Friday, May 25, 2007

Today's Quote: Literary Imagination and Religion

In the framework of the colloquium "Religious Studies and the Humanities: Theories of Interpretation," sponsored by our department, I gave a lecture on literary imagination and religious studies. It is the first time that I speak in public about my literary writings and their relationship to the history of religions, such, at least as I conceive it to be. I didn't have enough time to develop more than a few ideas. I said first of all that a literary work is an instrument of knowledge. The imaginary universes created in novels, stories, and tales reveal certain values and meanings unique to the human condition which, without them, would remain unknown, or, at the very least, imperfectly understood. I also emphasized the existential necessity of narration, whatever the form chosen by the writer to express himself may be. The "death of the novel" proclaimed by some following Finnegan's Wake, Glasperlenspiel, or Doctor Faustus doesn't seem obvious to me. One can at most speak of the death of the realistic, psychological, or social novel, or of models that have become outdated (Balzac, Tolstoy, Proust, etc.) But true epic literature--that is, the novel, the story, the tale--cannot disappear as such, for the literary imagination is the continuation of mythological creativity and oneiric experience. Narration has infinite possibilities, for infinite are the number of characters or "events," both in life or in history and in the parallel universes forged by the creative imagination.

All the same, I did not emphasize sufficiently the similarities between religious phenomena and literary creation. Just as all religious phenomena are hierophantic (in the sense that they reveal the sacred in a profane object or act), literary creation unveils the universal and exemplary meanings hidden in men and in the most commonplace events.

From Journal III 1970-78 by Mircea Eliade

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