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1. Renascence: Volume > 73 > Issue: 1
Craig Woelfel, Jayme Stayer Introduction: Modernism and the Turn to Religion
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This Introduction contextualizes the volume in modernist tensions between belief and unbelief, and subsequent debates about the nature of secularization. An opening moment considers Pound and Woolf’s rejection of T. S. Eliot’s religious conversion as emblematic of a “subtraction” theory of secularization, in which secularity and religious belief are taken as mutually exclusive horizons of understanding. Such thinking, it is argued, has precluded a more nuanced approach. Criticism has largely ignored more complex and fragmentary religious dimensions of modernist production; or, on the other hand, taken up religion only in the narrow and anachronistic sense of traditional Christianity. This volume attempts to explore the religious dimensions of modernism in a more modernist sense: taking modernist art as a critical liminal space for exploring new modes of religious experience in complex and resonant ways -- often in open rejection of traditional modes of faith, and in authors beyond the usual suspects.
2. Renascence: Volume > 73 > Issue: 1
Anderson Araujo After Many Gods: T. S. Eliot and the Nagging Question of Ezra Pound’s Beliefs
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In January 1928, The Dial published T. S. Eliot’s review of Personae: The Collected Poems of Ezra Pound (1926). Even as he acknowledges his indebtedness to his fellow American poet-critic, Eliot seems bewildered by Pound’s belief system, which in his estimation is a heady mix of mysticism, occultism, pseudoscience, and Confucianism. With a touch of exasperation, he ends the review by asking provocatively, “what does Mr. Pound believe?” Although he would never give an answer that Eliot would find satisfying, Pound would revisit the question time and again in his prose and poetry. In the process, he reveals more about his eccentric set of creeds than even Eliot might have bargained for. Striving to synthesize a range of philosophical and polytheistic traditions, Pound would cast off the Presbyterianism of his early youth. From the 1930s onward, his deepening affiliation with Italian Fascism and near-cultic devotion to Mussolini would add yet another layer to his spectrum of beliefs. With Eliot’s query in The Dial functioning as a recurring point of reference, this essay examines Pound’s religious beliefs as a shifting panoply of mythico-theological, aesthetic, and political ideas. The picture that emerges is as complex as it is difficult to pin down, blurring the boundaries of what constitutes “faith” itself.
3. Renascence: Volume > 73 > Issue: 1
Mark Knight Wells, Chesterton, and a Theology of Semi-detached Reading
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This article engages with the work of John Plotz on our experience of being caught between two worlds as we read—a world of fiction that partially absorbs us, and the actual world, to which we remain attached. Noting the lack of attention Plotz pays to religion as he writes about semi-detachment, I respond by developing a theology of semidetached reading. To think through the contribution that theology offers, I turn to two works of fiction: H. G. Wells’s “The Plattner Story” (1896) and G. K. Chesterton’s The Man who was Thursday: A Nightmare (1908). In doing so, I recognize the very different ways in which Wells and Chesterton tease out the strange mix of secular and religious experience that is so important for those who want to understand religion in the modern world. As I go on to argue, paying attention to theology allows to register particular narratives in which people traverse these worlds and seek to hold different threads of meaning together. A theology of semidetached reading can also shed light on the ways in which different worlds are configured, as well as helping us to navigate points of conflict as we move between them.
4. Renascence: Volume > 73 > Issue: 1
Pericles Lewis The Burial of the Dead in Mann’s The Magic Mountain
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During the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, readers of modernist literature have often been reminded of the flu epidemic of 1918-1920. Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain (1924) anatomizes pre-war bourgeois society as represented by the inmates of a tuberculosis asylum in Davos, Switzerland. The novel typifies a concern in modernist fiction with the proper rites for the burial of the dead, which I explored in an earlier study, Religious Experience and the Modernist Novel. This essay argues that that Mann sees the novel, as a genre, as having a particular ability to represent the process of mourning because of its powers of ironic distancing: it can represent both the public ritual of the funeral service and the private thoughts of the mourner, which may or may not accord with official sentiment. More generally, the modern novel shows how we project our own desires and fears onto the dead.
5. Renascence: Volume > 73 > Issue: 1
Stephen Kern Modernist Ambivalence about Christianity
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Kern argues that the responses of Friedrich Nietzsche, James Joyce, André Gide, D. H. Lawrence, and Martin Heidegger to Christianity made up a Weberian ideal type. Accordingly: They all were raised as Christians but lost their faith when they began university studies. They all criticized the impact that they believed the anti-sexual Christian morality, with its emphasis on sin, had had, or threatened to have, on their love life. For that reason they were militantly anti-Christian but also ambivalent about Christianity. They worked to replace the loss of Christian unity with non-Christian unifying projects in literature and philosophy. Virginia Woolf, who was raised as an atheist, conformed to many of these elements of the ideal type but added another in criticizing the fragmenting patriarchal society that supported the dominant patriarchal Church of England. She envisioned new man-womanly and woman-manly types who could cultivate their understanding and love for one another in less polarizing and more humanizing ways.
6. Renascence: Volume > 73 > Issue: 1
Notes on Contributors
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7. Renascence: Volume > 72 > Issue: 4
Sunil Macwan Populist Improvisation: A Reading of Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great in the Context of the Coronavirus Pandemic
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Successfully creating polarizing narratives, several populist leaders have come to dominate the global political sphere in recent times. However, the coronavirus pandemic has raised serious questions over their ability to respond to its challenges effectively. Whether they will remain in power after the pandemic is an intriguing question. The key to understanding the dynamics of power among populist leaders lies in analyzing the tactics they employ for the appropriation of political power. In this context, reading Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great (1587) can play an important role. This essay, therefore, argues that through a unique characterization of Tamburlaine the Great, Marlowe critiques Queen Elizabeth’s aggressive political maneuvers of improvisation, which enabled her to reinforce her divine claim over the throne of England. Yet striking historical and literary references suggest that Queen Elizabeth and Marlowe’s Tamburlaine attempted to achieve improvisation through similar means but in the end encountered the transience and limits of their temporal powers, while facing the biological realities of barrenness and heredity – a fact that should serve as a warning to the current populist leaders across the world.
8. Renascence: Volume > 72 > Issue: 4
James Mayo The Knower, the Sayer, and the Doer in Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It
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This essay addresses the connections between Emersonian and Wordsworthian concepts and Norman Maclean’s novella A River Runs through It, specifically those ideas of the Knower, the Sayer, and the Doer from Emerson’s “The Poet,” Emerson’s concept of what constitutes poetry and “The Poet,” as well as Wordsworth’s notions of poetic creativity. As discussed in the essay, Emerson’s concepts of the Knower, the Sayer, and the Doer line up with the three central characters of the novella—The Reverend Maclean, Norman Maclean (both the author and the narrator), and Paul Maclean respectively. It is the unique blending of Romantic poetic leanings and religion that make all three the characters they are, which the author represents through the use of fishing as metaphor. The difficulties faced by the Sayer, as he tries to relate the story of past events and “spots in time,” are central to my argument, as they present the central conflict of the novel and offer the readers a contradiction as well, as the character who’s known as the Sayer should have no trouble expressing himself. However, it is with Wordsworth’s notion of ideas reflected on in tranquility that allow the Sayer to tell the story of his brother, the great poet/artist in a Romantic sense.
9. Renascence: Volume > 72 > Issue: 4
William Tate “Stalled by Our Lassitude”: Time and Attunement in Wilbur’s “Lying”
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Richard Wilbur’s poem “Lying” considers two kinds of lying. He addresses the traditional accusation that poets tell lies, but he gradually exposes boredom as a subtler and more dangerous form of lying. The essay draws on insights from the philosophers Martin Heidegger and Jean-Luc Marion and considers analogues in Scripture and Hamlet and Paradise Lost in order to draw out the significance of Wilbur’s claim.
10. Renascence: Volume > 72 > Issue: 4
Notes on Contributors
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11. Renascence: Volume > 72 > Issue: 3
Christian R. Davis Protestant Missionaries in Literature: Hagiographic, Fanatical, and Carnivalesque Characters
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Protestant cross-cultural missionaries have appeared as characters in literary narratives for some two hundred years. These narratives use three patterns. The first, showing godly missionaries supported by divine interventions, includes nonfiction accounts of missionaries like Hudson Taylor, Jim Elliot, and Don Richardson. The second pattern, showing missionaries as orthodox fanatics, includes Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Maugham’s “Rain,” and Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. The third pattern, common in postcolonial novels, portrays missionaries with ambivalence and humor and includes elements of Bakhtin’s “carnivalesque”: comic-grotesque imagery, obscenities, and feasts. This postcolonial missionary character represents not oppression but freedom and appears in such novels as Anand’s Untouchable, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, and Vargas Llosa’s The Storyteller.
12. Renascence: Volume > 72 > Issue: 3
Sean Benson “[D]runk with those that have the fear of God”: Shakespeare on Social Drunkenness
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The standard view is that Shakespeare depicts alcoholic consumption as good in moderation, but bad when used to excess. Although he illustrates in Falstaff and others alcohol’s debilitating effects, Shakespeare also treats occasional drunkenness at festive events—christenings, wakes, church ales—as benign and even salutary. Such occasions are part and parcel of the pre-Reformation tolerance of social drunkenness (as opposed to moderate imbibing), what I call good Christian drinking. The REED documents attest to the church’s accommodation of drinking at parish festivities, particularly at ales. I argue that Shakespeare’s plays permit and even encourage social drunkenness as a lubricant for fellowship—especially if the drinking is done in the company of fellow believers. Engaging this serious Reformation controversy with comic levity, Shakespeare shows a taste that is remarkably latitudinarian concerning the religious tolerance of social drunkenness.
13. Renascence: Volume > 72 > Issue: 3
Carla Arnell Lud-in-the-Mist as Memento Mori: Existential Anxiety and the Consolations of an Aesthetic Theology in Hope Mirrlees’s Fantasy Novel
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This essay of practical literary criticism explores how Hope Mirrlees’s fantasy novel Lud-in-the-Mist draws upon biblical and medieval narrative traditions to develop a fantasy tale whose Christian theology is smuggled in as sweetly and subtly as the novel’s fairy fruit. Through my analysis, I argue that Mirrlees uses symbolism and allegory to develop an aesthetic theology aimed at addressing her own and her protagonist’s existential anxiety about death. In the course of that theological tale, she represents faith as an antidote to existential fear and sacramental ritual as a means of reconciling the spiritual and material, the divine and the human, both of which have become estranged at the novel’s start. In that regard, her story about the return of Catholic sacramentalism to the bourgeois town of Lud-in-the-Mist adumbrates her own turn to Catholicism in the years after the novel’s publication, suggesting for Mirrlees’s enigmatic biography an earlier and more gradual turn to religious conversion than has hitherto been described in scholarly accounts of her evolution as a religious thinker.
14. Renascence: Volume > 72 > Issue: 2
John E. Curran, Jr. Editor's Page
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15. Renascence: Volume > 72 > Issue: 2
Franklin Arthur Wilson Theft as Gift: Percy, Peirce, and Bible in The Second Coming
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This article explores Walker Percy’s use of Charles Sanders Peirce’s concept of “Thirdness” as an interpretive tool in connection with Percy’s use of the Bible in his novel, The Second Coming. In this context, Peirce’s “Thirdness” may be understood as that which mediates between a word (say, w-a-t-e-r, spelled out in Helen Keller’s hand) and a thing (the stuff called “water” simultaneously flowing over Helen Keller’s other hand) as, indeed, Walker Percy defines “Thirdness” in his essay, “The Delta Factor” (The Message in the Bottle, 3-45). As such, C.S. Peirce’s “Thirdness” serves Percy as a model for understanding the function of “triadic” (human) language in the operation of relations both human and divine.
16. Renascence: Volume > 72 > Issue: 2
Joshua Avery The Failure of the Sacraments in Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner
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This essay argues that Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner represents in its imagery a tension within Coleridge prior to his conversion to Anglicanism. Specifically, the poem’s treatment of institutional sacraments argues for their apparent inefficacy, at least from the Mariner’s vantage point. The sacramental idea upheld by a High Church view would suggest that particular earthly institutions, such as Holy Communion or matrimony, could function as actual and not merely symbolic vehicles of divine grace. The Rime, however, displays a protagonist whose hopes for such possibilities are repeatedly disappointed. Consequently, Coleridge’s poem depicts the terrors of a cosmos in which the activities of divine grace are removed from and inaccessible to human intelligibility and choice.
17. Renascence: Volume > 72 > Issue: 2
Jesus Deogracias Principe The Decency of Albert Camus
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This essay explores the place of decency (l’honnêteté) and the decent man (l’honnête homme) in the moral and religious thought of Albert Camus. Focusing primarily on the major fictional works (The Stranger, The Plague, and The Fall), we consider how Camus employs the semantic ambiguity inherent in the notion of being decent, and then develops this into a normative ethical call characterized by responsibility and solidarity. We then explore further how Camus pushes the envelope to make us reflect on whether decency is even possible, both in the sense of addressing the difficulty of taking on moral responsibility, as well as calling into question the decency of the religious mentality. We conclude with reading in Camus not so much a critique as a challenge for the Christian to be true to herself, her ethic, and her faith.
18. Renascence: Volume > 72 > Issue: 2
Notes on Contributors
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19. Renascence: Volume > 72 > Issue: 1
Steven Knepper Heroes, Tyrants, Howls: Approaching Tragedy with William Desmond
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In recent decades, the philosopher William Desmond (1951-) has offered both insightful readings of individual tragedies and a striking reformulation of old Aristotelian standbys like hamartia and catharsis. This reformulation grows out of his wider philosophy of the “between,” which stresses humans’ fundamental receptivity or “porosity.” For Desmond, tragedy strips away characters’ self-determination and returns them to porosity. The audience is returned to porosity as well, a process of exposure that can be harrowing, and at times leads to despair, but that can also lead, in Desmond’s take on catharsis, to a renewed sense of the worth of fragile beings. Both tragic “being at a loss” and catharsis are important for philosophy because they resist determinate conceptualization. Tragedy reminds philosophy of its limits, and it challenges philosophy to attend to the intimate and the singular. This essay situates, synthesizes, and extends Desmond’s many reflections on tragedy. It focuses in particular on Shakespeare's Macbeth and King Lear.
20. Renascence: Volume > 72 > Issue: 1
Christine Grogan Parker’s Black? A Rereading of Race in Flannery O’Connor’s "Parker’s Back"
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Contributing to the uneasy question of race in Flannery O’Connor's fiction, this article performs a rereading of the last story she penned—“Parker’s Back”—and argues that her final protagonist may have been a product of miscegenation. It discusses the implications this would have on our understanding of this spiritually rich story, and, perhaps even more importantly, of O’Connor’s views on race at the end of her life.