The Pagan Writes Back

The Pagan Writes Back: When World Religion Meets World Literature

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    The Pagan Writes Back
    Book Description:

    In the first book to consider the study of world religion and world literature in concert, Zhange Ni proposes a new reading strategy that she calls "pagan criticism," which she applies not only to late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century literary texts that engage the global resurgence of religion but also to the very concepts of religion and the secular. Focusing on two North American writers (the Jewish American Cynthia Ozick and the Canadian Margaret Atwood) and two East Asian writers (the Japanese Endō Shūsaku and the Chinese Gao Xingjian), Ni reads their fiction, drama, and prose to envision a "pagan (re)turn" in the study of world religion and world literature. In doing so, she highlights the historical complexities and contingencies in literary texts and challenges both Christian and secularist assumptions regarding aesthetics and hermeneutics.

    In assessing the collision of religion and literature, Ni argues that the clash has been not so much between monotheistic orthodoxies and the sanctification of literature as between the modern Western model of religion and the secular and its non-Western others. When East and West converge under the rubric of paganism, she argues, the study of religion and literature develops into that of world religion and world literature.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3769-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Religion, not religious commitment or behavior per se, but the public visibility and awareness of the discursive realities of religion, has made a comeback in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, especially since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The topic of religion figures prominently in global politics, the media, and academia. Scholars across a range of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences are paying more attention to the changing contours and configuration of the religious field and the general rethinking of secularist discourses. At the same time, they cannot overlook the accelerating processes of globalization over...

  5. Part I. Proposing Pagan Criticism

    • ONE Historical Notes on the Varieties of Paganism
      (pp. 19-44)

      What do we mean by paganism—the Greek and Roman pantheon, indigenous traditions of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, or contemporary revivals of magic and witchcraft? To lay a foundation for the practice of pagan criticism in the second half of the book, this chapter will present historical profiles of the varieties of paganism, that is, how paganism was (re)invented in three historical moments—antiquity, early modernity, and our postmodern/postsecular present—and in relation to more than one center of civilizational and spiritual authority. Discussion in the second chapter will turn to key concepts that pagan criticism engages—namely, the...

    • TWO From Secular Criticism to Pagan Criticism
      (pp. 45-72)

      Having explored the varieties of historical paganism, I present here the key ideas of conceptual paganism. I develop these ideas using Said’s notion of secular criticism as the springboard to launch my own project. Said’s secular criticism has generated heated debate between secularists and post-secularists and brought together two separate fields, world literature and world religion. When he proposed secular criticism as a mode of interpretation, Said aimed to deessentialize the literary text and anticipated self-reflexive investigations that took literature as a body of texts and, more significantly, a set of discursive and institutional practices beyond the limited context of...

  6. Part II. Practicing Pagan Criticism

    • THREE Literary Paradise, Female Golem, and Cynthia Ozick’s Pagan Paradox
      (pp. 75-96)

      Among all the authors considered in this book, only Cynthia Ozick sides with monotheism against paganism. Why bother to read her, anyway? Simply put, because she has engaged with a multiplicity of historical paganisms from the unique perspective of a Jewish woman writer. This self-styled monotheist has paradoxically embraced the various pagans she loudly condemns, especially in the enchanted field of fiction. This chapter’s primary focus is the magical moments in Ozick’s realist novelPuttermesser Papers(1997), moments when mud comes to life, a nymph emerges from the trees, and dreams are both fulfilled and nullified in paradise. Commenting on...

    • FOUR Wonder Tale, Pagan Utopia, and Margaret Atwood’s Radical Hope
      (pp. 97-121)

      In sharp contrast to Ozick the polemicist against paganism, Margaret Atwood considers herself a “pessimistic pantheist” and enthusiastically participates in the contemporary reinvention of paganism. She even discovered in her family ancestry a New England woman accused of being a witch who was put on trial, convicted, and then miraculously survived attempted execution not once but twice.¹ This chapter explores Atwood’s project to write back the pagan through her essay collectionIn Other Worlds(2011) as well as four of her novels, namely,The Handmaid’s Tale(1985),Oryx and Crake(2003),The Year of the Flood(2009), andMaddaddam(2013)....

    • FIVE The Aporia of Japan’s Orient and Endō Shūsaku’s Posthuman Pagan Theology
      (pp. 122-142)

      In the previous two chapters, I practiced pagan criticism in my reading of Ozick and Atwood, who engage the varieties of historical paganism in the Euro-American West and experiment with ways of writing in response to contemporary issues and debates. In this chapter and the next, I study the literary reenactments of non-Western paganisms in the works of Endo Shusaku and Gao Xingjian. My bringing in Asian writers and works is not meant to reinforce the artificial if customary dichotomy between the West and the East, neither of which is homogeneous or static to begin with. Rather, a particular strength...

    • SIX The Pagan Problem in Modern China and Gao Xingjian’s “Wild Man” Series
      (pp. 143-166)

      In the summer of 1982, Gao Xingjian left Beijing for the Yangtze River area in South China. In Beijing, his little bookXiandai xiaoshuo jiqiao chutan(Preliminary explorations into the art of modern fiction, 1981) had aroused not only the interest of post-Mao literary circles but also the suspicions of the Communist Party. A prestigious publishing house had paid him an advance, requesting a modernist-style novel in return. Meanwhile, the Communist Party had launched a political campaign against “spiritual pollution,” banning ideologically subversive books, Gao’s plays and other writings among them. Escaping the pressures of the political center, Gao traveled...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 167-180)

    By considering world religion and world literature in concert, I have arrived at pagan criticism as a new reading strategy. This entails not just the formation of “true” religion but also its negative construct, “false” paganism. Pagan criticism searches out and gives account of literary manifestations of paganism—traditions repudiated by established orthodoxies around the world. Further, pagan criticism helps us reconfigure the literary text from its iconic form into an “idol” that participates in the creation of a world of radical immanence and genuine heterogeneity. As I have demonstrated pagan criticism in this volume, I hope to have brought...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 181-198)
    (pp. 199-220)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 221-232)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 233-234)