ABSTRACT: Twentieth-century literature and theory have offered no shortage of challenges to the unity of personal identity. What such undertakings leave largely unquestioned, however, is the prevailing understanding of the individual as sealed within the circumference of the physical body. Emerging from a matrix of “postsecular” texts—by Don DeLillo, Charles Johnson, Tony Kushner, Toni Morrison—is a counter-argument to such a notion of selfhood. This paper explores the ways in which this recent American literature re-imagines the human self as porous and energetic and capable of deep inter-ontological communion with other open selves across space. Drawing upon a rich history of the “energetic self” in the American imagination, this literature uses the open self as gateway to forms of intersubjective attunement and cross-racial identification that ultimately transcend nefarious racial-identitarian categories.
ABSTRACT: Postsecular criticism has celebrated non-dogmatic postmodern mysticism as mollifying the violence of religious fundamentalist certitudes. However, postmodern literature seems equally to suggest that too undefined a spirituality can itself serve as principle of violence. Don DeLillo’s White Noise and Tony Kushner’s "Angels in America," in response, conceptualize a mode of cognition neither too fundamentalist/totalizing nor too mystical/subjective, situating knowledge instead in direct—ontological—participation in the suffering of the human Other.
Book review. Rhetorics of Religion in American Fiction: Faith, Fundamentalism, and Fanaticism in the Age of Terror, by Lillian Naydan
In his fascinating recent study, Partial Faiths: Postsecular Fiction in the Age of Pynchon and Morrison (2007), John A. McClure probes countercultural forms of religious expression that have recently taken shape in the West. His interest in the religious grew in large part out of his own personal odyssey; McClure’s life trajectory took him from a childhood as a New England Congregationalist, through an adolescence given over, thanks to the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement, to political activism, then later, in the 1980s, back toward the religious. At one point along this journey, he was given the opportunity to spend some time in sandanista Nicaragua, during the high point of liberation theology and activist Christianity in Central America. What he encountered there for the first time was a community of people who were both religiously devout and politically activist—“individually extraordinary and in many ways the exemplary revolutionaries.” This interfusion of religious belief with political activism honed both his personal sensibilities and his research interests around the progressive and alternative spiritualities that he calls “postsecular.”
I met up with Professor McClure in his office at Rutgers University, where he has taught for nearly three decades. His door is partially open as I arrive, and he greets me with a standing handshake and a warm smile. I pull up a chair and face him as he sits before a tall window, students strolling across the quad on this sunny day, trees swaying in the far distance.