Academic journal article Studies in the Literary Imagination

After the End: A Response

Academic journal article Studies in the Literary Imagination

After the End: A Response

Article excerpt

In the final essay of this issue, Shelly Rambo raises a question at the heart of a theology "in the aftermath": "what does it mean to be one who remains?" (101, 108). In the literary text from which this question arises, Cormac McCarthy's The Road, a father and son travel along a road in an ash-covered world after an unnamed event has destroyed most forms of life and society. Father and son remain in a world that is not suited for human life. They are remainders of the living. The fact of their existence, Rambo suggests, poses questions about the meaning of such "life," new versions, perhaps, of ancient theological questions about the meaning of existence in the face of death. But the sense in which the father and son remain after the end raises another and perhaps more profound question of meaning as well, Rambo argues, for these lonely figures survive in a world not only beyond ordinary life, but in a world "beyond redemption" (101), a world in which the meaningfulness of moral and theological thought itself has disappeared. To remain after the end, in a world covered in ash--a world after the apocalypse--raises questions for thinking anew the Christian theological framework that itself is left in "tatters," covered in ashes, by the unknown yet absolutely catastrophic event.

The problem of survival that lingers on after the shattering of meaningful frameworks can be understood as the starting point for all of the essays in this volume, which show how literary, testimonial, and biblical texts written in various eras and in several different traditions call upon us to rethink both existence and theology "on the other side of disaster" (107). But the essays in the issue place themselves in a different category from the traditions of theology to which they refer, since these critics attempt to consider the meaning of language, thought, and being that linger beyond theology itself. We must not, however, understand their essays in an apocalyptic manner, as marking the end of theology or its ideas, but rather as exploring those texts in which the language of theology lingers, even after the crisis of its own meaning, a language that abides in the aftermath of the disintegration of the very traditions of theological thought. These texts call out for a reading that is neither redemptive nor apocalyptic, but rather responds within the language that is offered, uniquely, by each text.

Indeed, the crisis that besets the language of theology does not, in these essays, necessarily limit itself to a specific time or event that could be marked as the final "end" of an era. In Mark D. Jordan's reading of Pierre Klossowski's The Baphomet, to take another text emerging from (or, in Jordan's terms, providing a "simulacrum" of) elements in the Christian tradition, the suffering of Christ lingers on in the aftermath of Christian liturgical practice. Klossowski's text is not simply beyond or after liturgy; it is rather, Jordan insists, a "liturgy for an epoch in which there can be no more (Christian) liturgy" (78). This "simulacrum" of liturgy, as I understand Jordan's interpretation, conveys the suffering at the heart of Christian liturgical practice in a form that suspends its narrative and theological closure, preventing the transformation of suffering into any simple form of transcendence. Klossowski's twentieth-century literary text imagines, and enacts, a form of liturgy "after liturgy" by drawing on a heretical liturgical practice that is imagined as already existing alongside Christian orthodox practice and which acts out something implicit, but not recognized, within this orthodox ritual. The hanging and mutilation of the beautiful page by the fourteenth-century Knights Templar "repeats" the Christian ritual of Christ's suffering, and repeats the narrative of the death and resurrection implicit in the passage from Friday to Sunday, as a story (or non-story) of suspension: a suspended male body in a suspended moment of suffering, caught between Friday and Sunday, between death and resurrection, a moment between the dying and the resurrection that is never-ending and endlessly repeated. …

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