Literature & Religion: Pascal, Gryphius, Lessing, Holderlin, Novalis, Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Kafka

By Walter Jens; Hans Küng et al. | Go to book overview

PREFACE

Literature and Religion: "Ah, Louisa, stop. . . that's too broad a field," as Fontane's jovial skeptic, Herr von Briest, would have said, and, in his usual way, to Frau von Briest's distress, he would have worried about the "continual ambiguities" that have characterized the relations between poetry and faith since the beginning of the modern period.

Ambiguity, ambivalence, discordant unity, reciprocal illumination, dialectic, played out between heaven and earth (hell, too, sometimes puts in an appearance): a relationship as tense as it is fruitful; as beneficial to literature as it is to religion; sometimes edifying, sometimes provocative, indeed occasionally shocking. This is the subject to be elucidated in the sixteen pieces that follow. These essays aim to reconnoitre a territory still largely unexplored, to offer a bird's-eye view of the landscape. In the process, certain areas and epochs will be illustrated with the help of exemplary leading figures, who in turn will be clarified by descriptions of individual works. Macroanalysis will be complemented by microanalysis, historical overview by interpretation of details, and major themes by significant specifics. In general, the theologian will take the view from Olympus; the literature professor will take the (no less rewarding) worm's perspective. (Every now and then role switching will not only be allowed, but welcome.)

The goal of these essays, which are based on lectures and whose oral character has been preserved, is to point to the constants and variants in the great conversation that writers since the seventeenth century have been having about the possibility and limits of faith in an age of enlightenment. This conversation, in fact, has been more radical, consistent, and hence often more revealing than the one carried on by theologians and professors of literature.

-ix-

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