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The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 6, 1998

Contemporary Philosophy

Amélie Frost Benedikt
Pages 16-25

On Reading Valedictory Texts
Suicide Notes, Last Wills and Testaments

Authorial absence of a literary and literal kind is my topic. I will examine the absence of nonliving authors, in particular the suicide and the ancestor. These authors author texts intended to be read only in their absence and only by specific, intended readers. Their texts are, respectively, the suicidal note and the last will or testament. Such texts are particularly sensitive to the problem of limited information, the potential for miscommunication, the inscrutability of authorial intention, and the real consequences to others of the author's irrevocable absence. Yet, however keenly aware these instruments are to their own authorial absence, can they defy Jacques Derrida's notion of language as 'play'? These texts of radical absence express a seriousness that refuses play. Yet do they become playfully ambiguous nonetheless? I explore this question by looking at the possibility for miscommunication in valedictory texts.

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