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Poetry and Theology in the Modernist Period

Anthony Domestico

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What if the religious themes and allusions in modernist poetry are not just metaphors?

Following the religious turn in other disciplines, literary critics have emphasized how modernists like Woolf and Joyce were haunted by Christianity’s cultural traces despite their own lack of belief. In Poetry and Theology in the Modernist Period, Anthony Domestico takes a different tack, arguing that modern poets such as T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, and David Jones were interested not just in the aesthetic or social implications of religious experience but also in the philosophically rigorous, dogmatic vision…

What if the religious themes and allusions in modernist poetry are not just metaphors?

Following the religious turn in other disciplines, literary critics have emphasized how modernists like Woolf and Joyce were haunted by Christianity’s cultural traces despite their own lack of belief. In Poetry and Theology in the Modernist Period, Anthony Domestico takes a different tack, arguing that modern poets such as T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, and David Jones were interested not just in the aesthetic or social implications of religious experience but also in the philosophically rigorous, dogmatic vision put forward by contemporary theology.

These poets took seriously the truth claims of Christian theology: for them, religion involved intellectual and emotional assent, doctrinal articulation, and ritual practice. Domestico reveals how an important strand of modern poetry actually understood itself in and through the central theological questions of the modernist era: What is transcendence, and how can we think and write about it? What is the sacramental act, and how does its wedding of the immanent and the transcendent inform the poetic act? How can we relate kairos (holy time) to chronos (clock time)?

Seeking answers to these complex questions, Domestico examines both modernist institutions (the Criterion) and specific works of modern poetry (Eliot’s Four Quartets and Jones’s The Anathemata). The book also traces the contours of what it dubs "theological modernism": a body of poetry that is both theological and modernist. In doing so, this book offers a new literary history of the modernist period, one that attends both to the material circulation of texts and to the broader intellectual currents of the time.

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Poetry and Theology in the Modernist Period

Anthony Domestico

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Reviews

Reviews

There is certainly no easy way to replicate the environment of the interwar period, but Anthony Domestico is to be commended for implanting such a desire in his readers. Perhaps some of these readers will be stirred to action. I for one would love to hold a contemporary equivalent to the Criterion in my hands, and I believe that Poetry and Theology in the Modernist Period succeeds in that it will make others want this as well.

This brief but substantial study details how contemporary theological debates were part and parcel of the wider intellectual climate of modernism, as well as a specific influence on poetry by T. S. Eliot, David Jones, and W. H. Auden. It is a welcome addition to recent work on the inescapable and continuing influence of Christianity at every stage of the modernist project.

I also recently read Anthony Domestico’s wonderful and revelatory critical book Poetry and Theology in the Modernist Period, which has much to say about whether poetry and theology can nourish each other (for many of the modern poets, Domestico argues quite convincingly, they certainly did).

Domestico knows his theology very well... He can illuminate the shape of a theologian's argument, as well as what was at stake in the historical context. By training his sights on those literary authors for whom theology mattered—and for whom theology meant dogma and revelation—Domestico does invaluable work.

Poetry and Theology in the Modernist Period is brilliantly set up to offer an introductory yet complex view of the intellectual landscape of the inter-war period... it presents an energetic invitation to the next generation of auditors to join [Domestico] in taking seriously the relationship between theology and poetic style.

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About

Book Details

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
1. A Conversation between Philosophers
and Artists
2. The "Living Theology" of the Criterion
3. T. S. Eliot, Karl Barth, and Christian Revelation
4. Sacramental Theology and David Jones’s

Acknowledgments
1. A Conversation between Philosophers
and Artists
2. The "Living Theology" of the Criterion
3. T. S. Eliot, Karl Barth, and Christian Revelation
4. Sacramental Theology and David Jones’s Poetics of Torsion
5. Auden’s Meanwhile
Conclusion
Notes
Suggested Further Reading
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

Anthony Domestico

Anthony Domestico is an assistant professor of literature at Purchase College, SUNY, and a books columnist for Commonweal.