Volume 73, Issue 1, Winter 2021
Modernism and the Turn Toward Religion
Wells, Chesterton, and a Theology of Semi-detached Reading
This article engages with the work of John Plotz on our experience of being caught between two worlds as we read—a world of fiction that partially absorbs us, and the actual world, to which we remain attached. Noting the lack of attention Plotz pays to religion as he writes about semi-detachment, I respond by developing a theology of semidetached reading. To think through the contribution that theology offers, I turn to two works of fiction: H. G. Wells’s “The Plattner Story” (1896) and G. K. Chesterton’s The Man who was Thursday: A Nightmare (1908). In doing so, I recognize the very different ways in which Wells and Chesterton tease out the strange mix of secular and religious experience that is so important for those who want to understand religion in the modern world. As I go on to argue, paying attention to theology allows to register particular narratives in which people traverse these worlds and seek to hold different threads of meaning together. A theology of semidetached reading can also shed light on the ways in which different worlds are configured, as well as helping us to navigate points of conflict as we move between them.