The religious roots of postmodernism in American culture: an analysis of the postmodern theory of Bernard Iddings Bell and its continued relevance to contemporary postmodern theory and literary criticism

Brauer, Kristen D. (2007) The religious roots of postmodernism in American culture: an analysis of the postmodern theory of Bernard Iddings Bell and its continued relevance to contemporary postmodern theory and literary criticism. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

This thesis is an examination and reassessment of an early work on postmodernism written by the once prominent American critic, Bernard Iddings Bell, in 1926. Bell's work, Postmodernism, and other essays, provides us with one of the earliest documented uses of the term "postmodernism" in the English language. It also anticipates many of the pronouncements of later critics regarding the development of postmodernism in politics, philosophy, and literary criticism. Despite these facts however, or perhaps because of them, contemporary critics have continued to ignore Bell's work, charging that his thesis is "anti-modern" rather than "postmodern", and otherwise irrelevant to current debates on postmodernism. This thesis will challenge that interpretation. Here it will be argued that the decision to exclude Bell's work from current debates on postmodernism is based upon Bell's religious predilections. In addition to constituting a radical break with the knowledge systems of the past, Bell argues that postmodernism will also be accompanied by a large scale religious revival. This argument runs counter to the dominant critical consensus regarding the relationship between postmodernism and religion adopted by critics from Arnold J. Toynbee in the 1950s, to Fredric Jameson in the 1990s. The first part of the thesis is dedicated to analysis of the philosophical influences and historical background to Bell's essay with the aim of comparing and contrasting Bell's ideas with those found in more recent works on postmodernism. The second part examines the possible impact of Bell's thesis on the interpretation of contemporary American literature and literary theory. Rather than focusing on a "poetics of parody", or the theoretical implications of "irony and humour", as previous critics have done, we will focus here on how contemporary writers like John Updike, Don DeLillo, and Toni Morrison, have chosen to incorporate the themes of postmodern criticism with a critique of that criticism, especially where this touches on the subject of religion. We conclude that Bell's insistence that postmodernism will be defined by a renewed interest in religion and mystical theology still has merit in the realm of contemporary cultural debates. Postmodern criticism that attempts to exclude religion from this arena does so on the basis of a modern interpretation of religious evolution and secularization, and therefore runs the risk of reiterating an older modernist critique.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Funder's Name: UNSPECIFIED
Supervisor's Name: Selby, Dr. Nick
Date of Award: 2007
Depositing User: Miss Louise Annan
Unique ID: glathesis:2007-6264
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 09 Apr 2015 07:26
Last Modified: 09 Apr 2015 07:36
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/6264

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