Vincent P. Pecora
In Secularization without End: Beckett, Mann, Coetzee, Vincent P. Pecora elaborates an alternative history of the twentieth-century Western novel that explains the resurgence of Christian theological ideas. Standard accounts of secularization in the novel assume the gradual disappearance of religious themes through processes typically described as rationalization: philosophy and science replace faith. Pecora shows, however, that in the modern novels he examines, “secularization” ceases to mean emancipation from the prescientific ignorance or enchantment commonly associated with belief and signifies instead the shameful state of a humanity bereft of grace and undeserving of redemption.
His book focuses on the unpredictable and paradoxical rediscovery of theological perspectives in otherwise secular novels after 1945. The narratives he analyzes are all seemingly godless in their overt points of view, from Samuel Beckett’s Murphy to Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus to J. M. Coetzee’s The Childhood of Jesus. But, Pecora argues, these novels wind up producing varieties of religious doctrine drawn from Augustinian and Calvinist claims about primordial guilt and the impotence of human will. In the most artfully imaginative ways possible, Beckett, Mann, and Coetzee resist the apparently inevitable plot that so many others have constructed for the history of the novel, by which human existence is reduced to mundane and meaningless routines and nothing more. Instead, their writing invokes a religious past that turns secular modernity, and the novel itself, inside out.
“Secularization without End is a well-argued and provocative exploration of the modern novel grounded in a compelling set of theological reflections. Vincent P. Pecora discusses primarily Samuel Beckett’s trilogy (1950), Thomas Mann’s Dr. Faustus (1947), and various novels by J. M. Coetzee from the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. This is not just a set of three individual-author essays; it is about an alternative history of the novel that challenges the paradigms that have prevailed from Watt to Moretti." — Russell Berman, Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities, Stanford University
“In Secularization without End, Pecora continues the provocative exploration of the secularization phenomenon that he began in Secularization and Cultural Criticism (2006). His subject is modernism’s tendency to replace religious categories of thought and experience with those of a secular philosophical ethics and epistemology.” — Choice
“Pecora is at his best when revising the big picture and moving through a complex philosophical and literary-critical heritage. . . . Secularization without End is a book that is designed to alter paradigms, and whether or not Pecora’s readers come away convinced of all of his claims, he has written an important and even necessary study that should continue to alter the way we read modern fiction for years to come.” — Modern Language Review
“This is one of the finest exercises in literature and theology that I have encountered for a long time. Its challenge to the reader lies in its profound grasp of theology and its philosophical implications, while at the same time pursuing complex literary discussions of the nature of writing and narrative after Roland Barthes’ Writing Degree Zero.. This is a book that deserves to be taken with the utmost seriousness by anyone who claims to be concerned with the interplay between literature and theology, posing more problems than we can possibly claim to answer.” — Literature and Theology