Maurice Blanchot writes that death is "man's greatest hope," for it "raises existence to being" and "is within each one of us as our most human quality." Literature, on the other hand, "manifests existence without being, existence which remains below existence, like an inexorable affirmation, without beginning or end-death as the impossibility of dying." Poe's stories of premature burial and of the dead coming back to life dramatize the horror of the impossibility of dying that is made present in the existence of literature. In "Berenice" our attention as readers to the details of the tale, our willingness to be told what "should not be told," reproduces the narrator's obsession with the teeth of Berenice-with that wich speaks of death and does not die-and implicates us in his violation of the still-living Berenice in her tomb. The destruction of Berenice-of the living being that can die-and the telling of "Berenice" coincide. Heightening our awareness of the literary act in which we are engaged, Poe forces us to enter the tale itself. Only in our own mortality do we find a way out.
- Copyright 1996 The Regents of the University of California.