Daniel Heller-Roazen on The Image of the Absentee
In this lecture, Daniel Heller-Roazen (Princeton University) discusses questions raised by the image of missing persons in literature ranging from the classical and medieval to the modern age.
Abstract: A missing person can be someone whose vanishing goes unrecorded, but it can also be someone who has been represented, for one of many reasons, as being absent. Law and literature contain the archives of these persons. Sometimes they are abstract legal types, such as the absentees of ancient and modern civil codes, who are considered alive, if only for a while, and as the subjects of some civil rights, but not all. Missing persons are also characters of literary invention: examples include Helen of Troy, who haunts Sparta after her departure, Hawthorne's Wakefield, who mysteriously "dissevers himself" for years from his wife, and Karl Rossmann, who wanders through the land of absentees that Kafka called Amerika. Certain missing persons are conjured up in depictions of infamy: this is the case of the elusive medieval Italian criminals who, eluding trial, were punished in effigy. Moving among various classical, medieval and modern examples, this lecture will explore some of the questions raised by the image of the absentee.
Daniel Heller-Roazen's books include Echolalias: On the Forgetting of Language (2005), The Inner Touch: Archeology of a Sensation (2007), The Fifth Hammer: Pythagoras and the Disharmony of the World (2011) and, most recently, No One's Ways: An Essay on Infinite Naming (2017). He is currently working on a book on missing persons, to which his April 11 lecture will be closely related. He is the Arthur W. Marks '19 Professor of Comparative Literature and the Council of the Humanities at Princeton University.