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Department of English, NTNU


This essay explores the substitution of the anonymous Other for the Judeo-Christian Other in the work of American poet W. S. Merwin. Abandoning the univocal salvation theme in Christian theology after the onset of the Vietnam War, Merwin envisions redemption in a vast, anonymous wilderness. The urge of apocalypse paves the way for new existential and ethical grounds outside the existing social order. The poet’s spirit disavows the Symbolic for an exodus into the ultra-phenomenal. This spirit is not only Hegelian/negative but also Levinasian/alternative; foreclosing the existing social order, it attempts to open a new dimension in the interval between humanity and divinity. As the essay tries to delineate, Merwin’s divine comedy does not end with the intrusion of the apocalyptic events of the 1960s but persists in a more devious andspectral mode in his later work, revealing his desire to follow the holy object that eludes Judeo-Christian thematization. Merwin’s radical passivity and deep piety toward the anonymous expose the inadequacy of both techné and epistēmē in confrontation with that which is other than self, logos, God, and named essence. Such a realization beyond knowledge perhaps affords postmodern subjects a chance to obtain individual freedom by forming deeper bonds to the immanent calling for abolishing “in-the name-of,” self-legitimating forms of theology, ideology, and religiosity.