Modernist ecstasy: Sexuality and the sacraments in modernist literature.

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Bibliographic Details
Author / Creator:Weiss, Joshua John.
Description:269 p.
Format: E-Resource Dissertations
Local Note:School code: 0330.
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Other authors / contributors:University of Chicago.
Notes:Advisor: William Brown.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--The University of Chicago, Division of the Humanities, Department of English Language and Literature, 2015.
Dissertation Abstracts International, Volume: 76-08(E), Section: A.
Summary:On 8 September 1907, Pope Pius X promulgated the encyclical Pascendi dominici gregis, "Feeding the Lord's Flock." It was a full-throated attack against a loosely organized group of theological opinions called Modernism, and was followed up three years later by a requirement that all clerics swear an oath against modernism. Through his aggressive actions condemning Modernism, Pius laid the framework for the Church's response to the changing world of the early 20th century. While the encyclical only spoke to Catholic Modernism, we can see in its condemnation the suggestion that the threat felt by the Church was not just limited to Catholic Modernism, but to modernism and modernity as such, in particular its rejection of realism, and its de-emphasis on certainty and objective truth. While it makes sense, then, to think of modernism as a largely secular project, in "Modernist Ecstasy" I demonstrate that several modernist writers were engaging with religion, and with Catholicism in particular, in new and surprising ways. In contradistinction to the Church's position under Pius, this project argues for a new understanding of literary modernism that identifies the unexpected connections between modernism and Catholicism, in particular Catholicism's usefulness for new expressions of homosexuality and queerness.
Far from limiting modernist thought and expression of non-normative sexualities, the Catholic sacraments activate the imaginations of the authors under consideration in this project, and encourage a new efflorescence of writing about varied forms of queer identity. Where contemporary discussions of the intersection of religious and sexual discourses frequently focus on rhetoric and rights acquisition, "Modernist Ecstasy" foregrounds the versatility of Catholic thought and its ability to be transformed not just in the hands of the authors whose works I explore, but indeed throughout the 20th century into the 21st. With the ascension of Pope Francis, sexuality and the Church are in the news again, but this time in a way that seems more tolerant and broad-thinking. This project traces one of the sources of the germination of Francis's tolerance in the ways in which these modernists understood the Church and its teachings.
It is in the midst of the sexual and religious discourses of the fin de siecle that the authors I examine in this project find themselves as they begin to shape the thinking of the 20th century and beyond. Many of these authors, like Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, and Fr. Rolfe Baron Corvo, identified as homosexual. Others, like Ernest Hemingway and Evelyn Waugh, as heterosexual. But all of these writers, I argue, turn to religion to express non-normative desire - not just homosexual desire but varying forms of queer desire that do not necessarily take a member of the same sex as their object. This project, then, seeks to bring the threads of queerness, modernism, and religious thought together in conversation to examine the modernist canon in a new light. By highlighting the ways in which these several authors and texts use religious concepts and traditions to express non-normative forms of sexuality, this work argues for a mutually critical correlation among these concepts - specifically four of the Catholic sacraments - and emergent forms of sexuality. My first chapter follows several moments in the literary career of Gertrude Stein to examine the ways in which she writes about her relationship to Alice Toklas in terms of the sacrament of holy matrimony. I begin by foregrounding some shorter pieces that set up Stein's long-standing investigation of categories of similarity and difference as well as her burgeoning interest in religious themes. Tracing Stein's familiarity with the writings of Saints Teresa of Avila and Ignatius of Loyola, I argue that Stein transforms the genre of the hagiography to write holy lives of people who are not saints, including, ultimately, Alice B. Toklas. In transforming Toklas into a saint, Stein's Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas takes on new meaning, and Stein imbues her relationship with the same kind of holiness she found in the writings of the saints. In this way, Stein sanctifies her lesbianism as a mystical marriage. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)