Dissident Secularism: Queer Exegesis, Transatlantic Modernism, and the Discipline of Modernity
Soni, Raji Singh
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This dissertation examines the interplay of queer sexuality, theology, and transatlantic modernism in the oeuvres and critical receptions of T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), Hart Crane (1899-1932), and W.H. Auden (1907-1973). As an interdisciplinary study in literary criticism and of each author’s reception history, this thesis reads the poetry, critical prose, and correspondence of Eliot, Crane, and Auden with focused reference to queer theory and continental philosophies of religion extending from Immanuel Kant’s Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone and Søren Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous authorship to Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction of aesthetics, ethics, and politics in the post-Kantian legacy. Gauging the “post-secular turn” in cultural criticism, the dissertation develops a critique of “epistemic secularism,” which constitutes a normative framework for scholarship in many branches of the humanities. To examine “the secular limits of discipline” at the junction of queer theory and modernist studies, it examines how literary critics and queer theorists define modernity and conceptualize subjectivity at the secular limits (or limitations) of their fields. Imbrications of theology and queerness in the works of Eliot, Crane, and Auden occasion this study’s response to epistemic secularism and prompt its recalibration of secularism in the ethical terms of “mere reason,” rather than as an episteme rife with antireligious politics. Research undertaken for this thesis is guided by two foundational questions: 1) Do extant models for the study of queer sexualities presuppose secularism or enforce secularization as a benchmark for the “achievement of modernity”? 2) Are religious foundations conceivable for queer subjects to whom secularism remains a key factor in the emancipatory history of sexual cultures? The dissertation argues that, for better and for worse, secularism has become a blueprint in the metropolitan West for thinking sexual modernity as progressive and achievable. Notwithstanding such provisos, this study finds that the “proper” subject in queer-modernist studies is in essence neither nonreligious nor antireligious. Rather, reading with and against the grain of secularism’s episteme, it uncovers in the corpuses of Eliot, Crane, and Auden a radical conception of theology as a positively queer endeavour in an era of “liberated” secularist polities.