About me

Hi–I’m Kathryn Temple, an associate professor of English at Georgetown University. Mostly my work centers on law and humanities and I’ve published books and essays that work at that intersection. But this new project focuses on the idea of survival as a societal trope, historically situated and amenable to inquiry.

The project has deep personal roots in the experiences surrounding my husband’s illness and death. Its origins lie in an essay I wrote about the implications for hospice care of what Ernest Becker has famously called “the denial of death.” Writing that essay led to my interest in “survival” as a culturally-inscribed concept rather than a simple matter of will or luck. Our post-modern preoccupation with “survival” and the idealization of the “survivor” is a recent phenomenon, one that would have been foreign to the eighteenth-century writers and thinkers I have spent the last 20 years studying. Through a study of various narratives of survival (explorer survivors, cancer survivors, survivalists, hemophilia patients who survived the tainted blood bath of the 80s, the survivors that live to grace the pages of Outside, the faux survivors of the CBS show of the same name), I position our contemporary understanding of the human lifespan first in the context of empire and exploration, secondly in the various contemporary contexts that define this identity category (extreme sports, the cancer community, the hemophilia community, the deaf community, the Irish), and finally, in the apocalyptic fears that have redefined the significance of what it means to “survive” for our historical moment.

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