Beyond the Story
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Beyond the Story: American Literary Fiction and the Limits of Materialism argues that theology is crucial to understanding the power of contemporary American stories. By drawing on the theories of M. M. Bakhtin, Christian personalism, and contemporary phenomenology, Lake argues that literary fiction activates an irreducibly personal intersubjectivity between author, reader, and characters. Stories depend on a dignity-granting valuation of the particular lives of ordinary people, which is best described as an act of love that mirrors the love of the divine. Through original readings of the fiction of Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy, Lydia Davis, Toni Morrison, and others, Lake enters into a dialogue with postsecular theory and cognitive literary studies to reveal the limits of sociobiology’s approach to culture. The result is a book that will remind readers how storytelling continually reaffirms the transcendent value of human beings in an inherently personal cosmos.

This book will be of interest to students and scholars of theology and literary studies, as well as a broad audience of readers seeking to engage on a deeper level with contemporary literature.



Publié par
Date de parution 31 octobre 2019
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9780268106270
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,225€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


Beyond the Story

Copyright © 2019 by the University of Notre Dame Notre Dame, Indiana 46556 All Rights Reserved
“This Is Just to Say,” by William Carlos Williams, from The Collected Poems: Volume I, 1909–1939 , copyright ©1938 by New Directions Publishing Corp. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.
Published in the United States of America
Library of Congress Control Number: 2019948585
ISBN 978-0-268-10625-6 (Hardback) ISBN 978-0-268-10628-7 (WebPDF) ISBN 978-0-268-10627-0 (Epub)
∞ This book is printed on acid-free paper.
This e-Book was converted from the original source file by a third-party vendor. Readers who notice any formatting, textual, or readability issues are encouraged to contact the publisher at .
The artist, whether he knows it or not, consults God in looking at things.
—Jacques Maritain
List of Illustrations
Introduction. Beyond Darwin
ONE Beyond the Author: The Storytelling Consciousness and Hemingway’s Baby Shoes
TWO Beyond the Self: Escaping Narcissism in Philip Roth’s Everyman
THREE Beyond the Brain: Your Brain on Lydia Davis
FOUR Beyond Evolution: Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood and the Language Animal
FIVE Beyond the Postsecular: The Theological Grotesque in Toni Morrison’s Beloved
SIX Beyond Beauty: Theology on The Road
SEVEN Beyond the Visible: Loving Witness in Daniel Clowes’s Wilson and Richard McGuire’s Here
Works Cited
Figure 7.1. Wilson by Daniel Clowes, paperback cover.
Figure 7.2. “Cute Dog.” Wilson by Daniel Clowes.
Figure 7.3. “Fat Chicks.” Wilson by Daniel Clowes.
Figure 7.4. “Deathbed.” Wilson by Daniel Clowes.
Figure 7.5. “The Old Neighborhood.” Wilson by Daniel Clowes.
Figure 7.6. “Fellowship.” Wilson by Daniel Clowes.
Figure 7.7. “iChat.” Wilson by Daniel Clowes.
Figure 7.8. “Raindrop.” Wilson by Daniel Clowes.
Figure 7.9. 1623, with 1957 and 1999 windows. Here by Richard McGuire.
Figure 7.10. Playpen and baby’s bottle in 1957. Here by Richard McGuire.
Figure 7.11. “Tell that joke about the doctor.” Here by Richard McGuire.
Figure 7.12. Entropy. Here by Richard McGuire.
Figure 7.13. Girl looking up chimney into AD 22,175. Here by Richard McGuire.
Figure 7.14. “I Lost my Wallet!” Here by Richard McGuire.
Once again I am very grateful to the members of my indispensable writing group: Tiffany Eberle Kriner, Beth Felker Jones, and Nicole Mazzarella. You each inspire and encourage me more than you know. Tiffany, there is no doubt that this book is better than it would have been because of you; thank you for going the extra mile to help me with the tone and some of the other really hard stuff.
Many other readers have provided invaluable feedback at crucial times, including Jeffrey Barbeau, Jeremy Begbie, Dan Train, and the students in Jeremy’s Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts seminar, especially Jacki Price-Linnartz. Many thanks also go to Michial Farmer, Victoria Reynolds Farmer, and Kristin Constantine. I am immensely grateful to Stephen Little and all the folks at the University of Notre Dame Press for enthusiastically backing projects like mine. It is impossible for me to imagine completing this book without the support of my husband, Steve, and the daily reminder we get from our precious Donovan that all persons are a gift from God.
Finally, I am grateful to Rachel Lies and Jake Monseth, my faithful teaching assistants. Thank you to you and to all of my students through the years who have pondered with me the relationship between theology and the art of storytelling. This book is for you.
Beyond Darwin
Traces of the storyteller cling to the story the way the handprints of the potter cling to the clay vessel.
—Walter Benjamin, “The Storyteller”
A few days before Christmas in 1994, three explorers stumbled on one of the greatest anthropological treasures in human history. They found a cave in southern France that had been sealed from the elements and preserved, intact, for more than 20,000 years. It had been a Paleolithic art gallery. It contains beautiful paintings of horses and rhinos and other creatures, extraordinary works of art by any measure, that are estimated to be 32,000 years old. These caves of Chauvet are carefully guarded and curated, for now that they have been exposed, their ultimate deterioration has been hastened. But they survived long enough to be recorded with the best technology our era has to offer. An experienced film team was permitted to enter, take hundreds of photos and hours of video, and put together the extraordinary documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams .
At one point in the film, Dominique Baffier, a scholar of Paleolithic culture, leads the team into one of the farthest reaches of the cave, where there is a cluster of red human handprints on a small rock wall. She explains how they know that all the prints were made by only one man: he had a slightly crooked little finger. Several other paintings deeper in the cave were made by the same man because they bear the same crooked finger mark. This man could be the oldest artist the world will ever know, and it is stunning to imagine him there, painting. He clearly had a distinctive, particular body that enabled him to make those marks on the wall. But he also had a distinctive, particular mind that was self-reflexive enough to want to leave his mark on the walls in red paint. He was not leaving something random but patterned, or at the very least, intentionally randomized; we can imagine the painter moving like a prehistoric Jackson Pollack throwing handprints on the wall. For if there is one thing that even this handprint image indicates, it is intentionality. One particular man made these handprints, and he, or someone like him, also drew images of lions, bears, and owls on the other walls for some purpose.
What best explains why these early humans chose to paint images on the walls? What best explains why we would want to see these images, even if they did not have the added attraction of being the oldest artworks we have found on the planet? Why do we say that this art, or any kind of art, is beautiful?
These questions are very old. For much of human history they have been answered in metaphysical and theological terms. Human beings create art because they yearn to express to one another the deep intelligibility and beauty of the gift of creation itself. The artist strives to re-present that beauty in a form that is itself the “flashing of intelligence on a matter intelligibly arranged.” 1 But since the nineteenth century, that explanation has been challenged, and a wholly new story about humanity’s artistic impulses has emerged. That story begins with Charles Darwin.
It is with good reason that Daniel Dennett, in enthusiastic support, calls Darwin’s theory of evolution a “dangerous idea.” 2 It is dangerous because its materialist explanation for humanity’s origins has implications for every arena of human thought and behavior. For example, as Darwin’s theories influenced twentieth-century America, sociologists and policy makers wrestled with how to think about the nature of human nature itself, and the conflict became a dogfight. Carl Degler’s In Search of Human Nature traces the “decline and revival” of Darwinism in American social thought. Since the theory was initially used to advance openly racist agendas like those of Herbert Spencer, it resulted in a midcentury backlash, and culture was seen as having the upper hand in human behavior. So strong was this backlash that eventually citizens and social scientists alike assumed that culture had “severed for good the linkage between human behavior and biology.” 3 But an irony remained. As Degler notes, the belief that human beings have succeeded in escaping biology was still accompanied by the conviction that humans are products of Darwinian evolution. Eventually Darwin’s grand narrative returned, albeit in a more domesticated form. E. O. Wilson coined the term “sociobiology” to describe the “systematic study of the biological basis of all social behavior.” 4 Sociobiology may be more domesticated than social Darwinism, but it is not shy. It endeavors to gather all human behavior under the explanatory umbrella of evolutionary origins.
With the spreading of this very large umbrella, it was only a matter of time until sociobiology also began to challenge the prevailing explanations for why we paint, compose music, and tell stories. And that is where we are today. An outpouring of publications in both the scholarly and the popular realm attest to a movement toward the idea that evolutionary theory can and should be used to explain humanity’s art instinct. From Ellen Dissanayake’s What Is Art For? to Denis Dutton’s The Art Instinct to Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal , these efforts offer slightly different explanations for why storytelling began but share the same starting assumptions. 5 Since consciousness in humans evolved over millions of years to eventually become separate from that of nonhuman animals, there must be some material and adaptive explanation for the higher-level cognitive activities that humans alone perform. Somewhere along the way the earliest humans developed what philosophe

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