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Christianity, Literature, and Language

Ways of Knowing in Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi

When: June 8, 2022, 2:45 pm - Wednesday

Where: Ezell 232

Session 2

Session Abstract

Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi presents readers with the enigmatic world of the House—the setting in which the novel’s eponymous protagonist dwells. Clarke invites readers into the House with Piranesi as our guide, and it is through the lens of his earnestness, wonder, and attentiveness that we begin to learn more about this mysterious place and the strange events that happen there. This session considers the ways Piranesi comes to know things about the House, himself, and the truth of the wider world, exploring these ways of knowing alongside theological, philosophical, and literary resources that reveal the beauty of Piranesi’s world.

 

Paper Abstracts

Julie Ooms, Missouri Baptist University, “The Ethics of Intellectual Appetite in Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi”

Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi asks readers to consider the ethics of intellectual appetite. In this paper, I use Paul J. Griffith’s Intellectual Appetite: A Theological Grammar to argue that Piranesi presents readers with two different ways of hungering for knowledge, one virtuous, one vicious. Dr. Ketterley is a vicious practitioner of curiositas, so hungry to dominate the fantastical world he has discovered that he is willing to enslave another man to do it. This other man, Matthew Rose Sorenson, whom Ketterley calls “Piranesi,” practices studiositas: he learns out of a desire to know that is grounded in love.

 

Matthew Bardowell, Missouri Baptist University, “The Scent of Faerie in Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi”

The setting of Susanna Clark’s Piranesi is a source of great mystery. The House and its seemingly endless series of halls are replete with suggestions of a larger truth. As readers, we wonder with him: What is the House? How does it communicate its significance? To answer these questions, I will consider the House as a representative of the faerie world. This paper reflects on J. R. R. Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-Stories” to show how the House offers peril, escape, and consolation which enable Piranesi to recover life-altering truths about the House and himself.

 

David Mahfood, Johnson University, “Rectitude and the Truth of Things: Anselm, Piranesi, and the Moral Value of Science”

In Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi, the title character exhibits an instinctive desire to catalogue, describe, and understand the objects of his world, and he self-consciously thinks of himself as a scientist. In this paper, I draw on Anselm of Canterbury’s account of truth as rectitude in his De Veritate in order to provide a broad ethical and metaphysical justification for Piranesi’s project, and to argue that Christians should pursue a right understanding of the world for the sake of the inherent truth in things, and in this way to strive for the rectitude of our own intellects in conformity with God.

 

Shawn Grant, Johnson University, “The Romantic Impulse in Piranesi: Wordsworth and the Beauty of the House”

Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi evokes the romantic projects of Coleridge and Wordsworth. Wordsworth, writing in a moment of transition, placed modern and pre-modern sensibilities beside one another, working out a depiction of the modern, buffered self in real-time. Clarke extends their project in a considered way. Using Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, I argue that Clarke dramatizes the romantic impulse by creating a character who receives the imbued meaning of his world but must learn to do so in a modern context.

Speakers

Matthew Bardowell, Missouri Baptist University, Convener

  • Julie Ooms, Missouri Baptist University, “The Ethics of Intellectual Appetite in Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi”
  • Matthew Bardowell, Missouri Baptist University, “The Scent of Faerie in Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi”
  • David Mahfood, Johnson University, “Rectitude and the Truth of Things: Anselm, Piranesi, and the Moral Value of Science”
  • Shawn Grant, Johnson University, “The Romantic Impulse in Piranesi: Wordsworth and the Beauty of the House”

2023 CSC Info Coming Soon

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James Cone with conferee at the CSC in 2017

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US Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith delivering the CSC plenary address

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David Brooks engaging conferees during breakfast at the CSC

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