Date of Award
Open Access Thesis
Master of Arts (MA)
In this essay, I investigate the intersection of post-postmodern literature and postsecular thought. I examine Jonathan Franzen’s novel Crossroads (2022) as a means to examine a religious conception of goodness and how goodness becomes rooted in what we worship. I also look to Infinite Jest and “Good People” by David Foster Wallace. The latter illuminates the conflict between traditional forms of worship and contemporary calls to worship one’s own desires, which results in stagnation, frigidity, and indecisiveness. Characters follow their internal compass, which leads them only further away from a sense of stability. Franzen’s work shows what replaces traditional religious worship – specifically, the pursuit of hedonistic pleasure and immediate gratification through entertainment all under the guise of Freedom. Indeed, as Wallace’s writing suggests, freedom is a term so prevalent in the American vernacular that it’s become synonymous with the concept of America itself. In worshipping individual freedom, Wallace demonstrates that freedom becomes the inverse of itself, an excess that constricts one’s agency.
Finally, I turn to the work of philosopher Pierre Hadot who provides the beginning of a remedy for the secular condition. Hadot urges us to turn towards the work of ancient philosophies, such as stoicism and epicureanism, in order to find guidance for “how to live.” Heeding Hadot’s remedy, I consider the complexity and nuance of navigating a postmodern world in which traditional religion has largely taken a backseat to the hyper-individualized subjectivity established by postmodernism. In doing so, I position my argument in relation to what literary theorist John McClure deems a “partial faith” by redefining spirituality so as to point towards a pathway for individuals to develop a more secure sense of self. Such a self, I conclude, affords a more genuine sense of true freedom.
McPoland, Mickey, "Finding the Middle Zone; Redefining Spirituality Through Contemporary American Literature" (2023). Master's Theses. 170.