Wonder Strikes

Approaching Aesthetics and Literature with William Desmond

By Steven E. Knepper
Foreword by William Desmond

Subjects: Philosophy, Aesthetics, Literature, Religion, Art
Hardcover : 9781438489551, 293 pages, July 2022
Paperback : 9781438489568, 293 pages, January 2023

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Table of contents

Foreword by William Desmond


Part I: Incarnate Wonder

1. Aesthetics in Flesh, Image, and Word

2. The Call of Beauty
Call and Response
Between Beauty and the Sublime
Will Beauty Save the World?

3. The Artist and the Between
Between Imitation and Creation
Between Inspiration and Skill
Between Tradition and the Individual Talent

4. Sacred Aesthetics
The Sacred in a Time of Serviceable Disposability
God's Grandeur
Poetry, Prayer, and the Unsayable
Asking Too Much, Asking Too Little

Part II: Reading in the Between

5. Epiphanic Encounters
Criticism in the Metaxu
From Recognition to Epiphany
Epiphanic Things
The Poetry of Place

6. Tragic Howls and Being at a Loss
Macbeth, the Sleepless Tyrant
Lear, the Sleepwalking Sovereign
Philosophy at a Loss

7. Redemptive Laughs and Festive Rebirth
Laughter and Affirmation
Ahab's Absent Laugh
Can Philosophy Laugh at Itself?
The Festive in a Time of Need
Scrooge and Festive Anamnesis


Name Index

The first book-length examination of the prominent contemporary philosopher William Desmond's approach to aesthetics, art, and literature.


William Desmond argues that philosophy, religion, and art begin in wonder. Desmond is widely recognized for his original metaphysics and his provocative philosophy of religion. Desmond's extensive writings on aesthetics, art, and literature, however, have received much less attention. Wonder Strikes is the first book-length examination of these dimensions of Desmond's thought. It offers nuanced commentary on his treatment of beauty and the sublime; his accounts of tragedy and comedy; and his argument that, having asked "too much" of art in modernity, we now ask "too little." Desmond claims that art, philosophy, and religion must recover their ancient kinship and their shared roots in wonder if they are to counter the destructive instrumentalism of our time.

Steven E. Knepper is Associate Professor in the Department of English, Rhetoric, and Humanistic Studies at the Virginia Military Institute.


"Wonder Strikes would serve very well as an overall introduction to my work, as well as a particular illumination of its aesthetic concerns, and all through the elegant writing of a thinker whose attentive mind and searching grasp add to the exploration their own eloquent thoughtfulness. I would recommend the work as an excellent introduction in those terms, and yet it has its own singular register, which comes across through its special focus on aesthetic concerns." — William Desmond, from the foreword

"Knepper has written a beautifully crafted study of the work of William Desmond, particularly the thread within the distinguished Irish philosopher's work concerned with how and why philosophy relates to art and religion and how it is impoverished without having constructive relations with them, even if it is not determined by either. Wonder Strikes is not only informative and judicious in its selections of topics in Desmond and apt in quotation, it is throughout a pleasure to read." — Cyril O'Regan, University of Notre Dame

"A dynamic cross-section between art, philosophy, and religion requires a kind of existential attunement. One's voice from a particular field—if it is to say anything meaningful about that mysterious space of transcendence—must be open to irreducible richness of multiplying voices from the other fields. Only then, one can strike a harmony where one's reciprocity with others is a liberating symphony. Knepper's Wonder Strikes is saturated with such transformative voicing of the intermediation between literature, philosophy, and religion. More than just illustrating Desmond's concepts, his attentiveness to the literary particulars shows a distinct way forward for metaxological thinkers." — Takeshi Morisato, University of Edinburgh

"Two decades after the 'religious turn' in literary studies, Steven E. Knepper reports on its various pathways and evaluates its affordances and limitations. William Desmond's thought illuminates this investigation with the critical insight that art, philosophy, and religion necessarily interanimate each other. Knepper is the rare scholar capable of taking this directive and cultivating it across these disciplines, plus political and social theory. Much more than an adroit guide to Desmond's oeuvre, Wonder Strikes critically synthesizes recent ventures in the reenchantment of the world while constructively articulating key features of this adventure: epiphany, tragedy, and laughter. In his lucid, creative animation of recent theoretical, theological, and philosophical insights, Knepper inspires the kind of delight and wonder with which David Lodge's Small World must have struck its academic readers in 1984. Like that 'academic romance,' Wonder Strikes makes happy beach reading for anybody who intuits that literature, philosophy, and religion need each other." — Ryan McDermott, Associate Professor of English, University of Pittsburgh, and director of the Genealogies of Modernity Project