Danilo Kis, “Encyclopedia of the Dead”

image credit: James Valma on Pixabay

Think about this story in relation to Anderson’s critiques of “institutions of power” and or in relation to the questions and problems around memory in Freud, Borges and/or Kabakov.

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19 thoughts on “Danilo Kis, “Encyclopedia of the Dead”

  1. The idea that a book would record every small detail of life echoes both Borges and Kabakov. The encyclopedia of the dead would be an impossible endeavor. Though everyone would like to be remembered, this story shows the impossibility of such detailed recordings as well as the uselessness of most of the information that one can record about a person’s life. The narrator claimed that the encyclopedia did not hold one person as more important than another, but that is not true. If a person was mentioned in another person’s section, they were not allowed to be mentioned in another book. This means that the people writing the encyclopedias have to choose people to focus on. So some people have every detail about their lives written down, while others simply have their name mentioned. You would not be able to find them if you wanted to. It is also interesting that the narrator said that the volume containing her father’s information hadn’t been touched in years (it was covered in dust) but it had her father’s death date, which had only been two months prior. The narrator waking in the end to find that it was all a dream (at least that’s how I perceived it) makes sense, as the encyclopedia is nothing more than wishful thinking.

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  2. I think that the idea of such a book that could record every tiny detail of life echoes Kabakov more than the other two. I think it would be awesome to have such a book of the dead, but knowing that there is no way for it to really be done. I know for a fact that I would love to be remembered, even if I do nothing great in my life. The narrator of this story states that the encyclopedia doesn’t make it seem like one person was more important than another, meaning, I think, that there are multiple people writing this encyclopedia of the dead, especially if the writers have to focus on one person at a time. It would take forever to get every single detail about someone’s life on paper, while others merely have their name mentioned in a certain section. However, I wish this was very real. It would be cool to see a book listing every person who has died, and what they were like.

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  3. Encyclopedia of the Dead is like Kabakov in that it is a recording of everything, even the things that may seem insignificant. In relation to memory, it seems the narrator remembered in her dream that her father took up painting around the same time he started to become sick. Causing her to talk to his doctor about the drawing she found in the dream. I think this follows Freud’s theory of memory. I think that she somehow remembered or realized that her father took up painting when he started to get sick, and this memory resurfaced in her dream.

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  4. I think there is a lot to say about the Encyclopedia of the Dead. At first glance I thought to focus on the theme or concept of recording every little thing about an individual, to treat every person who had lived as though they were worthy of having every detail of their life recorded. In one way I could argue that this contradicts my previous beliefs about the census. I thought that it was ridiculous that the census in a way exists to make assumptions about a population, but in the Encyclopedia of the Dead there is a plethora of information. I realized that this text made the census seem more reasonable, because in reality it would be ridiculous to try to record everything about everyone, maybe I was being too harsh on the census, maybe it does the best it can. Then, I found more concepts in the text that I thought would be interesting to discuss in class. For instance, her father’s obsession with the idea of the sea, and with writing about the sea and collecting stamps, yet never wanting to visit the sea or get a passport. This was funny because her father’s job was to map the world, and he obsessed of the world, but didn’t go out to see it. This, I believe, is social commentary of the power of mapping. This man made maps without knowing the exact reality of the world he fantasized about, and when he found out the reality of the sea it disappointed him. Maps lose their power in their inability to tell you everything, just the same as a census can never be as expansive as the encyclopedia of the dead. Finally, the critique of the museum comes into question when the narrator discusses those who write the encyclopedia of the dead. She mentions how much of what they say is objective, but they still draw to some subjective conclusions, such as her fathers sadness and his reasoning for collecting stamps. This is the same as curators for a museum. While they may put things on display objectively, they will always have an opinion as to the meaning of an item, and curator’s are the ones with the power in this scenario. In the end I think it would be wonderful if we could experience every memory, if we could experience every landscape, and if we could know everything about an artifact, but we can’t. This is where the census, map, and museums come into place. Do they have power? Absolutely. Can we find a better method to promote objectivity or to record every little detail, no, that is merely a fantasy. The fact is that it would be impossible to create an encyclopedia of the dead or to create a map that let you experience the truth and every aspect of a landscape. That is the critique this story offers, but that is merely my subjective opinion!

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    1. I would also like to note the detail that people who are mentioned in other encyclopedia’s are not allowed to be in the encyclopedia of the dead, could this ring true to our discussion that on a census you can only be represented in one way? I would really like to discuss the meaning that could exist behind this. I think there is more to discuss here but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

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  5. When the author read her father’s work, she realized she could go on reading the entire book without having any recollection of what she actually read. Rather than understanding the text, she skimmed the passages and soon realized she did not understand what she had been reading for several hours. With all of the new information in front of her, it was difficult for her to comprehend the work. This instance is similar to Kabakov’s work, “The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away.” They are similar in the sense that each main character had difficulty processing information because they both had a vast array of memories to decipher. While Kis was reading a piece of writing by her father, the man who never threw anything away had something from every experience he encountered in his life stored in his apartment. Kis had to write summaries about each passage in order to understand them and decipher between needed information and unnecessary information, while the man who never threw anything away had to decide which objects and memorabilia were trash and which were useful possessions.

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  6. After reading this piece I feel like the author’s experience with reading her father’s life story out of an encyclopedia most correlates with Freud’s piece about the Mystic Writing Pad. Although a bit stretched, if we consider an encyclopedia a type of “mystic writing pad,” so as the reader can read the content of the encyclopedia and choose what information to pass on, and what information to keep in her head. However, regardless of what she tries to forget about her father, the memories are always going to be written because of Freud’s said effect. Furthermore, in this case, because her father’s life has been documented, the memories have been documented as well.

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  7. This reading very much reminded me of Kabakov’s piece. The idea of every single thing being recorded or remembered is such an interesting idea to consider in relation to both pieces. While it is fun to pretend that something like this could exist, in reality, it cannot, and that is what makes this story so thought-provoking. While reading, I was severely overcome by the thought that life would be incredibly sad if we could remember every detail or if we had a record to reference for every detail that we’d lived. I believe there are reasons we forget certain things, whether they be unimportant or too hurtful to hold onto. In the story, Kis had to go through this process for her father. She created an abridged version of the writing about him, and I feel that by doing this, she represented the weeding process our minds go through. Honestly, I’m thankful that we don’t have a book of this sort. Of course there are things I wish I could conveniently recall here and there, but ultimately, it is much more peaceful for me not to have in mind every detail of my life.

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  8. I find the concept of recording things like we find in Kis’s story to mirror a few of the other pieces we’ve read but in different and similar ways. It mirrors Kabakov in terms of the things we deem necessary to record and keep in our lives. Human in this time and place in Kis’s story are necessary to be kept in memory from the smallest things they do, to the most impressive. However, this also points out a theme within Census. The Encyclopedia of the Dead is written almost like Census, stating objective facts about the dead, just ;like an encyclopedia would. In our class discussions we pointed out the importance of categorizing humans and why we needed to offer necessary a schema for them. This story basically reinforces the point made within Census and our class discussions. That for some reason, besides statistic ans science, there is a need for humans to categorize anything with which we share our environment.

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  9. Encyclopedia of the Dead is a really interesting idea. It definitely relates to past readings. I think in one facet it connects best with Kabakov, as it saves every memory a person has. Without record of this would the character ever have true connections? Or would they cease to exist.
    In another way, it relates well to Borges piece. Funes could remember every detail he ever saw, every language, every moment. Encyclopedia of the Dead feels kind of like this to me. Like if Funes were writing the book, but focusing on himself or one person. He could write everything ever, but would only mention those who aren’t the main person / focus.
    Overall it’s an interesting story and an interesting concept to think about.

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  10. At first I thought that the Encyclopedia of the Dead seemed incredibly interesting and useful as a way to be in touch with one’s past relatives or in performing some kind of research in which information about the decease would be relevant. As I read on, however, I received a broader sense of this world in which the text supports, and I was saddened and taken aback by the minute sense of privacy individuals living in this world were afforded. The Encyclopedia details every aspect of a person’s life, while welcoming this information to almost anyone. This is an incredible lack of respect for one’s personal life, as I believe you really do not know someone unless you personally meet them and spend time with them, not by just reading facts about their lives. In addition, I believe everyone should be entitled to a certain amount of privacy, and should chose what they want to share about their past when meeting others. A persona should not be constantly followed by their past, a belief that the Encyclopedia of the Dead completely tarnishes. This is because of the immanent power within the world, a system that I do not agree with nor appreciate. I really liked this read because it had an intriguing “Hotel California” meets Harry Potter sneaking around the “Forbidden” section of the library feel, and it evoked a strong response from me which was appreciated.

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  11. I was really intrigued by The Encyclopedia of the Dead. I found it first to be easy to follow and the topic itself was really interesting to me. As I read on it began to seem in my mind that this encyclopedia was a tad confusing. For me anyways, I was confused because I felt like the author said so much was “omitted” but they also talk about how much detail was included and how many different aspects of her fathers life in general was included. At some points I thought the encyclopedia seemed a little like an obituary, but then the author would talk about how much detail was included so I changed my thought on that. I really enjoyed the very ending where we see that the fathers drawings were representations of his cancer because it was something I have never seen in a story before. The central theme that we have been talking about in class about looking back and remembering was definitely what this whole story seemed to be about but it was really interesting and enjoyable for me.

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  12. Opening this I just now realized I read the wrong piece. I read A Tomb for Boris Davidovich. So that’s what I’m going to write about. I found it very interesting how much he moved around. He spent alot of time in exile and in prison but aside from that he was still on the move. And as much as he seemed to be fighting for something it is really never stated. He seemed like a very complicated man.

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  13. Though I saw some seemingly simple connections between “Encyclopedia of the Dead” and the piece by Kabakov about memory, I found it much more intriguing to consider the relations between the idea of memory in “Encyclopedia of the Dead” and the idea from Borges. This idea is that memory is something that is strictly outrospective: the idea that memory revolves around the exterior of an individual, around their ancestral past. In the case of Funes, however, this is treated as more of a tragedy, with the fact that Funes knows every minute detail of everything around him, yet he is not able to synthesize or create around the ideas in his head.

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  14. I believe that the idea of an encyclopedia for the dead is an interesting concept. However, this would be would be very hard to do because there are so many people in the world. I also wonder how they would get all of this information on each person. I do not know as much as this book seems to about my own immediate family.
    Even though there are flaws to this idea I like it at the same time because memories don’t last forever. We as humans have a tendency to forget. Therefore, this is a great way to remember someone who has passed.  

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  15. In the beginning of this article, I thought the Encyclopedia of the Dead was a real object! I’m picturing just a library full of short books, each with a name. As it wears on, we realize that her father’s entry is but one of many in a large volume. Once I realized there is no way that this book is this detailed, I had to start thinking of other reasons the narrator would write her description like she did. Maybe the short facts brought back her own detailed memories? The Encyclopedia is represented as an institution of power because it can pick and choose who gets to be included in it’s volumes. In this way, it can determine who is important enough to be remembered.

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  16. I found the idea of an “Encyclopedia of the Dead” to be very interesting. The idea is very hard to wrap your mind around because their is no way any one could document everything about a persons life. It would be like thinking of your life like a volume of books. Each choice you make could be another book in the series. Even if you could write down everything in a persons life it would be extremely flawed and most likely inaccurate. Plus being in charge of something like that would give a lot of power to few people to control. The narrater has to choose how to portray people.

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  17. The motif of memory remains constant in this reading of Kiš’s “Encyclopedia of the Dead.” Throughout this reading we are introduced to several different ways of trying to overcome the death, which are told through separate stories that pertain to each method. The idea of memory remains true in this reading, and can relate to Borges, Freud, and Kabakov, because it takes the idea of memory and presents an idea about it that extends your suspension of disbelief. In the case of Danilo Kiš, the story gives you the impression that memory is a tangible thing that people can access, so long as their heart and intrigue desires.

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