Rituals of Literature: Joyce, Dante, Aquinas, and the Tradition of Christian Epics

Rituals of Literature: Joyce, Dante, Aquinas, and the Tradition of Christian Epics

Rituals of Literature: Joyce, Dante, Aquinas, and the Tradition of Christian Epics

Rituals of Literature: Joyce, Dante, Aquinas, and the Tradition of Christian Epics

Synopsis

"The tradition of Christian epics, born out of Biblical stories and Homeric poems, counts among its most influential exponents Dante. Malory. Tasso, Spenser, Milton, Blake, Goethe, and Joyce (along with Virgil as its ""founding father""). Balsamo's Rituals of Literature is devoted to Joyce's and Dante's special contributions to this tradition. By highlighting the integrated nature of its typical tropes, Joyce and Dante establish the historical identity of the Christian epic as a distinct literary genre."

Excerpt

The practice of biblical revisionism engages Joyce in a DIAlogue with a literary tradition that, no less than Ulysses and Finnegans Wake but previous to them, was profoundly informed by the poetics of Holy Scripture. This is the tradition of Christian epics, that counts among its most influential exponents Dante, Malory, Tasso, Spenser, Milton, Blake, and Goethe. Besides being an offshoot of Biblical poetics, Christian epics stem from the ashes of the Greek epic tradition. Joyce gives the tradition of Christian epics awareness of its own historical identity as a modern and distinct genre by highlighting the integrated nature of his own literary progenitors' common types and tropes.

The principal thesis argued in the present study is that the literary tradition of Christian epics is, as a whole, theological in purpose and intention. Starting from a critique of Thomas Aquinas's treatment of poetry as an "inferior doctrine, ” inadequate as such to the properly theological task of doctrinal understanding, I develop the argument that the theological quest undertaken by Christian-epic writers is antagonistic to doctrinal speculation; it neither aims at an emulation of the anagogic speculation of the Scholastic theologian (the truthfulness of whose doctrine, according to Aquinas, is inferior only to divine revelation), nor at a competition with the inspired knowledge of the humanistic poet (whose "science, ” in Albertino Mussato's words, falls from the high heavens); it is oriented, instead, toward surrogating religious liturgy by means of literary imagination.

A fundamental postulate of this thesis is that the contrast that traditionally opposes speculation to imagination in philosophical discourse, homologous to the separation between doctrine and liturgy in cultic practice, is grounded on a fallaciously noetic logic. the works of Christian-epic writers disacknowledge the separation of competencies inherent in this logic, and make the . . .

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