The convergence of sacred and- secular space in selected postmodern novels
This dissertation focuses on the return and revitalization of traditional Christian themes in contemporary postmodern novels. It offers an examination of how these themes materialize in novels written by writers who are not explicitly religious, or in novels which do not have an overtly religious focus. Some contemporary novels generate a privileged space in which the return of the religious can take place. The sacred is back, not just as a re-enchantment, but manifests itself in fundamentally new and productive ways (Ward, 2001:xv). The first matter under consideration is the fact that the co-existence of belief and unbelief is apparent in all the novels under discussion. As such, the reader as active participant in the novel is bound to be affected by these mutually inter-dependent and inextricably inter-connected sides of a coin. The themes of providence, sacrifice and the miraculous become evident in John Irving‟s A prayer for Owen Meany while the themes of sin, guilt and redemption feature in Ian McEwan‟s Atonement. Secondly, the study compares two novels that deal with the same supernatural phenomena, namely visions, faith healing and stigmata. Jodi Picoult is a non-believer and is the author of Keeping Faith, while Ron Hansen is a devout Catholic who wrote Mariëtte in ecstasy. These works, on the one hand, create a space for supernatural phenomena even though fiction cannot prove the reality of their existence. Postmodern people seem to have a definite longing for the miraculous and these novels seem to satisfy that yearning. On the other hand, both novels portray disbelief in the miraculous while subtly allowing room for characters or readers in a liminal space between belief and disbelief. The theories of Jean François Lyotard and specifically his notion of “incredulity towards metanarratives” provide a framework to explore this matter. Lyotard proposes “petit recits” or many small stories instead of the grand narratives. He contends that there is no objective knowledge and that narrative and scientific knowledge are subject to legitimization. The Christian story therefore needs no scientific basis as justification, which means that it is being newly considered after the mistrust created during the Enlightenment period. Gianteresio Vattimo‟s ideas on the role of religion in contemporary life and the possible convergences of postmodernity and the Christian faith also come into play. He advocates weak thought as opposed to strong thought and sees caritas (charity or neighbourly love) as essential. This concept of weak thought allows for plurality and tolerance. Vattimo sees Christ‟s kenosis (self-emptying) as essentially linked to a secularization in which humankind needs to retrace the path to the original Biblical message of love. Emphasis is on a non-doctrinal, anti-dogmatic spirituality and this manifests in the novels discussed. This study employs diverse reader-response theories to gauge the reaction of the reader to texts containing Biblical themes and supernatural phenomena. Stanley Fish‟s interpretive communities and Wolfgang Iser‟s implied reader are helpful and Michael Edwards‟s pattern of sin, the fall and redemption is of particular interest to this dissertation. Edwards believes that most novels, whether written by religious or non-religious writers, follow this pattern. Readers find themselves either on the side of the believing or unbelieving camp in the novels discussed. However, many readers may hover in the liminal space between belief and unbelief. Interpretation depends on many factors that constitute the world view of the reader, hence the plurality of interpretations.
- Humanities