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Speaking With the Dead

Explorations in Literature and History

Jürgen Pieters


This book deals with the special power of literary texts to put us in contact with the past. A large number of authors, coming from different ages, have described this power in terms of 'the conversation with the dead': when we read these texts, we somehow find ourselves conducting a special kind of dialogue with dead authors.

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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Among Ancient Men (Petrarch, Machiavelli, Sidney and Huygens)
Chapter 2: The Gaze of Medusa and the Practice of the Historian (Rubens and Huygens)
Chapter 3: The Historical Shiver (Flaubert, Michelet and Keats)
Chapter 4: 'Now Let Us Go Into This Blind World' (Dante, Virgil, Homer and T. S. Eliot)
Chapter 5: The Sounds of Silence (Roland Barthes)

About the Author

Jürgen Pieters teaches literary theory and cultural history at the University of Ghent, Belgium. He is the author of Moments of Negotiation. The New Historicism of Stephen Greenblatt (Amsterdam University Press, 2001).


Speaking With the Dead gives an eloquent account of the past¹s uncanny power to come alive in the present. This engaging book, genuinely international and transhistorical in its range of reference, never forgets the specific circumstances of the moments it defines or the current issues it addresses.
- Catherine Belsey, School of English, Communication and Philosophy, Cardiff University
Jürgen Pieters’ illuminating book is of compelling interest to anyone who has ever experienced, in encountering the traces of the past, the shiver of communion with people who no longer breathe the life-giving air. Speaking with the Dead deftly explores the rich record of this experience in the writing from Dante and Petrarch to Michelet and Roland Barthes. The remarkable Renaissance genius, Constantijn Huygens, like many of the figures in this book, claimed that his deepest and most abiding friendships were with the dead. Pieters' thoughtful and probing analysis enables us to grasp the significance, complexity, and poignancy of this claim.
- Stephen Greenblatt, Cogan University Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University