toward forgetting the finitude and innate loneliness. Through them man creates harmonies meant to make up to him for the fundamental disharmony - death. Death has man in absoluteness without being accesible to him except through relation. Great poetry is situated between the two extremes: its language tells about experiences invented in an ambiguous syntax that could reveal, in moments of grace, a piece from the Great Meaning. Lines like: „I little thought that I would learn to die” (Eminescu‘s line, translation by Corneliu M. Popescu) are being born in such moments. A rumour has come out of the impenetrable. The purpose of poetry has always been to receive it and, through a subtle reform of death, to make it ready for man to free himself from frights, that is a creative living-together with death.

Folklore and all literature, re-read from the perspective of death, would lead, considers the author, to „national portraits”, more real than those that have many times become refiling common places. Facing the unexplained and unexplainable enigma of the state of deadness, the soul of a poeple gives the most significant, existentially, answers.

Translation by Liana Petraş



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