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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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The Lives of a Spirit: Mystical Bewilderment in Fanny Howe’s Fiction: Bénédicte Chorier-Fryd

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Bénédicte CHORIER-FRYDUniversity of Poitiers, France

The initial decision of the spiritual is the decision to leave.

(Michel de Certeau, 1992: 177)

Fanny Howe is a widely acclaimed American poet and more confidential novelist and writer of short stories and essays.1 She is also, in her own words, a “Catholic atheist.” How does this paradox find an expression in her writing? Her fiction resonates with the questions that haunt her non-fictional texts, and it manifests a conception of the spiritual which she explores in her essays, in the fragmentary form so characteristic of all her writing. In “The Contemporary Logos,” one of the essays gathered in The Wedding Dress – Meditations on Word and Life, Fanny Howe delineates a “problem” faced by both writers and theologians: “When words are mouthed through Beckett’s characters […] affliction, silence and history have torn them from an origin. The problem for writers is the same for theologians” (78). Her “meditations” combine the positions of a critical writer (she examines the creative practices of other poets and writers), a historian (she sketches the lives of historical figures such as Edith Stein and Simone Weil), and a theologian (in “Contemporary Logos,” for instance, she outlines 20th-century developments of gnostic Christianity). As a theologian, she ends up with more questions than answers and concludes with this statement: “We may not know if there is ← 119 | 120 → a God or not, but we do know that there is a word” (2003: 81). In...

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