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RANSOM'S GOD WITHOUT THUNDER: REMYTHOLOGIZING VIOLENCE AND POETICIZING THE SACRED Gary M. Ciuba Kent State University From tree-lined Vanderbilt University of 1930 Nashville, the modernist poet and critic John Crowe Ransom longed to hear in his imagination the God who thundered fiercely in ancient Greece, Rome, and Israel. The God of sacrifice who in Homer's Iliad, "his thunder striking terror," received libations from the warring armies (230). The God of jealousy who in Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound "drove the sleepless thunderbolt, / plunged the fire spurting shaft/ down" on Typhon for defying heaven with his violence (46). The God of vengeance who in Ovid's Metamorphoses sent "blinding / Thunder [to shake] Olympus, and Pelim / Thrust down by heaven's bolt crashed over Ossa" when the giants piled mountain upon mountain to reach Jove's throne (35). The God ofviolence who in Psalm 78:48 delivered the cattle ofthe obstinate Egyptians "to the hail, and their flocks to hot thunderbolts" or who in 1 Samuel 7:10 "thundered with great thunder" to smite the Philistines. In God Without Thunder: An Unorthodox Defense of Orthodoxy Ransom attacked the modern heresy that deprived the deity ofsuch awful might and summoned Americans to live under a new myth of sacred violence. IfRansom listened with the ears ofthe Methodist faith in which he had been raised, he might have heard how the god of old was muted at the university where he studied and later taught. Ten years before Ransom was born, Methodist-sponsored Vanderbilt had eliminated the lectureship of naturalist Alexander Winched because hisPre-Adamites had challenged the Creation story in Genesis. But in 1914, when Ransom returned to his alma Gary M. Ciuba41 mater to begin more than two decades of teaching there, the Methodists ended their affiliation with Vanderbilt because of a dispute about church governance of the university (Bailey 9-10, 31-4). When the Scopes Trial caused a furor in 1925, Ransom was invited by Vanderbilt to condemn the Fundamentalists to the southeast in Dayton. He refused-not because he sided with the anti-Darwinists but because he believed that the tyranny of science was threateningthe poetic foundation ofreligion (Quinlan 40, n. 3). Ransom's thunderless plight was virtually imagined by H.L. Mencken, one of the most stinging critics of the creationists, when in 1922 he penned a tongue-in-cheek lament forthe passing ofthe ancient deities. "Where is the graveyard of dead gods? What lingering mourner waters their mounds? There was a time when Jupiter was the king ofthe gods, and any man who doubted his puissance was ipso facto a barbarian and an ignoramus," Mencken mock-elegized in "Memorial Service." "But where in all the world is there a man who worships Jupiter today?" (95). God Without Thunder provides the answer to Mencken's archly lugubrious question: it is John Crowe Ransom. Grieving the demise ofthe deity ofyore, Ransom's treatise on the religious imagination heralds a one-man revival of Jupiter Tonans. Ransom believes that the god ofantiquity has been muffled bythe spirit of scientific abstraction that reigns notjust in Tennessee but across all of America.7 Hetraces this modern cult ofthe mind beyond the current efforts ofreligion to seek a rapprochement with biology and physics; beyond the science-driven Prometheus of Shelley, the rationalism of the Protestant Reformation, and the inquiry of Copernicus; beyond the errors of early Christianity, to a kind of primal sin. Humans have used their intelligence first to set themselves above nature, then to order the world according to their ways, and finally to exploit all ofcreation for their use. Demystified by science, thunder has become not the mighty weapon ofthe ancient God who tolerated no rivals but only the noise of heated and expanding air. Ransom views science as having such ultimacy that it exercises a mimetic function: it provides Girardian models for desire. "Science directs us to amuse ourselves, between desires," Ransom writes, "by simulating 7 Louis Rubin reads Ransom's "Armageddon" as a poetic companion piece to God Without Thunder, for it tells how divine wrath has been compromised amid the suavities of the modern world At the apocalyptic battle of the poem's title, a militant...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1930-1200
Print ISSN
1075-7201
Pages
pp. 40-60
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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