Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Poetry against religion, poetry as religion: Secularism and its discontents in literary modernism
by Mutter, Matthew D., Ph.D., Yale University, 2009, 302; 3392546
Abstract (Summary)

There has recently been a resurgence of interest in religion and secularism among literary critics. This dissertation argues that, before looking for signs of either secular or religious consciousness in modernist literature, we must first understand what was at stake for modernists in a transition from a religious to a secular imaginary. The writers I discuss, Wallace Stevens, Virginia Woolf, and W.H. Auden, continually ask what the relinquishment of religious paradigms means for an understanding of the nature and aims of aesthetic experience. Their poetics dramatize the problems that arise at the frontiers of thought and feeling on which secularism tries to displace religion and where literature comes to understand itself as either an agent of secularization or re-enchantment. I identify and examine the most pressing of these problems: the secular desire for worldliness and a return to the body; the critique of religious anthropomorphism and its consequences for the poetic imagination; the recalcitrance of evil as both a motive for and challenge to secularism; the secular segregation of language and world; and the metaphysical meanings of beauty and sublimity. The difficulty of accomplishing these goals and accepting these conditions means that literary secularism continues to be elusive for these writers, and religious frameworks continue to be attractive. Literary modernism, therefore, is characterized by an entrenched ambivalence as to both religious attitudes and to secularism and its implications. Galvanized by a growing suspicion of the Romantic translation of religious ideas into poetic ones, modernist poetry sought, on the one hand, to remove the residues of religion. On the other, modernist writers recognized just how embedded religious forms and dispositions were in the aesthetic structures available to them. Hence they vacillate, I argue, between a desire to secularize aesthetic experience and a desire to reconstitute religious experience in aesthetic terms.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Bromwich, David, Lewis, Pericles
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 71/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Modern literature, American literature, British and Irish literature
Keywords: Auden, W. H., Literature, Modernism, Poetry, Religion, Secularism, Stevens, Wallace, Woolf, Virginia
Publication Number: 3392546
ISBN: 978-1-109-59574-1
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