Literary Criticism

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Queer Fish

Christian Unreason from Darwin to Derrida

John Schad is Professor of Modern Literature at the University of Lancaster. He is the author of The Reader in the Dickensian Mirrors, Victorians in Theory, and Queer Fish: Christian Unreason from Darwin to Derrida (Sussex), the editor of Dickens Refigured, Thomas Hardy’s A Laodicean, and Writing the Bodies of Christ; and co-editor of life.after.theory.

At some point in the nineteenth century God died, the world grew secular, and Christianity became oppositional, irrational, odd, even queer – or so the story goes. To explore this narrative, John Schad offers a suitably odd or ‘unreasonable’ history of what Michel Foucault once called ‘Christian unreason’. This proves, in part, to be an unlikely, or uncanny history of Christian involvement in such radical movements and developments as Anarchism, Surrealism, the Absurd, deconstruction, and even quantum physics. It also proves to be a dark and guilty history of Christian involvement in such terrible things and events as slavery, forced conversion, Fenian bombs, the Great War, the Holocaust, and even Hiroshima.

The book begins with Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’ and its withdrawing ‘sea of faith’ as time and again Schad finds the figure of the Christian to be beached, a fish out of water – a queer fish, in fact. This, then, is a book that is all at sea – beginning with Charles Darwin’s voyage to ‘the extreme point of Christendom’ that was South America, and ending with James Joyce and Jacques Derrida in ‘the same boat’, the same ruined, but sea-going, boat that is the twentieth-century Western Church. In between: Karl Marx is to be found in 1848 watching the ‘waves of revolution’ withdraw in Berlin; Sigmund Freud stands incredulous by the shore of Loch Ness; Oscar Wilde is laughed at in the rain at Clapham Junction; and Charles Dickens visits a church for the drowned, a church for ship-wrecked corpses. Revisiting ‘Dover Beach’ is often an appalling event, an event of death; often it is comic or even absurd. Sometimes it is both at once.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-019-4
Hardback Price: £35.00 / $52.50
Release Date: July 2004
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-020-0
Paperback Price: £15.95 / $25.00
Release Date: July 2004
Page Extent / Format: 192 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


List of Illustrations

Introduction – ‘Dover Beached’

Part I Three Moderns

Boat Memory: Darwin’s Strange Sea of Faith
Dead fish
With a hammer
Galilean space

Marx and Angels: The Silly Lives of Saints and Communists

Stations: Freud’s Christian Trains of Thought
Station to station
War to war
Bridge out into

Part II Four Fish and an Umbrella

Subterranean Soul: Dickens’ Cryptic Church
Undermining the city
‘Not my father’s house’
Postscript, or the left umbrella

The Love that Dare Not Speak its Christian Name: Oscar Wilde’s Perversion
Badly cast

Joycing Derrida, Churching Derrida: Glas, église and Ulysses

Conclusion – ‘What has not yet happened’


Schad explores the ways in which echoes, traces, and revenants of Christianity survive almost subliminally in seven modern writers who might at first seem to have rejected Christianity’s major tenets. Using a frankly Derridean method of investigation through puns, allusions, echoes, and hints, Schad finds evidence of Christian symbolic fish in Darwin, and saints and confessions in Marx and Engels. Further, Freud hints at the disaffected European Jew as a Christ figure; Dickens’s use of church/crypt imagery offers a revealing religious presence; and Wilde, Joyce, and Derrida betray an association with the faith through their suggestive diction …To be savoured for its unexpected insights and intriguing comparisons. Recommended.

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