Literary Criticism

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Shadows and Illuminations

Literature as Spiritual Journey

John Neary is a professor of English at St. Norbert College in Wisconsin, USA; he received degrees at the University of Notre Dame and the University of California, Irvine. He has written two previous books on the topic of religion and literature – Something and Nothingness: The Fiction of John Updike and John Fowles and Like and Unlike God: Religious Imaginations in Modern and Contemporary Fiction.

Shadows and Illuminations examines literary texts from various genres – prose fiction, plays, film – in order to explore the way dark and enlightening spiritual journeys are presented in literature. Combining literary criticism with Jungian approaches, the analysis focuses on well known religious, spiritual and psychological writings, with special reference to the work of James Hillman.

Stanley Kubrick’s film Eyes Wide Shut and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic tale “Young Goodman Brown,” which present uncannily similar stories, exemplify the book’s theme: both are examples of a “dark-side” narrative. In each case a limited, somewhat naïve protagonist goes out, at night, into the darkness (the streets of New York in the case of Kubrick’s protagonist, the New England forest in the case of Hawthorne’s) and discovers things about himself and the world that he previously was unaware of. It is a disturbing discovery of deep imperfection and apparent perversity – an encounter with what Jungian psychology dubs “the shadow.” But it is also an experience of what Christian theologian Paul Tillich calls “depth,” which he considers an experience of groundless mystery that is no less than an encounter with whatever people refer to when using the word “God.” That a discovery of apparent perversity may be an illuminating experience of the divine is a paradox that lies at the heart of the mystery of each individual’s “shadow,” no longer to be considered as a bundle of repressed negativity but as a harbinger of growth and soul, a doorway to spiritual illumination. In Shadows and Illuminations this paradox of dark-side narratives – that shadow is illuminative – is explored in relation to a variety of classic and contemporary literary works.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-431-4
Hardback Price: £35.00 / $50.00
Release Date: January 2011
Page Extent / Format: 192 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


Preface — Journey to Darkness as Journey to Enlightenment


Glow in the Dark: The Journey to Hades

And What Can Be the Use of Him Is More Than I Can See

Illuminating Family Shadows

The Better Story


John Neary’s latest work is a sustained application of Post-Jungian theory to a wide variety of literary and cinematic texts. His consistent hypothesis is that only by dissolving the dichotomy between spiritual darkness and commonly accepted aspirations regarding spiritual enlightenment (light) can true understanding and personal growth occur. Recognition of the ‘shadow’ in personal identity allows one to confront, own and control subliminal aspects of one’s nature that would otherwise be repressed or become destructive. Both the extremes of repression and complete licence in response to the ‘shadow’, Neary asserts, result in serious limitations to spiritual growth. One truly finds God when one learns to ‘relax in the midst of chaos’ and accept that the contrary elements within one’s being are interdependent and ultimately transformative.
... Neary supports his hypothesis with close reference to an eclectic range of theorists. Pema Chödrön, an American Buddhist nun, John S. Dunne, Catholic theologian, and James Hillman, post-Jungian psychologist, provide differing viewpoints on this central proposition, ‘that journeys to the dark side’, contrary to common belief, can also be productive and life enhancing.

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