Adam's Curse: Reflections on Religion and Literature

University of Notre Dame Pess
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W. B. Yeats's poem "Adam's Curse" provides Donoghue with motif and incentive. In Genesis God says to Adam: "Because thou hast harkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life." Yeats put it this way: "It is certain there is no fine thing / Since Adam's curse but needs much labouring." Based on a conversation he had with his beloved Maud Gonne and her sister Kathleen, Yeats's poem thinks about how difficult it is to be beautiful, to write great poetry, to love. In his Erasmus Lectures, Donoghue thinks about the lasting difficulties involved in understanding, and living with, cultural, literary, and religious values that are in restless relation to one another. On these and related matters, Donoghue enters into conversation with a variety of writers, some of them-John Crowe Ransom, Hans Urs von Balthasar, William Lynch, Alasdair MacIntyre, Emmanuel Levinas, Andrew Delbanco, and Robert Bellah-signaled by the titles of the seven lectures. Into the thematic space suggested by each of these titles Donoghue invites other writers and sages to join the conversation-Henry Adams, William Empson, John Milbank, Czeslaw Milosz, Seamus Heaney, Gabriel Josipovici, and many more. The "talk," as you might expect, keeps coming around to the reading of specific literary texts: passages from Paradise Lost, Stevens's "Esthétique du mal," fiction by Gide and J. F. Powers and J. M. Coetzee, to name only a few. In ADAM'S CURSE, Donoghue brings his special intelligence to bear on some of the intersections where religion and literature provocatively meet.
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About the author

Denis Donoghue is Henry James Professor of English and American Letters and University Professor at New York University. He is the author of more than twenty books, including Words Alone: The Poet T. S. Eliot (2000), The Practice of Reading (1998), and Walter Pater: Lover of Strange Souls (1995).

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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Notre Dame Pess
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Published on
Apr 23, 2001
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Pages
190
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ISBN
9780268159412
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Language
English
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Genres
Fiction / Classics
Literary Criticism / Subjects & Themes / Religion
Poetry / Subjects & Themes / Inspirational & Religious
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Denis Donoghue
A TWENTIETH-CENTURY intellectual of the first rank presents the case for the nineteenth-century aesthetician whose elegant subversions delivered us to modernism. Walter Pater (1839-1894) was an obscure Oxford don until 1873, when his first book, The Renaissance, exposed his argument favoring sensation over though and, in doing so, ignited a hard, gem-like flame. “Say not what it is but what it makes you see—or feel” is not something Pater ever said, but it will suffice as an encapsulation of an attitude that moved the authority of a work of art from the object to the subject, subsequently outraging the defenders of perceived truth of his time and making Pater himself a figure of controversy and even ridicule.
        Substituting sensationalism for sensation and reading Pater’s claim for hedonism, or pleasures the soul might savor, as outright decadence, Pater’s detractors far outnumbered and outranked his followers (including his fellow Oxonian and most notorious devotee, Oscar Wilde). But ever since Pater has proved, at least in the high arts, the decisive victor of the revolutions he set into motion.
        Denis Donoghue presents what will stand as the premier inquiry into Walter Pater’s life and ideas: a work of compelling erudition unrivaled in intuitive and intellectual force, revealing with eloquence, charm, and abundant yet measured discourse Pater’s centrality to the entire modernist movement. “Pater is audible,” Donoghue writes, “in virtually every attentive modern writer—in Hopkins, Wilde, James, Yeats, Pound, Ford, Woolf, Joyce, Eliot, Aiken, Hart Crane, Fitzgerald, Forster, Borges, Stevens.”
        Walter Pater: Lover of Strange Souls is both an education and an inspiration for anyone at all concerned with the changing character of latter-day Western culture. Here, without question, is a classic: a critical biography that lays open the very making of the culture that both assails and sustains us.
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