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Heaven & Nature 2020 videoconference

Virtually from Corpus Christi College, Oxford
at 13:30 GMT on 7 November 2020

Six discussion papers                             View / read as PDF
Brief descriptions:

Paradise Recalled: Echoes of delight in Le Jeu d'Adam
Mike Nolan

The gift of life to Adam and Eve involves consciousness: of themselves, the  environment in which they are placed and their relationship with God. There is an alliance initiated by God that unites the key elements of this consciousness, symbolised by the fruitfulness of the garden. In the twelfth century play, Le Jeu d'Adam the fecundity of God in Nature, in union with humankind is palpable. Harmony flows from the Edenic balance of God, Nature and humanity. Adam and Eve's rebellion, when they attempt to create new independent selves, destroys this harmony. Yet while the alliance is challenged, it is not broken.This paper explores the significance of the environment of The Garden of Eden which is strikingly represented in Le Jeu d'Adam and explores how questions of fruitfulness are confronted by rebellion, alienation and disruption.

Dr Mike Nolan is a lecturer in the Department of Creative Arts and English at La Trobe University Melbourne. His teaching and research interests include the literature, especially plays, of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods; French plays of the seventeenth century and recovering the voices of French peasants of eighteenth century France. He has recently completed a translation of the casket sonnets attributed to Mary, Queen of Scots; and has performed and written lyrics/music for a CD of modern hymns

'The birds that live i’th’ field’: Heaven and Nature in The Duchess of Malfi
Catherine Lisak

Webster’s tragedy hastens to make a widowed duchess break away from her brother’s authority – or ‘law’ – by marrying again. By a sensational tour de force of performance, the Duchess embraces the uncertainty of her new state where heaven and nature meet, claiming to be ‘going into a wilderness / Where [she] shall find nor path nor friendly clue / To be [her] guide.’ (1.2.274-6) Her flight from Ferdinand’s clutches into the unknown quickly leads onto scenes of torment, panic and pain, as Ferdinand ultimately catches on. The Duchess and Antonio are forced to go their separate ways in order to flee Ferdinand’s uncontainable thirst for vengeance. As they share their final scene together, the duchess once again reflects on their fate and fortune through the lens of heavenly nature: ‘The birds that live i’th’ field / On the wild benefit of nature, live / Happier than we; for they may choose their mates’ (3.5.17-19). This paper explores the way the The Duchess of Malfi stages human anxiety by confronting and challenging varying views of Providence, authority, freedom and free will through a set of ideological and metaphorical references to scriptural nature.

Reference: Marcus, Leah, The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster, Arden Early Modern Drama, Bloomsbury, 2009.

Catherine Lisak teaches British Literature at the Université Bordeaux Montaigne. She is the editor of Richard II for the Internet Shakespeare Editions. She has recently translated several short stories by Virginia Woolf (for the éditions rue Saint Ambroise, 2019), contributed an entry on ‘Man in Literature’ to the Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Representation (vol. 17, 2019), and published a monograph on The Duchess of Malfi (Atlande, 2020).

Let Heaven and Nature Sing: Creation and the New Creation in the hymns of Isaac Watts
Daniel Johnson

Following the publication of his hymns in 1707 and his psalms in 1719, Isaac Watts (1674-1748) became the preeminent anglophone hymnist. Within his hymns, the theme of creation appears frequently. Creation featured prominently in early modern and post-Reformation discourse, as the natural theology of the created realm served to support the doctrine of the revelation of God in Scripture. This paper discusses these themes in Watts’ hymns:

Creation as an agent of praise
Creation as a theological metaphor
Creation as a shadow of the new creation

The analysis of Watts’ hymns is located in his theological prose, as well as the wider doctrines of creation in early enlightenment and evangelical thought.

Daniel Johnson is a PhD candidate in the History department at the University of Leicester, studying the intellectual context and theological content of Isaac Watts’ 1707 publication Hymns and Spiritual Songs. Alongside this, he is Head of Worship Studies at Nexus ICA, Coventry..

Revolution and the Escape from Natural History in Flaubert’s Sentimental Education and Temptation of Saint Anthony
Nicholas Olson

This paper looks at Flaubert’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony and the Fontainebleau section of Sentimental Education as responses to the apocalyptic terror of the June Days and the Paris Commune. Looking beyond the bêtises of contemporary history, Flaubert argues that modernity presents us with two temptations. The first is the notion of history as an overwhelming force that conjures the dead to overmaster the living – the alibi of tyrants and terrorists. The second is the dream of Hesperidian unity of nature and society, represented in the pastoral Fontainebleau. There, Frédéric encounters the goddess Diana, who combines both – as sylvan huntress and guardian of the passage to the underworld. Saint Anthony recapitulates these temptations as a procession of idols, beasts, and sterile natural philosophy. Flaubert’s redemption is then a withdrawal into iconoclastic stoicism. His heaven found in that bon mot the Logos, which can only betray itself in idolatrous materiality.

Nicholas Olson is a PhD candidate in comparative literature at the City University of New York Graduate Center. His work is primarily in British and French modernism, specifically the novel. Deeply concerned with the relationship between form and the historical imagination, his work makes use of close stylistic analysis, phenomenologies of reading, and the ideological investigations of critical theory. His dissertation, End of History, a history of ends: Modernist Aesthetics as a Crisis of Futurity, examines the work of Flaubert and Joyce in the light of the democratization of the public sphere and the limitations of the realist novel.

John Crowe Ransom: The ‘World’s Body’ and the God of the Old Testament
Joseph Kuhn

At the centre of the work of John Crowe Ransom, the southern United States poet-critic, is an attempt to understand the genre of the pastoral. Ransom saw the human impulse towards the pastoral as the primary impulse in both poetry and the religious attitude. This was because Ransom thought that the unique ‘ontological’ role of poetry, and particularly varieties of pastoral poetry, was to make visible the singular, and thickly material, properties of the ‘world’s body’ (or Nature). This paper examines the central work in trying to understand Ransom’s thought on the pastoral: his much overlooked treatise God Without Thunder (1930). In this work Ransom undertakes a defence of Old Testament fundamentalism against modernist religion. The paper tries to show how Ransom defends the Hebraic attitude towards Nature over the Greek as a more deeply religious response to the dinglich, and uncompromisingly ‘tragic’, stuff of the world.

Joseph Kuhn is University Professor of American Literature at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland. He is author of Allen Tate: A Study in Southern Modernism and the Religious Imagination (2011). In 2019-2020 he has published articles on Robert Penn Warren’s drama Proud Flesh and The King’s Two Bodies (Journal of American Studies), on the Virgilian origins of William Faulkner’s A Fable (Austrian Academy of Sciences Press), and on the slave swamp in nineteenth century southern literature (Swamp Souths, Louisiana State University Press). He is currently working on a manuscript on the literature of the transatlantic South.

‘Let heaven and nature sing’ in poems by Malcolm Guite, Wendell Berry, and John Terpstra
Deborah Bowen

When Christians pray in the Lord’s Prayer that God’s will may be done ‘on earth as it is in heaven’, many may think of earth and heaven as two distinct places, one material, one spiritual. But the last scene in the Bible is about the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth. And in ‘Joy to the world, the Lord is come,’ Isaac Watts takes from Psalm 96 that the Lord’s coming will bring seas and fields and trees to exultation, as much as people. This paper considers three contemporary Christian poets who describe a singing of heaven with nature. Malcolm Guite writes about the beginning and end of Jesus’ earthly life in two 2012 sonnets; Wendell Berry writes in ‘Leavings’ (2011) about the end of his own earthly life; John Terpstra gives us in a 2013 poem a magic-real vision of how heaven-on-earth may come to be.

Deborah Bowen retired from full-time teaching at Redeemer University, Ontario, in June 2017, but continues to teach part-time. She has published two books and over thirty book chapters and articles; she regularly reviews Canadian poetry, and her present research involves the imaginative interface between poetry and ecology – for the first-fruits of this work see https://www.redeemer.ca/wp-content/uploads/Poetry-and-Ecology-Project.pdf.  Deborah is now working on a curated anthology of Ontarian poetry called Poetry in Place: Poetry and Environmental Hope in a Southern Ontario Bioregion.


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The Christian Literary Studies Group in association with the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship