The Sleep of Christ: Incarnation and the Queerness of Heresy in W. H. Auden’s “For the Time Being”

in Religion and the Arts
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This article explores the circuitry between queerness, heresy, and materialist theology in a major literary work by W. H. Auden from the 1940s. Rather than banking on flights of erotic or ecstatic transcendence, Auden’s “For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio” (1944) intimates queer sexuality as a heretical form of immanence bound to theologies of the creaturely body. For Auden in the early 1940s, queerness is corporeal enough to organize a theological materialism—or, more spiritedly, a theo-corporeal-ism—whose roots lie in his considerable exposure to Søren Kierkegaard’s religious existentialism. This article reads Auden’s persistent elisions of Christ’s body in “For the Time Being” vis-à-vis the oratorio’s implicit investment in queer sexuality as theologically corporeal (i.e. theo-corporeal). Notwithstanding the paradox this implicitness poses for Auden’s queer exegetes, the article maintains that “For the Time Being” is hermeneutically compatible with Marcella Althaus-Reid’s key work on queer theology.

The Sleep of Christ: Incarnation and the Queerness of Heresy in W. H. Auden’s “For the Time Being”

in Religion and the Arts




KierkegaardAnxiety 43–44. Cf. Kierkegaard’s or pseudonymously Anti-Climacus’s The Sickness unto Death which furthers this “anxious” point with exquisitely tangled poise: “The human being is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation which relates to itself or that in the relation which is its relating to itself. The self is not the relation but the relation’s relating to itself. A human being is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite of the temporal and the eternal of freedom and necessity. In short a synthesis. A synthesis is a relation between two terms” (43).

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