Today is the pub day for the longest essay I’ve ever published: “The Far Invisible: Thomas Pynchon as America’s Theologian.” (
It’s paywalled, but of course you’ll want to subscribe.) (UPDATE: It has now escaped its paywall.)
How seriously do I mean my claim that Pynchon is a theologian? Is it a substantive claim or a provocation? I mean it pretty seriously.
Here’s how I would put it: Emmanuel Levinas famously argued that “ethics is first philosophy” – it is in ethics that philosophy should and indeed must begin. So, what is first theology? The answer to that question might not always be the same; it might vary by time and place. So I say that in our moment suspicion is first theology – a double suspicion, first that the rulers of this world are not the beneficent guides that they claim to be, and second that the world they rule is not the sum of things. (As Wendell Berry puts it, there are two economies, the market economy and the Kingdom of God.) Such suspicion is thus, in an endless doubling, skeptical and hopeful. These are also the two modes of prophecy, it seems to me.
This first theology is not, and cannot be, the whole of theology; but even Aquinas and Barth could not do the whole of theology, and we shouldn’t demand it of any theologian. I argue that Pynchon is our best guide to where and how theology in our time must begin; and one way to think of the task of theology for Christians is to ask what theological project should follow the one that Pynchon has inaugurated.
For those of you who are new to Pynchon — especially those who are intimidated by the thought of reading him — I’ve written an introductory guide just for you.
Finally (for now), just a couple of connections: I might want to put Pynchon in conversation with
- some of the Augustinian ideas I explored in my recent reflections on the Two Cities;
- my long-ago meditations on an Anthropocene theology, of which the Pynchon essay is an offshoot;
- Brad East’s provocative and generative review of Christopher Watkin’s book Biblical Critical Theory.
Much more to do here!