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449 Christianity and Literature Vol. 63, No. 4 (Summer 2014) Belief, Revelation, and Trust: Faith and the Mind’s Margins in Ian McEwan’s Saturday and Paul Harding’s Tinkers Larry D. Bouchard I As I read Paul Elie’s thoughtfully provocative essay in the The New York Times, “Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?” three observations came to mind. First, Elie sheds light on why I sometimes find it challenging to locate new works for the last part of my introductory undergraduate course on Religion and Modern Fiction. The course limits itself to the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries. It has included some of Elie’s usual faith-infiction suspects: Elie Wiesel, Flannery O’Connor, Shusaku Endo, Marilynne Robinson, and once in a while Graham Greene, Frederick Buechner, and John Updike. By no means does all the fiction in the course represent traditional faith expressly, though many students do prefer such explicitness. For my purposes, ending with Yann Martel’s Life of Pi has been just about perfect, as it is explicit about four traditions (Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism). However, I’ve taught Pi rather often (and now must contend with the movie), so I’m looking for something new. I enjoy teaching Robinson, but Elie hints that Gilead is the exception that proves the rule, since its narrator—an elderly Protestant pastor—speaks from the 1950s. Over the years I’ve assigned selections from Toni Morrison, Mary Gordon, Margaret Atwood, Thomas Pynchon, Milan Kundera, Annie Dillard, E. R. Doctorow, Cormac McCarthy, Mary Doria Russell, Paula Marshall, John Irving, Arundhati Roy, and Seamus Heaney. But, I agree, my quest for the next new Religion & Literature “thing” is getting harder. My oldest son tells me it’s because I don’t read enough new stuff. So I’ll be checking out some of Elie’s own suggestions. Elie worries, however, that in most recent fiction, “faith” is an issue only on the “margins” of a given work’s ethos and worldview—whereas faith was Christianity and Literature 450 near the center for T. S. Eliot, O’Connor, Updike, and a number of other crucial, late-modern writers. His criterion seems to look for authors whose imaginations are integrally shaped through a tradition of belief, whereby they create works of compelling literary innovation, such as the traumatized encounters with transforming grace in O’Connor. With these authors, to appreciate their fictive innovations one also needs to appreciate elements of faith. I remain very interested in teaching literature that arguably meets the high bar of that criterion. However, my second point is that good modern fiction that meets the criterion has always been rare. One need not subscribe to Harold Bloom’s anxious antagonism between traditional belief and artistic innovation to notice that the number of usual suspects of strong faith in strong modern fiction has always been rather low. To question if fiction has “lost” its faith (and I wonder if the essay’s title was Elie’s or the Times’) implies that modern fiction did have a lot of it until some point. I’m not sure it did, at least not in terms of traditional belief, during my two centuries. And while the question is valuable on its own terms—for illuminating the changing moods of secularity and spirituality, as well as the changing fortunes of prose fiction in respect to other arts (cinema, video, music)—I think it can be too narrow. So with my third observation, I’d like to open up the question a bit. A more fruitful query could be, “How goes, these days, the critical relationship between matters of faith and matters of fiction?” And another, “What does the apparent marginality of faith in recent fiction tell us of faith’s variations and places in human experience?” I propose to explore these questions through Ian McEwan’s Saturday (2005) and Paul Harding’s Tinkers (2009). These otherwise quite different novels are comparable in portraying different visions of the pouring out of the mind, as the brain deteriorates or becomes disturbed. McEwan’s novel suggests how a kind of “religious-like” cognitive and ethical faith in materialist humanism is complicated when contrasted with both...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2056-5666
Print ISSN
0148-3331
Pages
pp. 449-465
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-04
Open Access
No
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