A LABORIOUS 'NEW BIBLE': CARLYLE'S RELIGIOUS SEMIOSIS

BRYCE J CHRISTENSEN, Marquette University

Abstract

Despite his repudiation of Christian doctrine as a young man, Carlyle persisted in using scriptural language frequently, especially in Sartor Resartus. Some critics maintain that this language should be interpreted as heterodox but essentially Christian expressions. Given that Carlyle rejected all of the central tenets of Christianity, this is not plausible. Those commentators who do see Carlyle's place as outside The Judeo-Christian tradition have not been able to give a full explanation of the meaning of his scriptural terminology. In part, Carlyle's reworking of religious language must be seen as part of a larger artistic and cultural effort to redefine theological and scriptural terms in psychological and immanent terms. This cultural shift can be traced in the Oxford English Dictionary and in Johnson's Dictionary. Modern semiotics, as expounded principally by Umberto Eco, provides a framework within which to analyze Carlyle's religious language as an innovative and ideological discourse. The hidden "pragmatic reasons" (Eco's term) for Carlyle's evasiveness on key points of his ideology may be found by examining his metaphysics within the analyses provided by Lezsek Kolakowski and Alasdair MacIntyre. The comparison of Shelley's early neo-Christianity to Carlyle's new religion reveals that openly avowed subjectivism and amorality, denounced by Carlyle, actually rested on Carlyle's own premises. Comparison of Carlyle's religious thought to Coleridge's uncovers several unresolved philosophical and social weaknesses in Carlyle's new creed. These problems were especially acute because Carlyle tried to solve the Protestant problem of social authority with none of Protestantism's creedal resources. A sequential examination of Carlyle's work after Sartor reveals the unraveling of his religious semiosis and its degeneration into bare authoritarianism.

Recommended Citation

CHRISTENSEN, BRYCE J, "A LABORIOUS 'NEW BIBLE': CARLYLE'S RELIGIOUS SEMIOSIS" (1984). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI8502587.
http://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI8502587

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