Figures of Heresy: Radical Theology in English and American Writing, 1800-2000

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Andrew Dix, Jonathan Taylor
Sussex Academic Press, 2006 - Literary Criticism - 212 pages
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‘God is dead’, Nietzsche famously declared in The Gay Science; but this book will investigate God’s surprising persistence and resurrection in the works of even the most seemingly atheistic of writers, who continue to deploy Judaic and Christian narratives and tropes even as they radically rewrite them in the face of new cultural, political and scientific imperatives. … Contributors explore the range, power and implication of Christian and Jewish heresies in canonical Anglo-American writers – including Edgar Allan Poe, Thomas Hardy, Robert Louis Stevenson, T. S. Eliot, John Steinbeck and Jim Crace – as well as in some less familiar texts: the Mormon Scriptures of Joseph Smith and various Victorian rewritings of the Book of Esther. A polemical essay by Michelene Wandor reflects on conceptions of Jewishness, which she finds in need of heretical renewal. Valentine Cunningham’s provocative introduction argues that the acts of literary writing and reading are necessarily heretical. … A coda to the book, ‘Between Heresy and Superstition’, takes as its motto Thomas Huxley’s observation in 1881 that ‘It is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions.’ Contributions offer readers a rare opportunity of witnessing an extended academic exchange – exploring the process by which former heresies may indeed risk ossification as new kinds of doctrinal conformity. In debating the politics and theology of Bob Dylan’s “Christian Albums”, Bryan Cheyette and Kevin Mills also raise important questions of orthodoxy and dissent in our critical practice. The revitalisation of heresy in literary interpretations, as well as in our religious thinking, forms the guiding objective of this exciting critical book.

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About the author (2006)

Andrew Dix is Lecturer in American Literature and Film at Loughborough University and Tutor in Literature for the Workers' Educational Association. He has published articles and book chapters on Jonathan Raban's travel writing and on both Native and African American fiction.

Jonathan Taylor is Lecturer in English at Loughborough. He is the author of Mastery and Slavery in Victorian Writing, as well as of essays on Victorian literature. He is currently working on a book on the idea of chaos in nineteenth-century English culture.

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