Universalities in Crisis: Parenthood and Paternity at the End of the Line Open Access

Blanchfield, Patrick Daniel (2015)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/fx719m526?locale=en


Responding to the ongoing debate over the influential twentieth century French sociologist Philippe Ariès's "Parental Indifference Hypothesis," this inquiry takes as its object the question of whether or not parental mourning for deceased children is a human universal or instead a matter of cultural contingency. In terms of the multiple disciplinary perspectives this dissertation deploys, and the number of global literary traditions it surveys, the breadth and depth of this investigation into parental child loss is unprecedented. Reading texts written in over a dozen languages in scores of genres over the course of nearly three millennia, I juxtapose efforts to arbitrate the universality of parental mourning as an empirical question with a wide range of literary representations of child loss, with a particular emphasis on texts (canonical and otherwise) produced by authors who have personally lost children themselves. I also demonstrate how ostensibly objective discourses surrounding the question of parental mourning, from the neurosciences to attachment psychology to anthropology and more, are fundamentally motivated by a set of normative preoccupations that have properly philosophical implications for any thinking of universality itself. The dominant Western notion of universality, I argue, hinges upon a model of the human capacity to know the experiences of others and of the transmission of knowledge across generational boundaries that is ultimately structured in terms of personal legacies, parental lineages, and patriarchal inheritance. Yet even rigorously philosophical writers on universality have joined centuries of poets and diarists and epitaph inscribers in insisting that their personal experiences of losing children remain fundamentally incommunicable. I take this paradox seriously and propose a rethinking of universality in terms of universally shared experiences of loss and vulnerability that nonetheless remain radically singular.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Grief, A Human Province...26

Chapter 2: Typologies of Grief...83

Chapter 3: Paternity and Universality at the Grave of Schleiermacher's Son...113

Conclusion: Universalities in Crisis...197


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