The critique of theodicy might form part of the rationale for a renewed version of literary study. This hypothesis, suggested by James Wood's New York Times oped on the 2010 Haiti earthquake, leads to an interrogation of the status of literature: Is it a secular concept, as Richard Rorty has proposed? Or if (as it seems) literature is not distinguished as such from nonsecular discourse, then does the study of literature fit Rorty's argument about the need for a nonfoundational, nonauthoritative discourse in a secular democracy? This essay pursues these questions through the work of several theorists, including Elaine Scarry, Martha C. Nussbaum, and John Guillory, and through two more earthquakes, each seeming to delegitimize theodicy and replace it with secular understanding, but inconclusively: the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, which Adam Smith used (in displaced form) in his Theory of Moral Sentiments, and the earthquake in Zadie Smith's White Teeth, which Wood finds unfortunately representative of “hysterical realism.”
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September 1, 2011
Joseph Luzzi Marshall Brown Marshall Brown
Research Article| September 01 2011
Is Literature a Secular Concept? Three Earthquakes
Modern Language Quarterly (2011) 72 (3): 293–317.
Bruce Robbins; Is Literature a Secular Concept? Three Earthquakes. Modern Language Quarterly 1 September 2011; 72 (3): 293–317. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00267929-1275145
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