Literature: November 2002 Archives

Distributed Proofreaders (found here) could use your help. The concept behind Distributed Proofreaders is to proof public-domain e-texts for posting on the Gutenberg Site. Past projects have included things like Pope's translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey as well as a great many others. If you are interested in e-texts, in proofreading, or simply in getting a glimpse into the world of those of use who read nearly everything on a Palm OS computer--drop in here and see what's going on.

(Yes, I carry about 100 different books, articles, and collections on my Handspring with memory expansion. I want to get a machine that will take compact flash or smart media and load it up with complete Shakespeare, some lengthy anthologies of poetry I've found around the net and other more guilty goodies (such as the "Barsoom" Series of Burroughs and much of the complete opus of H. Rider Haggard--author of She, King Solomon's Mines [written on a dare] and Allan Quatermain. I could also put on A.E.W. Mason's Four Feathers, much of Stevenson [who I've come to like better than I originally did after reading his spirited defense of Fr. Damien], and yes, Chesterton--Currently I'm carrying Heretics, Orthodoxy, The Man Who Was Thursday, St. Thomas Aquinas, and some selected essays and poetry.

Bookmark and Share

Literature as Evangelism


I have thought about this a long time. I have thought about it since the time that Gerard Manley Hopkins convinced me that Catholicism was the way to go. I don't recall precisely how it happened. What I remember is reading Hopkins in a Seminar on Victorian Poetry (taught by one of my most enthusiastic professors). Somehow a discussion evolved, or I read in an introduction to Hopkins that he believed in something called "The Real Presence." Now, I had slim to no notion of what this was, but the notion attracted me, and if the idea gave rise to the glorious poetry I was reading, then perhaps there was some validity to it, perhaps it warranted further investigation. Thus, through the work of Hopkins, and C.S. Lewis, I found my way back to the church of my youth (Southern Baptist), and from there to the Catholic Church.

Dubay makes a powerful argument in favor of beauty as evidence of God in the universe (The Evidential Power of Beauty) and the Holy Father is convinced that Artists, and by that I am certain that he means Artists in the broadest sense of the word, have a great deal to contribute both to the support of the faithful and to the evangelization of the unbeliever.

What then must be the essential ingredients of any work that might help people come to God. First and foremost, I would think, integrity--a grass-roots, at-the-bottom, fundamental commitment to telling the truth as you see it, even if that truth seems to run counter to God. For example, though Wallace Stevens spent much of his life as a professed Atheist, I think much of his poetry deals with the question of the existence of God, and by stating his case honestly, one sees hidden within the poetry the opposite case as well. Some have argued that "Sunday Morning" is the great atheistic paean. And yet the poetry is, as one would say, "Christ-Haunted." One gets the impression that "methinks the artist dost protest too much." That he struggles mightily to make his point only to fall back on ambiguity and uncertainty that ring with a certain theistic tone. The "Disillusionment at 10 O'Clock" appears to be about aesthetics (another obsession of Stevens's) but it can be read to being about the drabness of the world without the Divine Imagination. So truth will out if one is as honest as he or she could possibly be.

The second quality is accessibility. Geoffrey Hill may convert a PoMo, but the man on the street will take one look and answer with "Say what?" T.S. Eliot, in "Ash Wednesday", "Preludes", and "Prufrock" gives us a certain kind of accessibility and encouragement. Hopkins too, though he is quite difficult. Accessibility means the invitation to dine, not spoon-feeding. There must be something at the surface of the poem that is fundamentally attractive and which encourages the prospective convert to read the work. But the surface must not exhaust the purpose of the poem. It can't be a sing-songy rhyme that tells about how lovely are the daffodils and tulips scattered by the saint around the feet of God. A poem like that can work, but most often it becomes a Helen Steiner Rice catalog item.

The third quality is that the work must be literature. It must be much better written than the vast majority of the novels that are being issued from the Catholic Novel Mill. I take a glance and see that the work of Bud McFarlane has actually been given at least one and perhaps two awards for Catholic Writing and I am appalled. Perhaps if the award was for piety in print I would have less objection, but McFarlane's work needs work. The sentences are as sloppy as most of what I publish on this blog. When writing a blog, a certain amount of that is allowable, but when executing a novel it is an unforgivable sin. Catholic and Christian work needs to be judged by the same standards that are applied when one looks at any work of literature. If the work does not rise to that standard, it should be neither awarded nor exalted. There is no reason that a Catholic Writer cannot consistently produce the work of say a Ron Hansen or a Jon Hassler (at a minimum) or a Flannery O'Connor, Shusaku Endo, Graham Greene, or best of all an Evelyn Waugh. We no longer truly encourage writers of this sort. We award our awards to those who can be most "Catholic" or most overtly religious--not a good way to decide any artistic merit.

This is a start at thinking about what might go into poetry as evangelism. And in this impulse, it might be possible to reignite the epic impulse that too long has lain dead. Chesterton did write both "Lepanto" and "Ballad of the White Horse." I am not particularly fond of these as poetry--a trifle overcontrolled and stuffy (Chesterton's best work is by no means his poetry. On the other hand, Belloc had some truly wonderful light verse and some really fine poetry as well.) The Epic impulse requires a single eye, an unfragmented vision. And the only way that is available in the modern world is through a denial of the modernist/postmodernist influence through a solid base in the truth of Christianity.

Bookmark and Share

The Boring and the Bored


The Boring and the Bored
Perhaps I am investing too much importance in the saying of a thing, but I think the quote below needs iteration every day. I suppose that makes me one of the boring. As Lord Byron, who invented this division of humankind, classes himself with the bored, I am more than happy to represent the other half.

from Heretics Chapter 3
G. K. Chesterton

We might, no doubt, find it a nuisance to count all the blades of grass or all the leaves of the trees; but this would not be because of our boldness or gaiety, but because of our lack of boldness and gaiety. The bore would go onward, bold and gay, and find the blades of grass as splendid as the swords of an army. The bore is stronger and more joyous than we are; he is a demigod—nay, he is a god. For it is the gods who do not tire of the iteration of things; to them the nightfall is always new, and the last rose as red as the first.

I must admit to never having cared much for G. K. Chesterton. I've never much liked the Father Brown Stories. I found The Man Who Was Thursday nearly incomprehensible. The short essays have never spoken to me, nor has the poetry. The apologetics has left me cold. However, I must admit that Chesterton is something like one's parents in one's youth. The older you get the smarter they seem. Reading Pearce's study of Chesterton helps contextualize and reify a legend who is largely known to me through the portayals of Sir Henry Merrivale and Dr. Gideon Fell. But I am discovering an undiscovered country for me, and it is a tremendous pleasure. When Chesterton is on, the prose is supple and can border on magnificent. I had heard recently that there is a movement promoting the cause of G.K. Chesterton and I had wondered at that, but as I grow more tolerant I see more reason behind such a cause. I may even eventually finish Heretics.

[later: I meant to add: 5 points for the person who can identifty the author associated with the two persons mentioned other than G.K. Chesterton. An additional 5 points for any title associated with the two characters.]

Bookmark and Share



About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Literature category from November 2002.

Literature: October 2002 is the previous archive.

Literature: March 2003 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll