The Expense of Spirit in Postmodern Times: Between Nihilism and Belief


  • Ihab Hassan


William Blake's wife used to complain that she saw little of Mr. Blake's company because he was always in Paradise. No doubt, he was among Spiritual Causes. But this is not a current complaint - indeed, many nowadays would find the complaint quaint, if not downright silly. Why is that? The question engages the plight, the expense, of spirit in postmodern times. But how give that informing question direction and shape? The essay proceeds in four stages as its argument threads between two epigraphs, the space between nihilism and belief, narrower than a needle's eye. It first recalls briefly the history of spirit in an earlier age; then it seeks to give spirit pragmatic definition in our own; next, it considers (in two sections) the forms, uses, trials of spirit at present; after which, it confronts the issue of nihilism, that icy absence of belief which sometimes masks faith. I conclude by facing not faith but its exorbitant demands, its death grip, its dying grip, on our lives.