Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Karen S. Jacobs
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.”
Hamstra, Thedor, "“Painting the Post-Secular: the Sacred as the After in William Gaddis’ the Recognitions”" (2019). English Graduate Theses & Dissertations. 126.