Modernism and Christianity by E. Tonning

By E. Tonning

By theorising the assumption of 'formative tensions' among cultural Modernism and Christianity, and by way of in-depth case experiences of James Joyce, David Jones, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, W. H. Auden, Samuel Beckett, the publication argues that no coherent account of Modernism can forget about the continued impression of Christianity.

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21 To focus this question, it is convenient to start by distinguishing the approach to religion in Modernism taken in this study from that 13 14 MODERNISM AND CHRISTIANITY of Pericles Lewis in his fine monograph Religious Experience and the Modernist Novel (2010): In the same generation, the agnostic or atheistic authors discussed here sought to make the structure of the novel more capable of describing transcendent experiences. For the modernists, transcendence generally meant experiences that originated in the ordinary world, not the supernatural, but that opened some sort of insight beyond the realm of the ordinary; for such experiences they often used religious language, such as the term ‘epiphany’.

It was not just that the spiritual forces which impinged on me often emanated from people around me [. ] Much more fundamentally, these forces often impinged on us as a society, and were defended against by us as a society. (42) In turn, this ‘puts a tremendous premium on holding on to the consensus’, since ‘the deviancy of some would call down punishment on all’ (42). Accordingly, in this world, ‘society, this utterly solid and indispensable reality, argues for God. Not only does it follow: I have moral and spiritual aspirations, therefore God is; but also: we are linked in society, therefore God is’ (43).

Noon has pointed out, however, Joyce’s emphasis on the autonomy of the work of art (scoffing at the ‘antique principle that the end of art is to instruct, to elevate, and to amuse’ (JJSH, 79)) is distinctly modern and foreign to Aquinas (Noon 1957: 30). The philosopher acknowledges no category of the ‘fine arts’ or the ‘aesthetic’ as a separate realm (‘for the most part he talks about such “arts” as farming, medicine, or preaching’ (32)); and he is also clear that if any art is used for an evil end it can legitimately be ‘stamped out by the civil power’ (31).

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