Bleached bones rattling: reviving the art of sacramental reading

Martin, Samuel Thomas (2012) Bleached bones rattling: reviving the art of sacramental reading. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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In my thesis, Bleached Bones Rattling: Reviving the Art of Sacramental Reading, I examine recent novels by David Adams Richards, Michael Winter, Lisa Moore, and Michael Crummey in order to flesh-out the idea of "holiness" and to show ways in which this idea has been refigured in contemporary Atlantic Canadian fiction. I begin with Richards because he is a writer who has long claimed that the holiness of human life is his central subject matter: a theme that has received harsh, cursory criticism by Christopher Armstrong and Herb Wyile (1997) and more in-depth, historical treatment by Tony Tremblay in David Adams Richards of the Miramichi (2010). Beginning with Richards and working through novels by these three other Atlantic Canadian authors (who do not necessarily share Richards' Catholic worldview), I examine varying ways in which holiness confronts a reader, calls her to responsibility, draws her out of herself into a world of others, and, through a sacramental encounter, returns that reader to herself and her world with a broader view and experience of others. -- Each chapter begins with an articulation of these stages in terms of theory and then explores the shape that theory takes in a reading of a specific novel. In chapter one, I bring the "religious" philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida to bear on David Adams Richards' Incidents in the Life of Markus Paul (2011) in order to illuminate how a reader is called to responsibility through the "adieu" of another. In the second chapter, I examine the covenant a reader makes with a story (and the dialogic world of others therein) in a discussion that approaches Michael Winter's The Death of Donna Whalen (2010) through the literary criticism of J. Edward Chamberlin and Deborah Bowen. In the third chapter, I give shape to a reader's journey out from herself- her own ego- in looking at Lisa Moore's February (2009), Gregory Wolfe's essay "Stalking the Spirit," and the philosophy of Paul Ricoeur. And in the fourth and final chapter, I examine the sacramental nature of the reading experience by comparing the theoretical views of Daniel Coleman with those of Richard Kearney and "tasting" the substantiation of these views in Michael Crummey's Galore (2009). -- My aim throughout this work is to construct a new theoretical language, out of an old religious language, in which to house the idea of holiness and to give it new critical shape in contemporary literary studies. In doing so, I demonstrate how holiness, despite its religious history and connotations, is more than an "idea" but a "real" life-giving and humanizing presence in fiction that can be encountered by all readers. -- This encounter, far from being idealistic or utopian, is a messy, combative affair which I depict as Jacob wrestling the angel: a reader grappling with that which is beyond her. In doing so, I demonstrate what Jean-Louis Chretien, in Hand to Hand: Listening to the Work of Art (2003), describes as the "intimate violence" of this encounter: this covenant. I do this by confronting theories of holiness with their "twin" forms in specific novels, forcing these theories to wrestle with their fictive figurations-like the left-handed and right-handed twins of Mother Earth in Iroquoisian myth- in order to see how stories can wound and bless these theories and transfigure them into a new theory of holiness. -- Ultimately, I argue that reading allows for a continuing substantiation of holiness-an empathetic sense of human worth-in the life of a reader. Such readings, as I demonstrate in my encounters with novels by Richards, Winter, Moore, and Crummey, open a reader to be both wounded and blessed by the humanity of others, allowing that reader imaginative opportunities to become ever more human herself. This involves more than "recovering the human in an ideological age," to riff on the subtitle of Gregory Wolfe's recent book Beauty Will Save the World (2011). What I propose is are-imagination of what it can mean to be human if we see our fellow humans as, in some way, holy and irreplaceable: utterly unique and of infinite value. -- Central to my thesis is the belief that stories wrestle from us such re-imaginations: of ourselves and our worlds. And we too leave our mark on stories in our interpretations of them. Stories, after all, can be catalysts for imaginative awakenings in the life of a reader, and these awakenings-these re-imaginations-are, ultimately, the prophetic outworking of sacramental readings: Ezekiel's valley of dry bones rattling, beginning to rise up.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 10987
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (leaves 288-302).
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 2012
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: English language--Religious aspects--Catholic Church; Books and reading--Religious aspects--Christianity; Holiness in literature.

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