Great Exaggerations

"Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning."
—Romans 15:4

By the early 1960's, conditions in America and in Europe had proceeded far enough that pundits and intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic felt free to confirm what they referred to as "the death of God." At about the same time, a coterie of American academic literary critics, inspired by others of their kind in France, were preparing to announce "The Death of Literature." Since God and literature have been more or less inseparable at least as far back as the ancient Hebrew prophets, it was perhaps unsurprising that the two deaths should have been announced concurrently. On the other hand, one may wonder whether people for whom such venerable traditions as God and literature are dead may not rather be said themselves to have died in some essential part. Alvin Kernan, Avalon Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Princeton University, takes a less prophetic and more Olympian view of the matter. The God problem, first of all, does not exist for him within the context of The Death of Literature, the Word and works of art constructed by human beings of words being apparently unconnected in his mind at the metaphysical—or indeed at any—level. (On the one occasion Kernan does make reference to what he calls "the holy," he has in...

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