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Live from Brooklyn:
Shelly Kagan's "Death"

"Death" has many incarnations: live, in Yale philosophy professor Shelly Kagan's popular lecture course; streaming video of the lectures, with a worldwide following, via Open Yale Courses; a book, adapted from the online videos; and—coming next month—a stage show.

PHIL. 176 / OBIT, running March 22 to April 5 at the Bushwick Starr theater in Brooklyn, New York, is "an episodic performance installation that draws simultaneously on the text of Shelly Kagan's renowned Yale College philosophy course, 'PHIL 176: Death,' and on current American obituaries and death notices," reports.

The show, by director Daniel Fish and dancer and theater artist Andrew Dinwiddie, will apparently "present" all 26 of Kagan's lectures in succession. What exactly that means is unclear and still being developed, Kagan says in an e-mail to the Yale Alumni Magazine.

Kagan is not involved in the project and found out about it "more or less by accident" when his wife "stumbled upon" a notice.

"As you can imagine, I was pleased, surprised, and I suppose more than a little weirded out to learn that there was a play being put together based on my course!" Kagan writes. "Adding to the whole surreal aspect of the thing was the fact that they hadn't been in touch with me, not even to simply let me know it was happening."

So he got in touch with the theater, which put him in touch with Dinwiddie. As Kagan understands the plans, "each day will be based on a different one of my lectures from the online course. One of [the performers] will, I believe, repeat my words, being piped into his earpiece. Meanwhile, at the other side of the stage, or maybe at the other side of the room, someone, or maybe it will be a chorus, or a group of someones, will be reading, or reciting obituaries from that day's paper. I believe that the last day of the play's run will be some sort of marathon session, where they will go all day, and do a large number of lectures, finishing off the course."

"I am of course planning to go," Kagan adds. "How could I resist? It will be a hoot . . . and I certainly don't expect to ever have another play based on my work!"

He hopes to attend early enough in the run that, "if I really love it, I can go a second time (!)." But, Kagan concludes, "I don't think I will be there for the marathon last day. There is only so much of my own words that I can stand to listen to in one sitting!"


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

Filed under Open Yale Courses, Shelly Kagan, Theater, philosophy
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