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Catholic Fiction – One. More. Time.

Over at the Image blog, Greg Wolfe has a post about the state of Catholic Letters. I like Greg Wolfe, and I have great regard for what he’s done with Image Journal. So I thought it worth a response – my comments are in brackets.

In the conservative Catholic press—and blogosphere—there has been much harrumphing about the decline and fall of Catholic letters.

[This whole entry sounds rather more like a shot across the bow – “there they go again, those silly conservatives” – than an engaged argument, and that “harrumphing” is as good an approximation as any for the sound the shot makes as it leaves the cannon… But there’s no reason why it can’t become an engaged argument, so: Mr. Wolfe, what means harrumphing? This forum at Inside Catholic? Heck, the folks there can barely even agree on what Catholic fiction is. The front is not nearly united enough to constitute a proper target. It’s not a harrumph of conservative Catholics (sort of like a gaggle of geese) so much as it’s a bunch of confused souls trying to sort things out. Which is why a few of us got together on the same site to discuss Ron Hansen’s Exiles in particular and Catholic fiction in general. We had a lovely time, and there’s hardly a harrumph in the bunch, though I don’t know how many of us would characterize ourselves as conservative Catholics…maybe we should define our terms on that one. (Nota bene: one fellow tried to pull the old “Hansen’s a liberal, therefore not worth reading” line, and was promptly shushed.)

Now, all that said, you may be reading other stuff, stuff that does qualify as harrumphing. Lord knows, there are harrumphers out there in the Catholic blogosphere. But you need to show your work. I don’t think the post from Amanda Shaw that you mention below qualifies as harrumphing. If you disagree, please make your case.]

Of course, the question of whether Catholic writing is alive, much less well, is really just another skirmish in the larger culture wars—perpetuated largely by those with ideological axes to grind.

[C’mon – if you’re going to call folks out as ideological axe grinders – particularly in the literary realm, in which such a charge might call for laptops at ten paces at dawn – you need to give an example!]

I am not so naïve as to believe that I or anyone else can put an end to such posturing.

[How do you know it’s posturing? Why can’t it be distress at the disappearance of the religious sensibility – particularly, the Catholic religious sensibility, with all its incarnational character – from much of modern literature? Why can’t it be sadness that the literary establishment was all agog, after the publication of Gilead, at the notion of a religious character in literature who was good and intelligent and serious about his faith? People still believe in God, and even in the Catholic Church, so why doesn’t literature, which begins in the observation of real people, reflect that? I think it’s a fair question. Calling it posturing is pretty harsh.]

To be sure, on one level, the logical inconsistencies and blinkered vision behind this attitude call out for some response.

[Maybe even a response that doesn’t accuse folks of blinkered vision?]

But in the end, what gets me so worked up is that this attitude ultimately trivializes and emasculates the Catholicism it seeks to vindicate.

[Well, that certainly seems worth getting worked up over. Lord knows the conservative Catholics I know lament the trivialization and emasculation of the Catholic faith, and I understand their lamentation. So, let’s dig in.]

In a recent post at the First Things blog, Amanda Shaw quotes an admiring New Yorker review of a Graham Greene novel by George Orwell. In the review, Orwell writes: “A fairly large proportion of the distinguished novels of the last few decades have been written by Catholics and have even been describable as Catholic novels.”

Orwell is presumably referring to such writers as Evelyn Waugh, Georges Bernanos, and François Mauriac who, with Greene, were the major figures in the mid-century “Catholic literary revival.”

Ms. Shaw goes on to say:

“In the sixty years since George Orwell was reviewing Graham Greene’s novels, the phenomenon of the Catholic novel has shriveled into virtual nonexistence. I just returned to noisy New York after attending the third annual Southwell Institute creative writing workshop, and on the first evening Orwell’s observation was presented to a group of us young writers. “Who are the great Catholic novelists, poets, and playwrights of today?” we were challenged, and there was no quick response. As silence grew, the question was amended: If the human conflicts described by Orwell remain, and if art really can “hold a mirror up to nature”—showing us both good and evil, in all their power and glory—then why is “Catholic fiction” such a musty old phrase?”

The ignorance of that particular crowd really doesn’t prove much of anything—after all, it consisted of young writers.

[Gosh, I know I read more novels when I was young and free than I do now that I’m old and encumbered. I don’t think you should necessarily hold their youth against them, especially since the question was, ‘Who are the great Catholic novelists…of today?” Presumably, even the youth would know about the great ones – the ones whose stature and significance were sufficient to merit that word. So while the charge is fair enough on one hand, it does come off a bit grumpy on the other.]

But the leaders of that workshop should know better.

[Why? Say more.]

As they say in the business world, it’s all a matter of “optics.” What are people seeing and what are they missing? Who is admitted into this particular canon? And what are their qualifications?

[Good questions!]

The conservatives’ myth goes like this: writers like Greene, Waugh, Bernanos, Mauriac, along with the Americans Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy, were both famous authors in their time and “muscular Catholics.”

[Where have you seen this said? I don’t know anyone who has ever characterized Greene as a muscular Catholic. (The man’s struggles with questions of faith are pretty well known. By the end, it was all he could do to suppose that it might all be true – though it’s worth noting that he carried with him a picture of Padre Pio.) If there is a myth, I would say it is this: that for all these authors, the Catholic faith was a vitally important thing, a thing not to be ignored, a thing that permeated all of existence, and lent drama to that existence. Have you really seen people treating these authors as defenders of the faith in the manner of Fulton Sheen or even Chesterton? Where?]

What’s crucial to this myth is that these writers were real Catholics and held a position of eminence (read: power) in the public square. The subsequent story is one of disenfranchisement and apostasy.

[Where is this myth written down? I’ve never seen the Catholic fiction of any era touted as having power in the public square. Trust me, conservatives know that novelists make lousy politicians.]

The problem is that this is nearly all wrong. Some of these writers were politically and theological conservative, but others were anything but.

Take Greene himself. He was always a man of the Left and never an apologist for the Magisterium. The novels the conservatives most admire—The Power and the Glory, The End of the Affair, The Heart of the Matter—were roundly condemned by the conservative Catholics of the mid-twentieth century. The prevalence of adultery, substance abuse, and highly dubious moral dilemmas that characterized these novels was the subject of much mid-century harrumphing.

[As for the mid-century harrumphing – maybe so; you are no doubt more aware of these things than I am. As O’Connor – who was rather an apologist for the Magisterium – noted, there are an awful lot of folks, Catholics included, who lack the fundamental equipment required to read a novel, who suppose that if they can read the phone book, they can properly engage literature. But don’t tar the young with the harrumphs of their forbears. If they can see in Greene’s work an appreciation and exploration of the force and mystery and power of religious belief – including religious belief that clings to peculiarly Catholic dogmas such as the Real Presence (I’m sure you’ve read Greene’s short story “The Hint of an Explanation”) – and if they don’t get their noses so bent of out shape about the adultery and other moral dilemmas that they lose sight of the traces of the transcendent, then isn’t that a good thing?]

Even as conservative a writer as Evelyn Waugh had to write a long, impassioned letter defending his satirical novels to the Archbishop of Westminster, after he had been attacked in the British Catholic magazine The Tablet. Poor Waugh had to do the worst thing possible for a satirist and comedian—he had to explain his jokes. (In his novel Black Mischief he had described a campaign by white colonialists to bring contraception to the native African population, with hilarious and unpredictable side effects—as a form of undermining anti-Catholic thinking.)

[But this is no argument that Waugh was not a public and even a “muscular” Catholic – merely that the Archbishop didn’t know how to read a book. Conservative Catholics know well that being a “muscular” Catholic is not to be equated with being adored by the ecclesial authorities.]

Waugh’s irony, Greene’s venal protagonists, Mauriac’s thoroughly nasty cast of characters, O’Connor’s violence and grotesquerie—all these were subjected to ridicule by the predecessors of today’s conservative tut-tutters.

[Again, don’t tar the “conservative” youth of today with the sins of their forbears. You’ll miss their virtues if you do. The youth aren’t saying that their tut-tutting predecessors had it right. They’re saying that there’s a problem, and a different sort of problem, today. And that’s what you should be addressing.]

And while we’re on the subject of irony, it’s worth noting that every one of these writers hated being classified as a Catholic novelist. They wanted no adjective before that noun. Nor did they see themselves as a bloc, flexing their Catholic muscles in the public square. To do so would have reduced their work to propaganda.

[Maybe so, but in this case, it was Orwell doing the classifying, no? The Southwell question wasn’t asking after a bloc, it was wondering about holding a mirror up to nature – a nature that includes a religious element.]

If these writers were muscular it was because the Catholic faith enabled them to write incarnationally, which is to say sacramentally. This entails a highly defined sense of paradox, since it is grounded in the mysterious yoking of heaven and earth, spirit and flesh. That’s why these writers employed irony and ambiguity: in order to convey a sense of how sin and sanctity can co-exist within the same person, how violence can model grace, how suffering and loss can lead to a sense of the lightness of being. There were edgy writers, unpredictable and dangerous, causing frequent flutters among the church’s hierarchy.

But to contemporary pronouncers of gloom, all that forgotten.

[What is your evidence for this forgetting? What is your evidence that the conservatives don’t get incarnational, sacramental writing? Where have you seen these novelists held up as apologists – which seems to be your accusation? Where do you get the notion that conservatives don’t think that sin and sanctity can co-exist in the same person, or that violence can model grace? The contemporary pronouncers of gloom, I suspect, would be grateful for an edgy, dangerous, identifiably Catholic novelist… What they lament is the dearth of Catholic fiction, not its edginess.]

Next time I’ll explain the cause of that amnesia.

[You also need to detail the emasculation you mentioned above. You haven’t made your case yet. I know conservatives who value these authors precisely for their clear-eyed vision of the human condition and the reality of the world.]

Comments

  1. Well said. I do hope Greg Wolfe will take a look at this…

  2. Dear Matthew:

    I’m grateful that you invited a conversation about my blog post at Good Letters on the question of whether Catholic writing is alive or dead.

    However, I’m not convinced your post actually constitutes the beginning of such a conversation. But maybe we can get one started.

    1) You say my post was a “shot across the bow” rather than a “sustained argument.” Matthew, I don’t know how many sustained arguments you’ve undertaken in 800-word blog posts, but may I point out that it did say rather promimently in the title, “Part I”? I don’t know how much more honest I can be about not being able to fully sustain an argument than indicate it has to come in several installments….

    2) I agree that what I wrote was something like a “shot across the bow.” I’m being critical of something. Forcefully critical. That’s not inimical to either argument or conversation, as you’ve demonstrated. But you act as if I actually shot someone point blank.

    3) You complain that I have provided “insufficient evidence.” Sure, lots of evidence is good, but in brief posts we tend to use representative facts to stand in for others. I cited a blog post from one of the leading Christian intellectual journals and an organization called the Southwell Institute and the way they conducted a major public event. The problem with complaining about insufficient evidence is that there’s never enough. You cited a single symposium on one website to refute me. Isn’t that insufficient evidence?

    4) Furthermore, I could turn the complaint back on you. Part of what I’m criticizing is absence—and not presence; what isn’t happening as opposed to what is. So: name five serious essays or reviews celebrating the achievement of a contemporary Catholic writer in the past year in First Things, The St. Austin Review, Crisis/Inside Catholic, Dappled Things, or any other conservative Catholic publication.

    5) You cite the InsideCatholic.com symposium on Ron Hansen’s Exiles. That’s an honorable exception to the rule. But it might have helped if you’d admitted that it was an exception to the rule—and thus confirmed my thesis. Name one other such symposium in the above group of publications in the last five years.

    6) You speak of “distress at the disappearance of the religious sensibility—particularly, the Catholic religious sensibility, with all its incarnational character—from much of modern literature.” This is precisely the notion that I’m criticizing. If you are speaking of the disappearance of a Catholic sensibility like that of Chaucer or Dante, it’s been gone for 700 years and that is hardly a modern phenomenon. If you are arguing that the the mid-twentieth century was full of Catholic writers and there are hardly any more these days—then please read Parts II and III of my series, OK?

    7) One of the things that tends to make me mad—that really flummoxes me—is the strange way that conservatives and the New York Times tend to think alike—on this sort of issue, anyway. You actually use the Times to support your position: if the Times say Gilead is the exception to the rule that intelligent Christians don’t write fiction any more, then it must be true. Conservatives are masters of the self-fulfilling prophecy.

    8) You note this question: “Who are the great Catholic novelists today?” I can guarantee you that by the time I finish my series a bunch of people will resort to this argument. After I write about a dozen world-class writers, they’ll say: “But they’re not great!” What will their criteria be? I’ll tell you. They will argue against the greatness of these writers because they are not perceived by a substantial public as being great. In other words, they will base their arguments not on the intrinsic merits of the writers but upon the very “blinkered vision” exemplified by the New York Times.

    9) And that’s exactly where my point about power comes in. You misunderstand what I’m saying about power. In the end, the debate about whether Catholic fiction is alive and well or not comes down to the projection of a worldview on the public stage.

    Which raises two crucial points.

    10a) That is not what fiction does.

    10b) When you say that Catholic writing has disappeared, what you are saying is shaped by the very thing I’m criticizing. You have unconsciously bought into the position that the work isn’t there.

    11) But it is there.

    12) You ask me not to be hard on conservative Catholic youth. I don’t recall singling out youth. I am precisely trying to help shake up conservative Catholic youth (do you belong in that group?) so that they don’t unthinkingly inherit the sins of their forebears. As in: the sin of wearing blinkers.

    13) You write: “The contemporary pronouncers of gloom, I suspect, would be grateful for an edgy, dangerous, identifiably Catholic novelist….” Then they would have celebrated the British writer Alice Thomas Ellis, who was far edgier and more dangerous than Waugh or even Muriel Spark. How many times have you seen Ellis (1932-2005) mentioned in the above publications? How many books by conservative Catholics have been published on the brilliance of her vision?

    Matthew: nothing has disappeared. The writers are still there—they may be even more plentiful. What has changed is what people see. When people refuse to see what is there they are wearing…blinkers.

    I hope you will wait for the series to be complete before weighing in again on your blog—just so you can see and respond to the whole. Of course, feel free to respond to this response….

    Cordially,

    Greg

  3. Matthew Lickona says:

    I’m grateful that you invited a conversation about my blog post at Good Letters on the question of whether Catholic writing is alive or dead.

    [You’re most welcome. Thanks for replying!]

    However, I’m not convinced your post actually constitutes the beginning of such a conversation. But maybe we can get one started.

    [Well, my post was conversational in that it asked questions, and tried to avoid accusations that were likely to rile the other side…]

    1) You say my post was a “shot across the bow” rather than a “sustained argument.” Matthew, I don’t know how many sustained arguments you’ve undertaken in 800-word blog posts, but may I point out that it did say rather promimently in the title, “Part I”? I don’t know how much more honest I can be about not being able to fully sustain an argument than indicate it has to come in several installments….

    [Actually, I never did use the word “sustained.” I said “engaged.” By this I meant that, rather than take issue with examples of the myth-spinning that you mention regarding mid-century Catholic writers – that they were muscular Catholics, etc. – you simply assert that it’s what the conservatives are doing. That’s not engaging, that’s firing from a distance. I get that you weren’t done. I just thought that what was there lacked concrete substantiation.]

    2) I agree that what I wrote was something like a “shot across the bow.” I’m being critical of something. Forcefully critical. That’s not inimical to either argument or conversation, as you’ve demonstrated. But you act as if I actually shot someone point blank.

    [Well, you accused folks of having ideological axes to grind, and of being blinkered, and of clinging to myths that had no basis in reality. Those aren’t generally helpful aides to reasoned debate. But no, you certainly didn’t shoot someone point blank.]

    3) You complain that I have provided “insufficient evidence.” Sure, lots of evidence is good, but in brief posts we tend to use representative facts to stand in for others. I cited a blog post from one of the leading Christian intellectual journals and an organization called the Southwell Institute and the way they conducted a major public event.

    [Yes, you did, but nothing in that citation gave evidence, as far as I could tell, that conservatives were clinging to the sorts of myths you accused them of clinging to regarding the muscular Catholicism of Greene, etc. I was complaining about the quality of the evidence as much as the quantity.]

    The problem with complaining about insufficient evidence is that there’s never enough. You cited a single symposium on one website to refute me. Isn’t that insufficient evidence?

    [I didn’t try to refute you. I asked if this was the sort of thing you were talking about, and said that if it was, then I disagreed with your claim about it. Then I asked if you were talking about other such symposiums, and happily admitted my ignorance as to their existence.]

    4) Furthermore, I could turn the complaint back on you. Part of what I’m criticizing is absence—and not presence; what isn’t happening as opposed to what is. So: name five serious essays or reviews celebrating the achievement of a contemporary Catholic writer in the past year in First Things, The St. Austin Review, Crisis/Inside Catholic, Dappled Things, or any other conservative Catholic publication.

    [But I’m not arguing about the absence. I’m arguing about your characterization of conservative Catholic beliefs about mid-twentieth-century Catholic authors. About the absence, we’re in agreement.]

    5) You cite the InsideCatholic.com symposium on Ron Hansen’s Exiles. That’s an honorable exception to the rule. But it might have helped if you’d admitted that it was an exception to the rule—and thus confirmed my thesis. Name one other such symposium in the above group of publications in the last five years.

    [I’m happy to admit it’s the exception to the rule – it’s why I suggested the darned thing. Apologies if I seemed to be suggesting otherwise.]

    6) You speak of “distress at the disappearance of the religious sensibility—particularly, the Catholic religious sensibility, with all its incarnational character—from much of modern literature.” This is precisely the notion that I’m criticizing. If you are speaking of the disappearance of a Catholic sensibility like that of Chaucer or Dante, it’s been gone for 700 years and that is hardly a modern phenomenon. If you are arguing that the the mid-twentieth century was full of Catholic writers and there are hardly any more these days—then please read Parts II and III of my series, OK?

    [You got it.]

    7) One of the things that tends to make me mad—that really flummoxes me—is the strange way that conservatives and the New York Times tend to think alike—on this sort of issue, anyway. You actually use the Times to support your position: if the Times say Gilead is the exception to the rule that intelligent Christians don’t write fiction any more, then it must be true. Conservatives are masters of the self-fulfilling prophecy.

    [I wasn’t thinking only of the Times. And I didn’t suggest that intelligent Christians don’t write fiction any more – I know better. I suggested that it was a sad state of affairs when the literary establishment thinks so.]

    8) You note this question: “Who are the great Catholic novelists today?” I can guarantee you that by the time I finish my series a bunch of people will resort to this argument. After I write about a dozen world-class writers, they’ll say: “But they’re not great!” What will their criteria be? I’ll tell you. They will argue against the greatness of these writers because they are not perceived by a substantial public as being great. In other words, they will base their arguments not on the intrinsic merits of the writers but upon the very “blinkered vision” exemplified by the New York Times.

    [Fair enough. But it’s not foolish to take cultural impact into account when thinking about literature. The artist seeks to make something excellent according to its own intrinsic merits. That’s absolutely primary But I suspect that many authors wouldn’t mind if their books became widely read and discussed as well, and I don’t think this is irrelevant.]

    9) And that’s exactly where my point about power comes in. You misunderstand what I’m saying about power. In the end, the debate about whether Catholic fiction is alive and well or not comes down to the projection of a worldview on the public stage.

    Which raises two crucial points.

    10a) That is not what fiction does.

    10b) When you say that Catholic writing has disappeared, what you are saying is shaped by the very thing I’m criticizing. You have unconsciously bought into the position that the work isn’t there.

    [I am happy to hear more on this point, which I imagine you’ll be treating more extensively in Parts II and III.]

    11) But it is there.

    [Yay! Again, looking forward to hearing more. I have my own thoughts here, but happily grant that you are better read than I am, and will listen to what you have to say.]

    12) You ask me not to be hard on conservative Catholic youth. I don’t recall singling out youth. I am precisely trying to help shake up conservative Catholic youth (do you belong in that group?) so that they don’t unthinkingly inherit the sins of their forebears. As in: the sin of wearing blinkers.

    [Well, you were talking about the Southwell bunch, and they’re all under 30.]

    13) You write: “The contemporary pronouncers of gloom, I suspect, would be grateful for an edgy, dangerous, identifiably Catholic novelist….” Then they would have celebrated the British writer Alice Thomas Ellis, who was far edgier and more dangerous than Waugh or even Muriel Spark. How many times have you seen Ellis (1932-2005) mentioned in the above publications? How many books by conservative Catholics have been published on the brilliance of her vision?

    [None that I know of. How many books by liberal Catholics have been published on the brilliance of her vision? I ask that in perfect ignorance, and without an ounce of snark.]

    Matthew: nothing has disappeared. The writers are still there—they may be even more plentiful. What has changed is what people see. When people refuse to see what is there they are wearing…blinkers.

    [Refuse to see? Or is it simply not visible on the cultural landscape? You say fiction doesn’t exist to project a worldview on a public stage. Fair enough. But is that the same as saying that it has nothing to do with the culture in which it is made?]

    I hope you will wait for the series to be complete before weighing in again on your blog—just so you can see and respond to the whole. Of course, feel free to respond to this response….

    [Sure. Will do. In this post, I tried to respond only to what you did say, not what you didn’t.]

    Cordially,

    Greg

  4. Matthew, Greg, etc.

    I’ll wait until the rules of engagement are more clearly spelled out. But if a man proposes a truth – any truth – it seems the the weakest argument (so weak that it doesn’t even register in Aristole or Thomas) for that truth is word count.

    If word count counts for anything, it is just this: I’m working in an ephemeral medium to discuss an eternal question – going duck hunting with a flyswatter.

    At any rate, Mr. Wolfe’s shot across the bow echoes profoundly in its error (and also, by the way, in its astuteness – although perhaps not as he intends…). But I will wait until he racks up his word count before I count the ways…

  5. Matthew:

    I have mixed feelings about the dangers of Internet debate. It seems so easy to make one’s replies, defenses, etc. a matter of ego-projection.

    For one thing, there’s always the itch to have the last word—which is why this will be my last response to your post. I’m imposing a limit of two responses on myself!

    To cite another example of blog etiquette that makes me uneasy, I’m not a big fan of the habit of interpolating of remarks after quoted bits from the other guy. I know this is now a traditional method on the Internet, and I see you’ve done it in the preceding post as well, but it has a very dispiriting feel to it. You claim you don’t want to be snarky but the interpolation method is constantly in danger of sounding snarky, like the Mystery Science Theater 3000 guys making asides at what they are watching.

    You know, like elbowing the guy sitting next to you in the ribs: “Can you believe this stuff?” I’d say it’s inherent in the form.

    I just mention that because you obviously care about whether people are coming across as being nice to one another or not.

    Please forgive me, but I still don’t accept your basic response to my piece – that I am somehow being mean to confused, earnest young people without marshaling sufficient evidence for my statements.

    To assert that someone has an axe to grind is contrary to reasoned debate?

    To use one of your locutions: C’mon!

    If you proscribe such statements you end up censoring reasoned debate, not enhancing it.

    (By the way, saying “C’mon” might also constitute a bad tonal approach when striving to maintain a polite conversation.)

    As to evidence, I repeat: a post in the leading Christian intellectual journal’s blog and a dramatic question asked by the leaders of a Catholic literary organization are solid evidence.

    (For the record, the statement about “muscular Catholicism” was made not in print but at a small meeting—by Jody Bottum, the editor of First Things. Since it was conversational, I felt it wasn’t prima facie evidence, so I didn’t mention it, but Jody’s statement underlies much of what others say. Fr. Neuhaus, on the other hand, has gone on record to write of “the dearth of bold and imaginative Christian writing.”)

    Anyway, if you concede my point about the general absence of interest in contemporary Catholic writing on the part of the conservative institutions I mentioned, why is it so hard to accept my other statements?

    The myth of either the decline—or the disappearance—of Catholic writing rests on the idea that there were those who once were strong who now are…weak, or who don’t exist.

    Cultural impact: yes, this is worth considering, but again, I’ll point out two ironies:

    1) If you don’t believe a thing exists, it isn’t going to have any cultural impact.

    2) Why do Catholic conservatives and secular liberals agree that this thing doesn’t exist? I’d love for you to actually ponder that question—and try to provide your own answer.

    Liberal Catholics would be unlikely to publish books on Alice Thomas Ellis because Ellis was a sharp-tongued conservative they would rather ignore than spend time on. Liberals are also good at ignoring things.

    Finally, you ask whether the writers I speak of are simply “not visible on the cultural landscape.”

    1) Yes, they are visible on the cultural landscape, but not because they are Catholic. More on that in my Good Letters posts.

    2) To conclude: that they are not visible to so many Catholics is what I am trying to explain—and change.

    As I say, Matthew, I won’t respond again here to your Labor Day post. But you can be sure that in the wake of this nascent conversation I’ll be striving even more attentively to furnish compelling and sufficient evidence in my own writing.

    Cheers,

    Greg

  6. Matthew Lickona says:

    Cheers to you as well, Greg. I’m a veteran of some rather unpleasant internet debates, and I’m well acquainted with that itch to have the last word. You’re the guest here at Godsbody, so in the interest of being a good host, I’ll hold off and give that last word to you. Looking forward to the rest of the series over at Image. And again, thanks for stopping by!

  7. notrelatedtoted says:

    Late to the party.

    For reference purposes, I started by reading the comments contained herein. I largely glossed over Lickona’s original comments (sorry) and went straight to the article itself. Then I read the First Things post, and then Wolfe’s Part II.

    My reaction is, “so what?” Rather than get into debate of conservatism vs. liberalism in the church, why not start with who is out there right now and why we should be reading them? Looks like we don’t get to that until Part III.

    I’m inclined to agree that Wolfe’s criticism is overblown – Waugh, Greene, O’Connor and Percy are authors read and known by the culture at large. They are bearers of a fairly lofty standard. Perhaps a better criticism would be whether its fair to hold the next generation of Catholic writers to that standard. But to aruge (which I think is where this is going) that there are Catholic writers out there every bit as significant who have unfortunately been blacklisted by the conservative Catholic press seems unnecessary.

    I’m just curious as to why Wolfe see this as such a political debate. Grinding of axes, indeed. It seems to me that the real problem is that the mainstream Catholic press (probably indicative and/or reflective of the mainstream church-goer)is blissfully unaware of the debate itself.

  8. The debate/conversation (which is it?) is continued by a few posters over at the DT forums. Feel free to drop by: http://dappledforums.proboards28.com/index.cgi?board=arts&action=display&thread=1189&page=1

  9. cubeland mystic says:

    Greg

    The internet is new media hence new rules. One of the main characteristics of blogging is collaboration. If you don't engage your readers, and if you are afraid to venture into "enemy" territory I don't think you will be taken seriously on the internet. Please, please, please don't limit yourself to two responses. That's old skool. 🙂 Because of this post I will now read your article.

    Matt & Greg

    I am at work reading this between meetings, so I will dig in tonight. After the first pass, my attitude is that I am not comfortable with the categorization of "Catholic" writer. It is like "Italian" Food. When you were in Rome did you dine in "Italian" restaurants or just restaurants? In the U.K. and the US I suspect that a "Catholic" writer had an alien feel to it, hence the distinction. When I read "Catholic" works I don't feel like I've stepped into an Italian restaurant. It is just a restaurant.

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