Modern, Postmodern and Post-Postmodern Poetry and Religion
This course will focus on the last 120 years in literary history, zeroing in on one particular problem – the writing of religious poetry – in order to probe the philosophical convergences and collisions that resulted in what we now call our “post-secular” era of thought. Beginning with Gerard Manley Hopkins at the end of the nineteenth-century, and major modernists who continued to write powerfully after WWII – T.S. Eliot and David Jones – the syllabus will chart a course through the rapidly changing poetic forms of two further generations of poets working devotedly, if differently, out of various religious systems of belief. The many dilemmas of postmodernity include redefining the very notion of “belief” (versus “faith”) after the secular revelations of science and modernity; we will explore the theoretical issues involved in order to better understand what’s at stake for each writer we encounter, among them also Mina Loy, Muriel Rukeyser, Brian Coffey, Wendy Mulford, Fanny Howe, Hank Lazer and Peter O’Leary. We will ask, among other things, why ancient mystical frameworks seemed newly hospitable, for some, in the face of postmodern suspicions about language and institutions, while for others embracing the sciences renewed faith. We will consider the crucial input of Judaism in Christianity’s re-thinkings of language and religious experience, as well as consider how issues of nation and gender inflect changing relationships between poetry and religion. Students will emerge conversant with the major debates in contemporary literary theory as well as with developments in contemporary poetry; no prior expertise in reading poetry is necessary for this course. Each will develop their own particular approach to our issues through the writing of a reading journal and one paper, and each will be responsible for co-leading of class discussion twice in the course of the term.