A Death of One's Own

Cloth Text – $99.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-3677-9

E-book – $34.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-3678-6

Paper Text – $34.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-3676-2
Publication Date
March 2018
Page Count
192 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9

A Death of One's Own

Literature, Law, and the Right to Die
Jared Stark

To be or not to be—who asks this question today, and how? What does it mean to issue, or respond to, an appeal for the right to die? In A Death of One’s Own, the first sustained literary study of the right to die, Jared Stark takes up these timely questions by testing predominant legal understandings of assisted suicide and euthanasia against literary reflections on modern death from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Rigorously interdisciplinary and lucidly argued, Stark’s wide-ranging discussion sheds critical light on the disquieting bioethical and biopolitical dilemmas raised by contemporary forms of medical technology and legal agency.
More than a survey or work of advocacy, A Death of One’s Own examines the consequences and limits of the three reasons most often cited for supporting a person’s right to die: that it is justified as an expression of personal autonomy or self-ownership; that it constitutes an act of self-authorship, of “choosing a final chapter” in one’s life; and that it enables what has come to be called “death with dignity.” Probing the intersections of law and literature, Stark interweaves close discussion of major legal, political, and philosophical arguments with revealing readings of literary and testimonial texts by writers including Balzac, Melville, Benjamin, and Améry.
A thought-provoking work that will be of interest to those concerned with law and humanities, biomedical ethics, cultural history, and human rights, A Death of One’s Own opens new and suggestive paths for thinking about the history of modern death as well as the unsettled future of the right to die.
About the Author

JARED STARK is a professor of comparative literature at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida.

"This is a beautifully crafted work that traces a new field of scholarship, which one might tentatively call 'modern death studies.' In conversation with fields as diverse as biomedical ethics, US and international law, public policy, philosophy, and cultural history, Stark’s book sets out to explore how literature bears witness to new and deeply unsettling experiences of modern death. Contextualizing the debate historically with an analysis of the medicalization and thus 'denaturalization' of death in the 19th century, and  'voluntary death' defended as an 'inalienable human right' after the Shoah in the 20th, Stark explores with exquisite clarity and sensitivity the controversies surrounding the 'right to die.'"
—Elisabeth Weber, author of Kill Boxes. Facing the Legacy of US-Sponsored Torture, Indefinite Detention, and Drone Warfare 

“Richly interdisciplinary, imaginatively conceived, and powerfully argued, this book fills the gap it locates in its introduction: that we need more subtle and capacious ways of thinking and talking about what is called ‘assisted suicide,’ ‘the right to die,’ ‘death with dignity,’ and other locutions that seem straightforward but quickly become perplexing under scrutiny. Dr. Stark’s book will certainly become a necessary first stop for other writers concerned with these terms.” —Melissa Zeiger, author of Beyond Consolation: Death, Sexuality, and the Changing Shapes of Elegy 

"This important work places the enigmatic appeal for the right to die at the center of contemporary human experience, raising questions about the nature of autonomy, integrity, and dignity—and more generally about the very nature of the human—as they are defined around this urgent and unsettling address. Engaging concrete legal cases and arguments, Stark rethinks central philosophical questions concerning death, life and ethical responsibility in what he calls the 'time of postnatural death.' At the heart of his analysis is ultimately a literary sensibility, displayed in stunning readings of literary and critical texts, that preserves the radical indecipherability of the appeal to die, freeing it from established meanings and allowing for a new thinking of decision and a new dignity 'about which one can only be silent.'" —Cathy Caruth, author of Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History and Literature in the Ashes of History