The Construction of Narratives and Counternarratives in Responding to the Secular Problem of Evil
The “problem of evil” is newly urgent in our terrorized twenty-first century. We are struck once again, that is, as we have been all too often, by the possibility that our ability to reason morally, however sophisticated, may do little at best to lessen the portion of our experience taken up by intentional, at times atrocious cruelty. Far from having “placed [our]selves beyond good and evil,” as Nietzsche implored us to do well over a century ago, we have returned to the well-worn distinction over and over again, determined each time in spite of ourselves to find reason newly useful in favoring the former over the latter. We take refuge in the process, if not comfort as well, in the availability of new and overarching analytical frameworks. One such is the politically philosophical framework of Susan Neiman’s Evil in Modern Thought, according to which the problem of evil is indeed not only a secular problem, but, just as importantly, a modern and postmodern one as well, responses to which have fallen into roughly two categories, a tradition including both Rousseau and Hannah Arendt insists that “morality demands that we make evil intelligible,” and one including both Voltaire and Jean Amery insists that “morality demands that we don’t.” Another is the politically literary framework of Don DeLillo, according to whom “[t]rue terror is a language and a vision … [t]here [being] a deep narrative structure to terrorist acts, and they infiltrate and alter consciousness in ways that writers used to aspire to” (New York Times, May 19, 1991), in the wake of which “it is left to us to create the counternarrative” (“In the Ruins of the Future,” The Guardian, December 22, 2001). Enlightening each in their own right, they may be all the more so seen as mutually clarifying.
Keywords: Secular Problem of Evil, Narrative Structure, Narratives and counternarratives
Lecturer, Department of Philosophy, Rutgers University