The Loneliness of the Dying and Humana Conditio: Observations on the Development of Humanity on the Fortieth Anniversary of the End of a War (8 May 1985)
Contributor(s)University of New England
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AbstractBoth of the works published here stem from the period of Norbert Elias's belated recognition - fame indeed - and were written when he was already in his eighties. They have something of the quality of what in German is known as an 'Alterswerk': a work of old age. This is evident not merely in the themes of ageing, death and, in the case of 'Humana Conditio', our responsibility highlight of the past history and towards coming generations, but also in their style. These are the reflections of a leading scholar which build upon a lifetime's work and are grounded in well-worked-out positions and arguments that are no longer in need of detailed exposition or defence, but which serve as a springboard for a set of wide-ranging observations on broad themes - in fact on some of the broadest themes imaginable. These works are also frequently deeply personal both in their concerns and references, and are occasionally anecdotal. 'The Loneliness of the Dying', for example, very clearly sides with the ageing and dying. This unapologetic partiality is part of the work's continuing appeal and power. Furthermore, both pieces have the feel of a testament: of lessons learnt in the course of a long scholarly life disrupted by terrible events and now left as moral pointers to current, and possibly future generations. This is particularly evident in 'Humana Conditio' where Elias, while being very careful to avoid the notion of collective guilt, makes very clear what are the collective responsibilities of Germans in light of the Third Reich and the holocaust. These responsibilities stem from their membership of a social group - a national community - with a particular history and habitus: a habitus that does not disappear in an 'hour zero', but of which one must he continually aware and watchful. Thus the two pieces published in this volume of the collected works are 'Alterswerke', not merely in their academic but also in their moral authority.