Negativity and the Theopoetic Imagiantion

Postmodernity and secularity have combined to reshape and expand possibilities for theopoetics beyond their initial purview. Rather than a reliance on symbols, which participate in a “depth dimension” toward which they point, contemporary works and understandings of theopoetics provide spaces and interpretations of “God” and “art” that are grounded in absence and negativity, rather than a sense of positive presence. At the same time, these works do not leave the imagination with a sense of nothing, or nothingness; instead, we would like to argue that these works generate and expand the capacity of the imagination toward thinking nothings-in-particular.

Daniel Boscaljon will contrast poetry, in which language gathers an idea, with narrative, in which absence and spaces are more important than the matter of any one word or symbol, in order to offer a new version of narrative theology attuned to questions of the theopoetic imagination. Major theoretical references will include literary theorists who write on the Gothic and the Weird, two genres in literature that function to create a sense of terror/horror through negative presentations of the sublime. Building on short examples of this work (including contemporary productions of the Weird such as China Mieville’s recent fiction and the Netflix show “Stranger Things”), the paper will open up why the negative sublime is an important element for an understanding of the theopoetic imagination.