Books and Book Reviews: July 2002 Archives

My, What a BlogDay But


But I still have several other issues to develop. More tomorrow, but the final word of the day is in response to a comment by TS regarding John Updike.

I find Updike's work exceedingly uneven. I believe he is critically overvalued (and I know Tom Wolfe would agree). And I have to admit to always having been mystified by his characterization as a "Christian Novelist." All I have been able to conclude is that perhaps Mr. Updike belongs to one of the more "progressive" branches of mainline protestant churches. However, I don't spend much time puzzling over it as my rule of life is "Remove the beam in your own eye before you go after the mote in your brother's." But I do admit to being somewhat puzzled.

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Catholic or Not?


Before the opportunity slips by, I did want to comment on a notion presented in Video Meliora. The blogmaster there writes (TS, please pardon me quoting so much):

I recall a convert friend who read Percy's "Love in the Ruins" totally differently after he converted and "Love in the Ruins" had absolutely no part in the conversion. Percy was a sort of Christian existentialist, which seems to me almost a contradiction in terms. Don't get me wrong, I love reading Percy, and am deeply appreciative that someone so talented was also a believer - but I wonder how truly "Catholic" his novels can be considered when an agnostic sees them in sync with his/her worldview. I realize the purpose of art is not to proselytize. But this is sort of personal to me since I have agnostic friends who could seemingly be reached by art - they are hugely turned off by a more direct approach - but art that to me is transcendent to them, well...

Now, we'll get to some of this when we start talking about what makes a Catholic novel. For the moment, however, it serves simply to say that the merit of a work, or its Catholicity, cannot necessarily be judged by the misinterpretation, or valid interpretation outside of the author's intent applied by the reader. Percy's work is no less Catholic because it can be read and enjoyed by someone outside the fold than say the Bible is because atheists enjoy the poetry of Song of Songs or the Psalms. The interpretation of the work is not the work itself and because of the infinite mutability of the language someone can force any work into the procrustean bed of interpretation and make of it what they wish. This is not to say that we cannot communicate (as some deconstructionist critics would have it). It is to say that by participating in the act of creation,. we join with the creator and are stuck with the Creator's rules, which include such annoying things as free will and conscience. We do not create ex nihilo but out of our fallenness and so the work is not perfect and does not convey perfectly our sense of things. However, it does not interefere with the work being Catholic or non-Catholic, supporting Christian values or tearing them down.

It works also in the opposite way. For example the soaring poetry of Percy Shelley is penned by an atheist, and yet much of it can be read and interpreted in a Christian context, a point no doubt vexing to Shelley himself.

More on this later, as we discuss the Catholic Novel, but I think this makes a start. Thanks TS for the provocative thoughts.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Books and Book Reviews category from July 2002.

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