25 May 2012

WCCL Report #6


I'm in Seattle for a CCL meeting. This conference is entitled "Belief and Unbelief in Postmodern Literature." Here is a report on the second round of papers I attended today, the second day of the conference. 

Victorian Visions: George Eliot and Thomas Carlyle

Shunichi Takayanagi on Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus
The Poststructuralists are the epitome of Postmodernism. The writer is simply an editor, the canon needs revision, our approach is essential skepticism. Postmodernism is actually a cultural phenomenon. It is a critique of the past, since Western culture came to a dead end.
Carlyle was raised Scottish Calvinist, but he left the faith at age 23. His moral sensibility remained Calvinistic.
Carlyle's 1830 novel “Tailor Retailored” prefigures postmodernism. The narrator claims to be an “editor.” The protagonist loses his Christian faith. The novel is multi-textual. It was a secular “Bible” to lead its nation to a high moral life. Did Carlyle mean for it to be a guidebook for moral living? It may be a serial comedy parodying the Bible. Carlyle is a trickster!

Marilyn Orr on George Eliot and the Mystical Imagination
Eliot's fiction enacts a covert Christian mysticism in spite of her rejection?? her life was marked by religious questing. There was a cultural renewal of interest in mysticism.
Use a lens of “anatheisms.” Anatheism = a constant movement toward, away from, around, and back to the Divine. What about those who reject God, but still seek Him? We grow from one kind of “god” to another. There is a move from passive reception to active engagement. Sometimes we need to lose God in order to find Him again. [gag] There are two shifts: 1) from a sovereign God to a suffering God and 2) from “my God” and “our God” to a God of all. A culture needs to grow up, leaving behind the God who demands blood sacrifice, and instead model the God who suffers and dies for others.
This is fundamental to Eliot's worldview. In Eliot's early work, there is a dialogue between sovereignty and suffering. Later, there is a kind of sacralizing in Adam Bede. She didn't go through a simple shift from religion to enlightenment rationalism. She still keeps the idea of a suffering God. She doesn't think that cultures simply move out of faith.
In The Mill on the Floss, the death of the protagonist enables Eliot to move beyond childhood territory and never return: the territory of submitting to and pleasing a father-figure. Suffering is essential.
Middlemarch taps into such writers as Evelyn Underhill. Dorothea is a mystic of everyday faith. Here Eliot arrives at a “mystical solution.” Dorothea needs to submit to an authority figure, hence Casaubon. She submits to an enforced cultural view that women submit to the husbands. There is a danger in belief in sovereign power. Dorothea's destiny is to grow up and leave behind a husband who is a benevolent father-figure. She wants to get away from “doctrinal pronouncements” and “bring in the most people.” She has moved away from a private God enshrined in a doctrinal code towards a more universal God of love.
Eliot rejects a theological understanding of God to what Underhill calls “practical mysticism” or grace in everyday life. Three main elements: 1) combination of idealism and pragmatism; 2) a widening scope beyond one's own tradition; 3) co-mingling of knowledge and feeling.
[what about practice?!?! what about experiences? What about conviction? What about the submerging of self? Argh!! ]

Laurie Camp Hatch on Eliot's “Godless” Fiction
Turning theology's and philosophy's gaze from the internal to the external. Must consult the activity of the senses. Eliot bases her morality on what happens in others' minds in her fiction, however, which is not empirical. Knowledge of God is self-knowledge, which is discovered by observing others. [ack!] Eliot insists on a scientific observation of the mind—but mind is not observable! Eliot tries to make metaphysical properties visible. She uses a scientific imagination. She favors empirical observation, but also participates in a departure from its strict application. In her time, scientists are already moving beyond strict materialism. Wave theory, for instance, showed that conclusions were possible with theories based on the unseen world. Eliot had to mediate between metaphysical and materialist beliefs. There is something in between: the scientific imagination.
Scientists may be too attached to facts. Non-scientists may be too attached to their own perceptions. Eliot locates accurate knowledge within the ability to hold the two in dialogue. Scientists need to avoid focusing only on facts, the way religious people need to avoid focusing only on God, to the exclusion of human beings.
Lydgate is a personification of an inability to use the scientific imagination; he plans to proceed on only objective facts in relation to women. He does not go beyond observable facts with either Laura or Rosamond. He trusts the empirical evidence they present, not reaching towards “the hidden woman.” His focus is completely external. He is a strict empiricist.
Rosamond sees only herself. She creates the world in her own image. She refuses to see The Other, and so enter into a more intimate relationship. She is a narcissist.
Dorothea represents the purely metaphysical or meta-empirical perspective. She makes up facts about people. She makes judgments without proof, facts, or experience. She does have an Other-focused imagination, but without facts. She has not examined her own mind, so she does not have the necessary self awareness. She focuses only on the unseen, without reference to the visible. This is a “religious” perspective.
The narrator is the only one who describes the solution, the scientific imagination. Eliot does a better job of all this in Daniel Deronda.

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