Postmodern Belief: American Literature and Religion since 1960 (20/21)

Postmodern Belief: American Literature and Religion since 1960 (20/21)

Amy Hungerford

Language: English

Pages: 240

ISBN: B003U89T7E

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

How can intense religious beliefs coexist with pluralism in America today? Examining the role of the religious imagination in contemporary religious practice and in some of the best-known works of American literature from the past fifty years, Postmodern Belief shows how belief for its own sake--a belief absent of doctrine--has become an answer to pluralism in a secular age. Amy Hungerford reveals how imaginative literature and religious practices together allow novelists, poets, and critics to express the formal elements of language in transcendent terms, conferring upon words a religious value independent of meaning.

Hungerford explores the work of major American writers, including Allen Ginsberg, Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, Toni Morrison, and Marilynne Robinson, and links their unique visions to the religious worlds they touch. She illustrates how Ginsberg's chant-infused 1960s poetry echoes the tongue-speaking of Charismatic Christians, how DeLillo reimagines the novel and the Latin Mass, why McCarthy's prose imitates the Bible, and why Morrison's fiction needs the supernatural. Uncovering how literature and religion conceive of a world where religious belief can escape confrontations with other worldviews, Hungerford corrects recent efforts to discard the importance of belief in understanding religious life, and argues that belief in belief itself can transform secular reading and writing into a religious act.

Honoring the ways in which people talk about and practice religion, Postmodern Belief highlights the claims of the religious imagination in twentieth-century American culture.












classic” in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries reveals. Moulton’s work was another version of an older effort. 16. Moulton, 96, quoted in Norton. 17. The Bible as English Literature, vi–vii, quoted in Norton, 320. 18. There is one example of Biblical presentation in this period that is entirely aesthetic: Sir James George Frazer’s Passages of the Bible Chosen for Their Literary Beauty and Interest in 1895, which presents “gems” of the Bible as “pure literature” (quoted in Norton, 287).

mid-seventies and the mid-nineties. That trend, and its relation to the way fiction of the period imagines the Bible, constitutes the subject of this book’s fourth chapter. He is also right, in a way, about McLuhan, whom I discuss in chapter 3. But insofar as McLuhan is simply carrying forward a New Critical program into the new media of the late twentieth century, he doesn’t so much foreshadow religious criticism as mark its emergence into popular culture. The New Criticism that thus dominated

themselves and in doing so to find a courage “rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt.”4 Or we might look to the influence of Frederic Spiegelberg—a friend of Tillich’s and, like Tillich, a German émigré—whose “religion of no-religion” was so influential at the founding of the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, which became a religious center for the counterculture throughout the 1960s.5 But belief without meaning in this book goes far beyond Christian

ideas at work here—that DeLillo represents a mysticism of language and also sees himself as practicing that mysticism in his fiction—are not necessary to one another. That is, DeLillo need not see his own writing practice as mystical in order to write novels in which characters do see language as mystical, or even in order to write novels that seem to endorse such mysticism at the level of form. The interest of connecting these two arguments is thus not in their ability to reinforce one

capacity of mind or manual skill, let alone the tools and the forge. But what about the reader? For Ballard’s position in relation to the smith is also the reader’s: both are spectators to the smith’s performance; as Ballard watches the blacksmith, the reader watches the wordsmith—McCarthy. Ballard’s question is implicitly attributed to the reader, then. Can a reader learn to make art from McCarthy’s demonstration of verbal making? We might say that the right reader could, and McCarthy himself is

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