Mark Your Calendars for ‘Reimagining the Sacred & the Cool’ on April 7

On Friday, April 7, Upper House will be hosting a rich discussion on how sacred tradition informs the cultivation of a shared literary and moral imagination. Historically, literature has been a central aspect of a liberal arts education and the formation of citizens in the west. And yet the study of literature, and the humanities at large, is no longer central in our educational institutions. While some blame pop-culture, a lack of funding, or technologies of distraction, others have looked within. In Lisa Ruddick’s groundbreaking essay, “When Nothing is Cool,” she argues that “decades of anti-humanist one-upmanship,” and a general “thrill of destruction,” have resulted in a sweeping malaise of suspicion that now defines academic discourse. “Nothing in English is ‘cool,’” she says, but “on the other hand, you could say that what is cool now is, simply, nothing.” Which begs the question, if nothing is cool, what can we celebrate, let alone enjoy?

In this one-day symposium, we will examine the landscape of a literary culture at the limits of hermeneutic suspicion. One path forward, according to philosopher Richard Kearney, would be to reimagine the sacred as a fundamental category of criticism, even for scholars and artists who do not think of themselves as explicitly religious. Looking to the work of 20th century atheists, agnostics, and apostates, like James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Marcel Proust, Kearney illustrates how spiritual and moral impulses consistently inform the literary imagination. In a contemporary setting, the same impulses are voiced in the poetry of Fanny Howe, the late Mark Strand, and Adam Zagajewski, along with the novels of Elena Ferrante, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Don DeLillo, and Michel Houellebecq.

This spring we are excited to welcome both Ruddick and Kearney, along with literary critic Jon Baskin, poet G.C. Waldrep, and editor John Wilson, to help us reimagine the sacred, and the cool, and reconsider the place of the literary imagination in our world today.

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