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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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“I’m the little Jew who wrote the Bible.” A Reconfiguration of the Devotional Poet for the Age of the Mass Media: Leonard Cohen’s Holy Hoaxes: Christophe Lebold

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Christophe LEBOLDUniversity of Strasbourg, France

I think that’s the real deep entertainment. Religion. Real, profound and voluptuous and delicious entertainment. The real feast that is available to us is within this activity. Nothing touches it. Except if you’re courting…

Leonard Cohen, 1998 (qtd. in Iyer)

Rather than a declaration of faith, spiritual literature is a declaration of hunger, of an appetite for depth and transcendence that singer and poet Leonard Cohen has always affirmed. A Zen monk, the author of a book of psalms and the grandson of a rabbi, Cohen has developed a highly personal spiritual vision over forty years of songwriting and religious practice. With the authority imparted by his name1 and the gravity of his voice, he has kept asserting the depths of the human heart which, as he is wont to say, “cooks and sizzles like shish-kebab in the breast” (2001b). The singer was even brought to found, partly as a spiritual hoax, a semi-fictional spiritual fraternity, the “Order of the Unified Heart,” which, he explains, “has no meetings, no by-laws, and no dues” (Wieseltier 44). But here is a devotional poet with a tiny difference: he is also a rock star with an international cult following, a contract with Sony Music and female ← 133 | 134 → backing singers that may well have made George Herbert hide under his altar.

Placing himself under the joint patronage of King David and country-singer Hank Williams (“Tower of Song,” Cohen 1988), Cohen...

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