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Kenogaia (A Gnostic Tale)

Kenogaia (A Gnostic Tale)

By David Bentley Hart

434 pp

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About the Book

The “genre” of the modern Gnostic novel encompasses an especially eclectic range of works. With this book—a fantasy by turns dark, absurd, comic, frantic, and lyrical—David Bentley Hart joins a company that includes figures as diverse as Georges Bernanos, Anatole France, David Lindsay, Philip K. Dick, Patrick White, Umberto Eco, William Gaddis, Harold Bloom, Jorge Luis Borges, Vladimir Nabokov, John Crowley, and Philip Pullman. In Kenogaia, a clockwork universe, an oppressive global society of ever-present surveillance, and the coming of age of its protagonist, Michael Ambrosius, are all disrupted by the arrival of a mysterious child from beyond the stars. Modeled on the Gnostic Hymn of the Pearl, Hart’s tale is an imaginative exploration of the relation between good and evil, the difference between reality and illusion, the struggle to live life in truth, and the nature of spiritual existence. In these pages, Hart emerges as a master of mythopoesis even while spinning out a rollicking full-on adventure about friendship, loyalty, and the rescue of true goodness from a universe darkened by delusion.


“If you’ve ever sensed, deep down, that the world you think you inhabit is a screen between you and divine reality, you are already primed for what David Bentley Hart has lovingly prepared for us in Kenogaia. What have we lost, to be born into this world? And what might be required of each of us to awaken from our dream of life in this shadow of reality? Plashing about in this thrill of a tale, I rediscovered, bit by bit, just what I have had to sacrifice in order to grow up.”


author of The Light in the Piazza and Reckless and Other Plays


“David Hart’s Kenogaia is many things—gnostic fairytale, satire of ecclesial hierarchy, anarchist comedy of terrors. But mostly, it is a rollicking good story, replete with shapeshifting wolves, heretical astronomers, nightmarish river journeys, scheming sorcerers, and ten thousand other magical tricks and treats. Hart is as erudite and mellifluous as ever, but make no mistake: this is a classic fantasy novel, to be shelved alongside those of Ursula Le Guin and David Lindsay.”


author of Walkman and Alien vs. Predator


“David Bentley Hart is the most significant living theologian, and he’s also certainly the most deft at turning a phrase and crafting a narrative. Contra Plato, Hart knows that there is no wisdom without poetry; contra Calvin, he understands that without beauty we can never ascend to God. His new book Kenogaia (A Gnostic Tale) is the opus of a thinker at the height of his abilities, a masterful embodiment of the philosophical novel, and a perfect synthesis of fiction and metaphysics. Kenogaia, as both gnostic conjuration and orphic incantation, is an initiation into the mysteries for our present moment.”


author of Binding the Ghost: Theology, Mystery, and the Transcendence of Literature (forthcoming)


“When Aristotle wrote that the soul never thinks without images, could he have been anticipating the phantasmata of David Bentley Hart’s brilliant Gnostic fantasy? What flickers through this gripping tale of awakening and coming very quickly of age casts its sublunary light on adolescent anxiety, celestial visitation, institutional mendacity, and a thoroughgoing demiurgical wickedness that dwells in the hearts of men (and wolves). But there is light in darkness. And the Pleroma beyond the spheres (we are assured) contains everything. What a book! I raise my phosphorion in salute to Kenogaia.”


author of The Sampo and Phosphorescence of Thought

“There are few philosophical-theological genres to which David Bentley Hart has not put his hand: always with gusto, characteristic brilliance, and spectacular results. His latest effort, a novel—and a Gnostic one at that—is no exception: Kenogaia is a work of outstanding literary craftsmanship, exuberant imagination, and rare religious insight. Hart brings forth a world at once alien (as any Gnostic universe should be) and frighteningly familiar, which makes his book such a compelling read. Inspired by Hymn of the Pearl, one of the finest Gnostic texts to have come down to us, Hart’s novel breathes new life and meaning into the ancient art of mythmaking.”


author of Dying for Ideas: The Dangerous Lives of the Philosophers


“Written in evocative prose that wears its learning lightly and combines fairy tale simplicity with the author’s inimitable flashes of verbal flair, Kenogaia is an enchanting work. It delights also in its surprising play with genres and familiar allusions to Gnostic myth and classical cosmology. Like a telescope, it opens out onto a cosmic vision; but, not stopping there, takes us on a journey full of adventure, beauty, and terror, while wisely subverting aspects of its setting, in a conclusion that exceeds, even while redeeming, our expectations.”


author of Chains of Snow and The Sepia Carousel

About the Author

DAVID BENTLEY HART’s most recent book before this one was Roland in Moonlight (Angelico); his immediately forthcoming books are Tradition and Apocalypse (Baker Academic) and You Are Gods (Notre Dame). His online journal is Leaves in the Wind at

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