A World Abandoned by God

A World Abandoned by God

Narrative and Secularism

by Susanna Lee

Hardback Publication Date: 15/03/2006

The idea of God, in one form or another, is a fundamental part of human experience - a given, almost. And yet, for over one hundred and fifty years, we have lived in a world become increasingly secular. The goal of this book is to reconcile these facts, or rather to examine their interaction and, in so doing, to understand the idea and the experience of secularism. Concentrating on five canonical French and Russian novels of the nineteenth century (Stendhal's "The Red and the Black", Gustave Flaubert's "Madame Bovary", Ivan Turgenev's "A Nest of Gentry", Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly's "Bewitched", and Fyodor Dostoevsky's "Demons") and using the instruments of narrative theory, this book offers a groundbreaking critical foundation for understanding both the evolution of secular culture and the new role of the individual in modern ethical, political, and spiritual contexts. "A World Abandoned by God" examines secularism as an idea and an impression and, what is more, as an idea especially clearly articulated through the novel form.
Georg Lukacs' assertion that "the novel is the epic of a world abandoned by God" does not mean that God abandoned the world, leaving human beings to recount that abandonment through the novel. Instead, God's abandonment is built into and out of the very structure of the novel. Thus the departure of God becomes the formal substance and undertone of the novel, and the novel in turn informs our understanding of secularism and its crises, uncertainties, and potentials. Especially in nineteenth-century Europe, secularism was an idea in motion, formed, disseminated, and received both with bursts of creativity and with gloom. It was seen as a code for intellectual clarity and spiritual emptiness, sometimes for both at once. It was also considered as a philosophical condition, a view of a world in need of, or open to, a different narrative. European literary criticism of that century generally reads secularism as a condition of absence or loss. Despite such critical assessments secularism is not a random spiritual disaster, not a cosmic accident, but a human creation. There was not a single morning when the world woke up, sensed a curious absence, and understood that God had departed.
Instead, secularism developed as an idea that was introduced and absorbed into modern thought because it held considerable attraction. The elimination of God from master narratives - indeed, the elimination of master narratives entirely - constitutes not simply a menace but also a significant series of opportunities. Secularism and attendant philosophies such as capitalism promise a way to be exceptional - to expand the boundaries and indeed the very quality and volume of self. The transition to a world without God generates major questions about individual power and voice, order and justice. And as the foundational discourse for a modern conception of self, history, and social relations, narrative is crucial to our attempts to answer these questions - questions that have particular currency today. "A World Abandoned by God" uses the lens of narrative construction to analyze modern political structures and ideologies and to understand one of the momentous conceptual metamorphoses in history: the elimination of God from the modern landscape.
Literary studies: fiction
Publication Date:
Associated University Presses
Country of origin:
United States
Dimensions (mm):

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