The character of theology : Herman Melville and the masquerade of faith
My task in this thesis is to assess the theological implications of Herman Melville’s aesthetic understanding of the modern Subject as a duplicitous self-creation. Although Melville is obviously not a theologian, either by discipline or confession, I will argue we find in the complex theatricality of his life and fiction a means of articulating the potential of a truly radical theological thinking. Such a thinking, I argue, ‘unthinks’ all previous grounds, in order then to recast them imaginatively. For Melville, we shall see, that which identifies theology ‘as theology’ is not simply an unattainable, transcendent Thing-in-Itself. It is, on the contrary, the active emergence of unthinkable excess from the materialistic immanence of its self-characterisation. The aesthetico-theological thinking in view here highlights the necessity of a repositioning of theological discourse from the binary perspective that inevitably leads to self present identification, be it in a discipline or a confession, to the radically decentered / desacralized interdisciplinarity of theology becoming-itself. I seek to achieve this end by situating Melville close to the Germanic philosophical climate that was sweeping across the American literary landscape of the mid-19th century. Melville’s ambivalent attitude toward his own desire for self-destruction, and thus, too, his desire for a non-subjective common pool of artistic genius, is strictly parallel to his misgivings about Transcendentalism and Romanticism. It is, I argue, in the dialectical materialism of Friedrich Schelling that we find Melville’s philosophical analogue, in their respective efforts to understand the self-becoming of the Absolute / God / Truth. Here we find an aesthetico-theological thinking attuned to the creative inadequacy of self-becoming, whereby the finite inadequacy and perspectival duplicity of theological self-presentation carry the potential of a self-creativity that makes all things new. As such, for aesthetico-theological thinking there is truly nothing behind or beyond the materiality of experience - i.e., no Ding an sich or transcendental determination of being. And precisely for this reason the awareness and actualisation of something new, indeed something miraculous because it was previously impossible, is made possible.