Partial Faiths: Postsecular Fiction in the Age of Pynchon and Morrison

Partial Faiths: Postsecular Fiction in the Age of Pynchon and Morrison

Partial Faiths: Postsecular Fiction in the Age of Pynchon and Morrison

Partial Faiths: Postsecular Fiction in the Age of Pynchon and Morrison

Synopsis

Spiritual conversions figure heavily in such novels as Thomas Pynchon's Vineland, Toni Morrison's Paradise, and Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine. What connects such varied works is that their convert-characters are disenchanted with secularism yet apprehensive of dogmatic religiosity. Partial Faiths is the first study to identify a body of contemporary fiction in such terms, take the measure of its structures and strategies, and evaluate its contribution to public discourse on religion's place in postmodern life.

Postsecularism is most often associated with philosophers and theorists such as Jacques Derrida, Richard Rorty, Charles Taylor, William Connolly, Jürgen Habermas, and Gianni Vattimo. But it is also being explored and invented, says John A. McClure, by many novelists: Leslie Marmon Silko, Don DeLillo, Michael Ondaatje, and N. Scott Momaday among others. These novelists, who are often regarded as belonging to different domains of contemporary fiction, are fleshing out the postsecular issues that scholars treat more abstractly.

But the modes of belief elaborated in these novels and the new narrative forms synchronized with these modes are dramatically partial and open-ended. Postsecular fiction does not aspire to any full "mapping" of the reenchanted cosmos or any formal moral code, nor does it promise anything like full redemption. It is partial in another sense as well: it is emphatically dedicated to progressive ideals of social transformation and well-being, in repudiation of resurgent fundamentalist prescriptions for the same.

Excerpt

Partial Faiths has three main goals: to survey the contemporary popular and philosophical movement that is sometimes called postsecularism; to show that a surprising number of eminent contemporary novelists are engaged in this movement; and to offer, by so doing, a new way of configuring the terrain of contemporary fiction. Postsecularism, a mode of being and seeing that is at once critical of secular constructions of reality and of dogmatic religiosity, is being studied and theorized in North America by thinkers such as Harold Bloom, William Connolly, Richard Rorty, and Charles Taylor. in Europe the project of inventing and understanding postsecularism is identified with philosophers such as Jacques Derrida, Jürgen Habermas, Pierre Hadot, and Gianni Vattimo. But novelists such as Don DeLillo, Louise Erdrich, Toni Morrison, Michael Ondaatje, Thomas Pynchon, and Leslie Marmon Silko are also vigorously exploring postsecularism and postsecularist modes of being. These novelists, whom critics often relegate to separate domains within contemporary fiction, are all thinking in the narrative mode about postsecular movements and possibilities that the theorists and sociologists treat more abstractly. All of them tell stories about new forms of religiously inflected seeing and being. and in each case, the forms of faith they invent, study, and affirm are dramatically partial and open-ended. They do not provide, or even aspire to provide, any full “mapping” of the reenchanted cosmos. They do not promise anything like full redemption. and they are partial in another sense as well in that they are selectively dedicated to progressive ideals of social transformation and well-being. in all these respects, of course, postsecularism is at odds with resurgent fundamentalisms.

Rutgers University has been a splendid place to study postsecularism. From the first, as I turned my attention to the religious dimensions of contemporary literature and culture, I was patiently challenged and supported . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.