Poetry and Apocalypse

Poetry and Apocalypse

Poetry and Apocalypse: Theological Disclosures of Poetic Language


Poetry and Apocalypse: Theological Disclosures of Poetic Language

Stanford University Press, 2009
reviews, excerpts, etc.
selections at: Google Books

Poetry and Apocalypse offers an interdisciplinary synthesis, combining a philosophical theory of dialogue, a literary-critical interpretation of poetic language in the apocalyptic tradition, and a negative theology that renews certain fundamental impulses and insights of revealed religion.  It is concerned with finding the premises for dialogue between cultures, especially between religious fundamentalisms, like the Islamic, and modern Western secularism. The thesis is that dialogue in general, in order to be genuinely open, needs to be able to open up to such a possibility as religious apocalypse in ways that can be understood best through the experience of poetry.  The book interprets the Christian epic and prophetic tradition as a secularization of religious revelation that nevertheless preserves an understanding of the essentially apocalyptic character of truth and its disclosure in history. The usually neglected negative theology that undergirds this apocalyptic tradition provides the key to a radically new and open understanding of apocalypse as inextricably religious and poetic at the same time.
Reviewed by:

Joel Harter, Journal of Religion 90 (2010): 104-106 (pdf versiononline version
Dorothy Z. Baker, Comparative Literature Studies 46/4 (2009): 674-676
Lee A. Jacobus, James Joyce Quarterly 46/3-4 (2009): 624-627  In Project Muse
Larry D. Bouchard, Religion and Literature 43/3 (2011): 249-52  (pdf)
J. H. Sims, CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries 46.9 (May 2009): p1679.

“The book’s stated objective is ‘a postmodern negative theology of poetic language’ (ix) that is both theoretical and practical, contributing to both literary theory and theology and promoting peace through radical openness to dialogue, and it is to Franke’s credit that the result is both challenging and accessible.”—Joel Harter, The Journal of Religion

“Poetry and Apocalypse: Theological Disclosures of Poetic Language is a profound and radical study that holds many surprises . . . [W]e have long been convinced of the relevance of studies in religious thought, philosophy, and anthropology to literary scholarship. Poetry and Apocalypse gives evidence of the importance of literature and literary hermeneutics to religion, philosophy, and anthropology.”—Dorothy Z. Baker, Comparative Literature Studies

” . . .  a performed negative theology. At such wakes and festivals, it is the praxis of recursive conversations—Poetry and Apocalypse being an excellent example—that disclose, indirectly, possibilities of transcendent openness.”—Larry D. Bouchard, Religion and Literature

“Poetry and Apocalypse will appeal to critics who credit a Christian interpretation of Joyce’s texts in part because its premises are carefully argued and theoretically balanced.” —Lee A. Jacobus, James Joyce Quarterly

“The importance of Poetry and Apocalypse resides in the clarity of Franke’s views of the necessary relations between literature and theology as well as the authority that these views have by dint of being grounded in his deep knowledge of canonical sacred and secular literature over the centuries. I should also say that Franke is his own man; he does not represent a ‘school’ or even a fashion, and his book marks an original contribution to the growing field of religion and literature.”                              —Kevin Hart, Monash University and University of Notre Dame

“This is an ambitious book. It takes on big topics, difficult writers, and a range of discourses. Authors who venture into topics like ‘poetry and apocalypse’ are usually comfortable with big ideas and forays into theoretic discourse that shy away from concrete literary analysis. Among Franke’s virtues is his ability to do both in a prose that is graceful and accessible.”   —Peter Hawkins, Boston University

“Franke’s theory of poetic language as negative theology is persuasive and helpful in illuminating the complex relationship between religion and literature.”                —Joel Harter, The Journal of Religion

The Corrigan Literary Review:

Just as intense a vision of the religious and postsecular function of poetic form comes through in William Franke’s discussion of “apocalypse,” a religious term meaning revealing in the original Greek. “If apocalypse really takes place,” he writes, “then, it does so not in language at all. Apocalypse is the moment when language at its limits shatters and all beings are speechlessly present and open to one another, the moment when all articulable differences are surpassed.” He has the “conviction” that such a “‘moment’ outside of and before speech” pushes back against our world’s imperialistic tendencies. But “such a speechless openness cannot be engineered by any logical process or protocol, but rather can be induced through the agency of poetry that bears language to its point of rupture.” Therefore, “we need to see how poetry by its nature opens toward what lies beyond the grasp of our language.” For Franke, the religious power of poetic form, beyond words and concepts and content, pushes us toward what can basically be described as a postsecular vision, a place where “understanding and tolerance among human beings committed to radically disparate belief systems can be fostered” (x-xi).

Paul T. Corrigan, “The Postsecular and Literature: A Review of Scholarship,” https://corriganliteraryreview.wordpress.com/2015/05/17/the-postsecular-and-literature/ Accessed 4/28/2020.

Colby Dickinson, “Are the Only True Atheists Actually Theologians?” Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion Commons

Translation into German by Michael Sonntag and Ursula Liebing:


Dichtung und Apokalypse:
Theologische Erschliessungen der dichterischen Sprache

Publishers Webpage

Aus dem Amerikanischen von Ursula Liebing und Michael Sonntag
Salzburger Theologische Studien Band 39
University of Salzburg Studies in Theology, vol. 39 (Intercultural 6)
Insbruck: Tyrolia Press, 2011
ISBN 978-3-7022-3050-0
(216 pages)
Dichtung und Apokalypse sucht nach den Prämissen eines Dialogs zwischen den Kulturen, insbesondere zwischen religiös-fundamentalistischen und modern-säkularistischen Haltungen. Die These ist, dass Dialog generell, um wirklich offen zu sein, sich für die Möglichkeit der religiösen Apokalypse öffnen muss. Eine solche Möglichkeit lässt sich am besten über die dichterische Erfahrung verstehen. In diesem Sinne wird die christliche Epik in die Tradition der prophetischen Überlieferung eingebunden und als eine Säkularisierung der theologischen Offenbarung ausgelegt. Ihre Sichtweise besteht dennoch auf dem wesentlich apokalyptischen Charakter von Wahrheit und ihrer Erschließung im Laufe der Geschichte. Die oft vernachlässigte Negative Theologie, die dieser apokalyptischen Überlieferung zu Grunde liegt, bietet den Schlüssel für ein neues und offenes Verständnis von Apokalypse in ihrer stets zugleich dichterischen wie religiösen Natur.

WILLIAM FRANKE ist Professor für Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft und für Religionswissenschaften an der Vanderbilt University in Tenessee / USA. Nach abgeschlossenen Magisterstudien in Philosophie und Theologie an der Oxford University und einem Doktorat in Komparatistik an der Stanford University war er Alexander von Humboldt-Stipendiat an der Universität Potsdam und Gastprofessor für Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft an der University of Hong Kong, sowie zuletzt Fulbright Professor am Zentrum Theologie Interkulturell und Studium der Religionen an der Universität Salzburg (2008). Zu seinen Publikationen zählen philosophische Betrachtungen über Dante und verschiedene Dichter und Denker von den Griechen (z.B. Homer, Damascius) bis zur Postmoderne (Derrida, Celan etc.), sowie als bisherige Monographien Dante’s Interpretive Journey (University of Chicago Press, 1996) und On What Cannot Be Said: Apophatic Discourses in Philosophy, Religion, Literature and the Arts (University of Notre Dame Press, 2007).

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