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Dying Well: The Value and Meaning of Death  

Dying Well: The Value and Meaning of Death Tags: Research guide for the March 12 lecture by Dr. Ira Byock, part of the Medical Humanities series presented by Visions and Voices
Last Updated: Mar 17, 2010 URL: Print Guide Email Alerts

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Friday, Mar. 12, 2010 : 3:00pm



Alfred Doeblin’s novel Berlin Alexanderplatz contains a number of interesting meditations on death and meaning in human life. After a lifetime of misadventures, the main character, Franz Biberkopf, finds himself at an institution for the criminally insane. When Death appears in his cell, Franz asks him why he exists. Death replies that human existence would be meaningless without Death. Man is the only animal that knows every living creature will eventually die—including loved ones, friends, and the self. Death’s point is that the wise, unlike Franz, realize this and plan their lives accordingly. By contrast, Franz lived an unreflective life; accidents, rather than intentions, directed his actions.

Doeblin presents these existential themes in a naturalistic way through the novel’s dialogue between Franz and Death. Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus, among countless other philosophers and writers, meditate on similar themes. In this philosophical tradition, death evokes the idea of nothingness and reveals the urgency of creating meaning in human existence. As in Berlin Alexanderplatz, the confrontation with death is a necessary precondition for the self-conscious creation of meaning.

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Visions and Voices and the USC Libraries present Explorations, a series of research guides that allow you to build on your experiences at Visions and Voices events.

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