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Literature, Theology, Survival

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The Hermeneutics of Hell

Abstract

Despite their marginalisation in mainstream Christianities after the European Enlightenment, the figure of the demon endures within modern literature and popular culture, its many artistic “lives” standing in stark opposition to its “deaths” in both the field and narrative frame of Christian theology. Perhaps two of the most famous and influential of literary devils are Milton’s Satan and Goethe’s Mephistopheles. Yet while the former rages against his vanquishedness and strives to undo creation, the latter languishes in the half-life of damnation, half-heartedly tempting those deemed already lost. Using a poststructuralist framework drawn from Jacques Derrida, this chapter analyzes both Milton’s Satan and Goethe’s Mephistopheles as occupying a site categorized by Derrida’s concept of survival—a spectral “living on” present both after and before actual death—one in which the sovereign decree of perdition marks both their ‘death’ in theology and their ‘lives’ in literature.

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O’Donnell, S.J. (2017). Literature, Theology, Survival. In: Thuswaldner, G., Russ, D. (eds) The Hermeneutics of Hell. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-52198-5_8

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