To Be as Gods
Modernist writers have often engaged God as an object of both imaginative identification and profanation, at once emulating and blaspheming a deity memorably pronounced dead in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Such an ambivalent response to God’s “death” betrays revealing structural affinities with the psychodynamics of Freudian melancholia; just as the melancholiac both incorporates and abuses a lost love-object, so these writers profane their lost God while also yielding to the original biblical temptation “to be as gods.” This chapter surveys the modernist artist-god as he (or she) appears in works by writers including Mina Loy, Djuna Barnes, Wallace Stevens, and, finally, Salman Rushdie, whose novel The Satanic Verses provides a demonstration of how modernism persists in postwar anglophone literature—and of the critical role blasphemy plays in that persistence.
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