Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Karen S. Jacobs

Second Advisor

Catherine Labio

Third Advisor

Karim Mattar

Fourth Advisor

Benjamin J. Robertson


Arguing that William Gaddis’ 1955 novel The Recognitions can be read as an early instance of a post-secular spirituality at work, I suggest that Gaddis uses the protagonist Wyatt Gwyon to show that the visual arts, specifically painting, provides a model for outlining a new location and mode of considering a form of the sacred emerging from collage and encyclopedic aesthetics. Beginning with an overview of post-secular theory, I then move to a consideration of Gaddis’ status within American literary history, and how this relates to his status as a post-secular novelist. I argue that the novel displays a particularly post-secular aesthetic, drawing on the forms of the collage and the encyclopedic novel to best display its conception of sacrality. I then provide readings of two counterpoint father figures in the novel, the protagonist’s father the Reverend Gwyon, who is an early example of a post-secular thinker, and Pastor Dick, his eventual replacement who Gaddis uses as a metaphor of the marketplace’s infection of the sacred. Highlighting the novel’s interest in forgery, I show how Gaddis uses forged paintings as metaphors of unstable signifiers and how this connects with Mark C. Taylor’s theorizations of the virtual in the economic and theological realms. A detour into the economic provides space for considering the role of Dale Carnegie as an example of what I deem a capitalist encyclopedic aesthetic, in contrast to the encyclopedic post-secularism of the novel itself. Central to my argument is a reading of Wyatt’s portrait of his dead mother which is a prime post-secular artwork in its metamorphic depiction of “the after.” I then draw on Richard Kearney’s theology of anatheism to show Wyatt as a particularly post-secular artist, and how this relates to Gaddis’ overall project. I then conclude by demonstrating how for Gaddis, artworks provide a concretization of the notion of the sacred as an emerging from a larger framework of “the after.”