Dying Modern

A Meditation on Elegy

Dying Modern

Book Pages: 160 Illustrations: Published: April 2013

Author: Diana Fuss

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism, Poetry

In Dying Modern, one of our foremost literary critics inspires new ways to read, write, and talk about poetry. Diana Fuss does so by identifying three distinct but largely unrecognized voices within the well-studied genre of the elegy: the dying voice, the reviving voice, and the surviving voice. Through her deft readings of modern poetry, Fuss unveils the dramatic within the elegiac: the dying diva who relishes a great deathbed scene, the speaking corpse who fancies a good haunting, and the departing lover who delights in a dramatic exit.

Focusing primarily on American and British poetry written during the past two centuries, Fuss maintains that poetry can still offer genuine ethical compensation, even for the deep wounds and shocking banalities of modern death. As dying, loss, and grief become ever more thoroughly obscured from public view, the dead start chattering away in verse. Through bold, original interpretations of little-known works, as well as canonical poems by writers such as Emily Dickinson, Randall Jarrell, Elizabeth Bishop, Richard Wright, and Sylvia Plath, Fuss explores modern poetry's fascination with pre- and postmortem speech, pondering the literary desire to make death speak in the face of its cultural silencing.


“[Fuss] approaches variations on the form of elegy with such complexity and acumen, and provides much insight into the complexities of our relation to death and the enigma of our simultaneous proximity and avoidance. These are things, after all, about which it can be almost impossible to talk.” — Diana Arterian, Los Angeles Review of Books

“[An] elegant meditation. . . . Even Fuss admits that she is surprised that ‘her little book on elegy . . . [which] I thought was about dyig quietly evolved into a book about surviving. It is a pleasure to be surprised alongside her.” — Sally Connolly, TLS

“This book is an erudite, beautifully written study of them. If you’re a lover of Emily Dickinson’s work or that of Randall Jarrell, Elizabeth Bishop, or Richard Wilbur, you will want to read this book. If you teach literary criticism or simply love poetry, you will want to read Fuss’s book. Superb book.” — Hope Leman, Critical Margins

“In a luminous, beautifully considered study of the modern elegy, Fuss (Princeton) demonstrates the ways that poets have creatively imagined modes of talking about the dead...Highly recommended.” — D. A. Henningfeld, Choice

“[Fuss] argues persuasively for the continued value of the consolatory elegy and examines “the ethical dimentions of the modern elegy.”... [A] concise, insightful, meditative book.” — Barbara Kelly, Emily Dickinson International Society Bulletin

"An exceptionally lively, often glitteringly witty essay on the vagaries, contents, and discontents of nineteenth- and twentieth-century elegy, a genrewhose fate, in England and America, has been radically disrupted and even, sometimes, deformed by the cultural fate of modern death itself."  — Sandra Gilbert, Literature and Medicine

"Diana Fuss's exceptional meditative essay, Dying Modern, is a subtle Keatsian inquiry into the irresolvable, and therefore generative, tensions between genre and mode, and between historical contingency and the constancy of ethical commitments." — Max Cavitch, author of American Elegy: The Poetry of Mourning from the Puritans to Whitman

"Dying Modern is terrific. To have achieved so much in such a short, brisk, and eminently readable book; to have recovered such fascinating subgenres and thought through their interrelations; to have returned to the well-worn terrain of the elegy and come up with fresh insights and inventive readings—these are remarkable accomplishments." — Jahan Ramazani, author of Poetry of Mourning: The Modern Elegy from Hardy to Heaney

"Celebrating poetry's power to bring anything, even death, to life, Diana Fuss's Dying Modern reanimates the elegy for our time. Bringing out the ethical call that echoes throughout the form, her voice becomes the perfect guide to the vanishing voices that elegy creates, preserves, and displaces at once. After reading this wonderful book you'll agree: death never had it so good." — Lee Edelman, author of No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Diana Fuss is Louis W. Fairchild '24 Professor of English at Princeton University. She is the author of The Sense of an Interior: Four Writers and the Rooms that Shaped Them, winner of the James Russell Lowell Prize; Identification Papers; and Essentially Speaking. She is the editor of Human, All Too Human; Pink Freud; and Inside/Out.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1. Dying . . . Words 9

poetry 10

consolation 12

defiance 20

banality 24

newness 31

lastness 35

2. Reviving . . . Corpses 44

comic 46

religious 50

political 57

historical 61

literary 67

poetic 73

3. Surviving . . . Lovers 78

loving 82

waiting 86

leaving 90

refusing 95

existing 98

surviving 102

Conclusion 107

Notes 113

Bibliography 131

Index 141

Copyright Acknowledgments 149
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5389-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5375-1
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