Middlesex County College Professor Examines Attitudes Toward Death in Irish and Latin American Literature

Professor Jacob Bender of the Middlesex County College English Department recently published a book, “Modern Death in Irish and Latin American Literature” (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2020). It is in both ebook and hardcover formats.

English Department Chair Mat Spano calls it “a fascinating and rewarding read.”

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“I just read the chapter on Halloween and The Day of the Dead and highly recommend it,” he said. “Jacob does a wonderful job unraveling the complex relationships among the several cultures involved in the evolution of these traditions. More than explaining the colonialist elements essential to such an analysis, he also delves into the cross-cultural influences and syntheses of the respective traditions. Cross-culturalism and syncretism are two hallmarks of his study and really set it apart from the standard analyses one would expect.”

The work is an expansion of Dr. Bender’s doctoral dissertation at the University of Iowa. It is marketed toward a scholarly readership, specifically those specializing in Modernist, Irish, and Latin American literary studies.

The genesis of the project emerged during his time as a church missionary in Puerto Rico and as a journalism intern in Guadalajara, Mexico.

“I was in Mexico during the Day of the Dead season, which fascinated me,” he said. “I came to realize that not only Mexicans, but Latin Americans generally, entertain a very different approach toward the dead than most Americans do; the dead there are not necessarily monsters in their literature, the way they are typically portrayed in English and Anglo-American media.”

Dr. Bender realized that Latin American attitudes toward death paralleled ones in Ireland.

“As I pursued my Ph.D., I also came to realize that the Irish likewise took a fundamentally different approach toward the dead than their English neighbors. Moreover, I soon discovered that the Irish immigrated all over Latin America – not just North America – and that both peoples are predominantly Catholic and post-colonial resistors against overwhelmingly Anglo-Protestant empires. Once I learned that Irish immigrants also fought valiantly in the Latin American wars of independence, as well as on the Mexican side during the Mexican-American War, I began to trace how their respective literatures might be collaborating together, too.”

His work has modern applications.

“I have also tracked how so many of the awful and vicious slanders that are regularly lobbed against Latin American immigrants today were first leveled at Irish immigrants over a century ago,” he said. “I have been horrified to witness the rampant rise of xenophobia and white-supremacism across the United States over the past few years. I am of course not so naive as to believe that a mere scholarly study will have any sort of mass effect on these trends, but if my book can be part of the larger concerted effort to help move the needle toward more humane and empathetic immigration policies, then I feel the effort to write it will have been justified.”