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From the missing person to civil death: Daniel Heller-Roazen explores the concept of disappearance

In a recent review in 4Columns, Brian Dillion discusses Absentees: On Variously Missing Persons by Daniel Heller-Roazen. Click here to learn more about the book. Click here to read the full review. An excerpt appears below:

Absentees is Heller-Roazen’s ninth book, an apparently esoteric, actually urgent study of the ways people become nonpersons: ‘They are always in some sense ‘missing,’ yet the forms of their absence and absenting are diverse.’

Who are they, these ‘absentees?’ They include those who have disappeared (a vast and disparate cohort); servants, serfs, and slaves; foreign visitors accorded wildly varying kinds of welcome; the very young and the very old; sick and disabled people; those whose gender is ‘out of place.’ These are positions or predicaments defined by law, ritual, or myth; expressed in exile, punishment, or incarceration; plainly or obliquely manifest in art and literature. (Absentees moves swiftly, but persuasively, and sometimes in a single short chapter, between Greek and Roman law, the Talmud, medieval Christian theology, and nineteenth-century fiction.) This ubiquity, which seems at first to risk diluting his argument, is essential to Heller-Roazen’s point and project: ‘those lacking in full personhood may be less the exception than the rule.’ While every society works to distinguish itself from the barbarians who may imperil its margins, such differences are hard to establish or enforce, and typically threaten to collapse, or to end in a paradox when the outlier defines the norm.”