The Postsecular Traces of Transcendence in Contemporary German Literature
Bell, Thomas Richard
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This dissertation focuses on texts written by four contemporary, German-speaking authors: W. G. Sebald’s Die Ringe des Saturn and Schwindel. Gefühle, Daniel Kehlmann’s Die Vermessung der Welt, Sybille Lewitscharoff’s Blumenberg, and Peter Handke’s Der Große Fall. The project explores how the texts represent forms of religion in an increasingly secular society. Religious themes, while never disappearing, have recently been reactivated in the context of the secular age. This current societal milieu of secularism, as delineated by Charles Taylor, provides the framework in which these fictional texts, when manifesting religious intuitions, offer a postsecular perspective that serves as an alternative mode of thought. The project asks how contemporary literature, as it participates in the construction of secular dialogue, generates moments of religiously coded transcendence. What textual and narrative techniques serve to convey new ways of perceiving and experiencing transcendence within the immanence felt and emphasized in the modern moment? While observing what the textual strategies do to evoke religious presence, the dissertation also looks at the type of religious discourse produced within the texts. The project begins with the assertion that a historically antecedent model of religion – namely, Friedrich Schleiermacher’s – which is never mentioned explicitly but implicitly present throughout, informs the style of religious discourse. Formulating religion with an emphasis on the subjective appeal to “Anschauung” (Intuition) and “Gefühl” (Feeling), he provides a Romantic reaction to the Enlightenment, and his response shares structural and thematic similarities to what we find in the postsecular position towards secularism. The dissertation shows that certain contemporary German texts – as they enter into and inform dialogue in the public sphere (Jürgen Habermas) by attempting to find a publicly acceptable language to speak about and critique religious sensibilities – participate in a postsecular religious discourse with its own underlying response to the modern, secular age.
- German