Toward a new numinous: The divine in postmodern literature

Andrew J Ploeg, University of Rhode Island


Against the widely held belief that postmodern literature is inherently atheistic, my dissertation resurrects the divine as a crucial aspect of that tradition. In doing so, I gather a provocative assemblage of contemporary U.S. and international texts, including Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, and Ben Marcus's Notable American Women, as well as Edmond Jabès's The Book of Questions, Volume I and Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. My assertion is that, in their form and content, these and other postmodern texts challenge foundational truths by offering a new notion of the divine as the plurality of signification, the inexhaustibility of interpretation, and the dynamic newness of textuality, which I term the “numinous.” ^ The divine, presented through such literature, is not a religious concept, but rather one that undermines conventional understandings of truth, meaning, and divinity itself. Humankind has long shaped and been shaped by essentialism and fundamentalism founded upon purportedly stable truths; to reassess the divine then is, in a very real sense, to reassess ourselves and, by extension, to enable new modes of thinking, acting, and being. In this sense, my dissertation is an effort both to show how postmodern texts articulate the numinous as a concept and to foreground the significant implications inherent in it. These implications include challenging assumptions regarding the nature of such literature, undermining the very grounds upon which orthodox divinities are built, and asserting its relevance to ethical and political issues shaping our world today.^

Subject Area

Language, Modern|Literature, Modern|Theology

Recommended Citation

Andrew J Ploeg, "Toward a new numinous: The divine in postmodern literature" (2012). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3503131.