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Literature and Spirituality in the English-Speaking World

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Edited By Kathie Birat and Brigitte Zaugg

This collection of essays focuses on the role of spirituality in American literature through an examination of the multiple ways in which a deep engagement with the spiritual has shaped and affected literature in the Americas (three of the essays involve Canadian and Caribbean literature). The essays in the first section explore the intimate links between the spiritual and the social as they are manifested in forms of fiction like fantasy, science fiction, and the Christian fundamentalist fiction of Jerry B. Jenkins. The second section looks at the ways in which poetry has allowed writers as diverse as Emily Dickinson, Ellen Glasgow, Fanny Howe and Leonard Cohen to use language as a tool for exploring their complex relation to the spiritual seen in terms of radical otherness, or of exile, or of the search for common ground as human beings. The final section approaches spirituality as a defining element of the American experience, from Nathaniel Hawthorne to Toni Morrison and Paul Auster.
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“Puritan Spirit” and the Question of the Other: A Levinasian Reading of Emily Dickinson’s Religious Poems: Hyesook Son

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Hyesook SONSungkyunkwan University, Korea

My study is a movement away from the mainstream of Dickinson studies and American critical ideology, in which the religious heritage has been ignored or at least interpreted in negative terms. Neither do I suggest another conventional religious criticism in the ordinary sense of the word. Instead, I will discuss how Levinasian ideas illuminate Dickinson’s spirituality embodied in her poetry, opening up the possibility of conducting an interdisciplinary approach to her poetic genius.

Emmanuel Levinas is one of the representative contemporary thinkers who raise the question of the Other in the philosophical trajectory of modernity. He criticises the egology of Western philosophy, in that it has asserted the primacy of the self, the subject, or the Same, over the Other: the Other has been acknowledged only to be suppressed or possessed. He elaborates a philosophy of alterity in which self and Other are preserved “as independent and self-sufficient, but in some sense in relation with one another” (Davis 41). Levinas provides a useful theoretical framework for reading Dickinson because there are many affinities between them: both Levinas and Dickinson question any assumed unity of subjectivity, comment on the way the “I” determines the Other, and share a belief in the creative and generative potentials of language. Levinas’s thought elucidates a structure of insight operating throughout Dickinson’s works, and her genius, in turn, enhances the imaginative vitality of Levinas’s philosophical reflection. In this way, the interdisciplinary studies of philosophy and literature help to...

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