All posts tagged: literature

Dostoevsky on the Demonic Decimation of a Shareable World

One way of thinking of the modern demonic is that it is marked by an otherness viewed not as a threatening outside, but a shocking inside contributing to the doubling of a self that cannot find ballast and thereby becomes capable of intentional forms of evil far beyond the circumscription of the human flesh and psyche. Given this definition, my proposal is that the literary figure who is most penetrating and expansive on the topic is Fyodor Dostoevsky. There are other writers with plausible claims to this mantle, perhaps one of the French trio of André Gide, Georges Bataille, and Jean Genet, maybe even William Golding who unerringly exposes our collective illusions regarding sympathy and fraternity throughout his oeuvre and not simply in Lord of the Flies. Needless to say, under scrutiny the bona fides of Golding as the connoisseur of the modern demonic do not hold up. As a writer Golding is more focused on the return of the repressed than on the endlessly spiraling reflection that is the ground of acts of evil …

Charles Péguy’s Difficult Hope

Charles Péguy died with a bullet through the head on September 5, 1914. The First World War was but a few months old. Péguy is impossible to really characterize. He has a way of defying summarization, and so too do his poems. There is much too much between the lines, in the meandering prose, in the life. He was French, born of peasants in Orléans in 1873, and he considered himself a child of the Republic that had lurched into existence somehow in the 19th century after a couple turns at empire and emperor. He was convinced that his generation was the last of the real republicans, whom he traced backward with an impracticable, zigzagging line from 1848 to 1830 to the first breath of the first revolution.[1] Péguy can be understood, insists on being understood, by knowing something of the Dreyfus Affair. He bound himself to the event tightly and inexorably, and refused to relinquish it.[2] One Alfred Dreyfus, a captain in the military, was convicted of treason and thrown in jail for life …

Dostoevsky’s Literary Burden of Representing Saints

Perhaps no one in the history of modern literature was as conscious as Dostoevsky regarding the literary burden taken on when it came to presenting or representing an unassailably good person. Such a depiction was weighed down with representational disadvantages: it took talent but was not impossible to depict a great sinner who undergoes conversion or is capable of such; it took a unique talent, someone of Dostoevsky’s psychological acuity, to lay bare the psyche of the person alienated from others, self, and God and free-falling into incoherence. But how to depict a truly good man, indeed, a man who is nothing short of a saint, someone who has died to self and made himself available to others, was a task for which Dostoevsky was unsure that his or indeed anyone’s literary gifts were a match. Hagiography is a genre of long-standing, but no modern writer confuses it with literature, which requires characters that are not only believable in the modern world, but show the capacity to negotiate and transcend it. But just such a …

Frankenstein’s Scientific Chaoskampf

Jason Josephson-Storm convincingly argues in his recent book The Myth of Disenchantment, that contrary to the popular narrative of us living in secular age in which the common imagination has no room for anything spiritual, magical, or mythological we still very much live in an enchanted age.[1] We never became disenchanted because the so-called disenchanters, the founders of the modern sciences, were themselves caught up in the esotericism and occultism common in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In short, magicians never went away they just put on lab coats. Of course the forgoing summary is crude and there is much more nuance to Josephson-Storm’s argument. However, the aim of the following is not to provide an analysis of his thesis. Instead, I would like to take this idea of Josephson-Storm’s that modernity, specifically modern science, is still rooted in myth and get at the founding myth of modern science’s progeny and master: modern technology. In so doing, I hope to call into question for both the lay person and the pastor the technophilia—the …

How Am I a Hog and Me Both?

There’s no getting around it—with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s popular new exhibit, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, how suddenly hip the Catholic Imagination has become. Who knew? The short answer is: quite a few of us. The Catholic imagination, with its diverse expressions of creativity and its compassed epistemologies of receptivity, refers to the creative faculty endowed to creatures for critical, contemplative, and intellectual engagement with the living God. It is a habit of making and seeing with a long tradition to consider and continually retrieve. To follow its most articulate commentator, Hans Urs von Balthasar (who, I hasten to note, never used the term explicitly), the Catholic imagination is implicit in any theological aesthetics, taking the form in Balthasar of lay and clerical “styles”—styles of creativity in prayer, prose, and poetry inseparable from “unique divine mission” and particular “historical existence.”[1] While there are scores of styles to encounter and behold, the Catholic imagination is most penetrating and fruitful when organized around key attributes and qualities—some cultural, some critical, and others theological. …

Alasdair MacIntyre Reads Jane Austen Reading Her Late Modern Reader

“You must hear this story,” a friend told me. “As a devoted Janeite, you will love it!” Apparently, renowned philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre was attending a panel on Jane Austen’s novels at the Notre Dame Fall Conference. MacIntyre asked a quaking undergraduate panelist, “Who is the best of all Austen’s heroines?” The panelist shuffled her papers nervously and, in her hesitation, MacIntyre stood and bellowed “Fanny Price!” The shocked panelist fell to the floor in a faint worthy of Marianne Dashwood. I realized halfway through the story that I had been there! In fact, I was a participant in the panel described. But the story had taken on a life of its own, which is why I did not immediately recognize the tale. The real events involved a fellow undergraduate panelist feeling lightheaded while giving her paper on Jane Austen’s view of proper pride with MacIntyre and the Center’s founding director, Dr. David Solomon, in the audience. After she put her feet up for a few minutes, MacIntyre inquired whether she was quite ready to continue …

The Revolutionary Storming of the Winter Palace

  “Your Imperial Highness! Your Imperial Highness, wake up!” The voice was so kind, so homey-rather than rouse him he practically entered into his dream. But the warm huskiness repeated and repeated—and finally made him wake up. This old, gray-haired, Winter Palace footman, with luxurious, flowing side-whiskers, who had long since grown accustomed to the idea of no one from the Tsar’s family spending the night here, instead of the joy of not disturbing the high-born guest’s sleep, had decided to enter the room and lean over the bed. “Your Imperial Highness! The palace has become dangerous. After the troops left, some gangs tried to break through different doors a few times. Only the locks are holding them back. What forces do we have to fight them off?” The cold and nasty waking got through to Mikhail. Now this he had not expected! That gangs would invade the palace. What gangs could there be in the capital? “Gangs from where?” “God know where.” The footman was distressed. “A few have gathered up and gone wild. …

The Fear of Catholic Contamination at the Heart of American Individualism

Gothic fiction, the fiction of fear, has long been identified as paradoxically central to the literary tradition of the United States. Early exhortative texts such as the Declaration of Independence and Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography clearly articulated an optimistic national narrative of rational, self-interested individuals escaping past tyranny to progress confidently together into an expansive future. By contrast, the Gothic fictions of writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Faulkner, and Toni Morrison have depicted nightmarish threats to national ideals, inherent flaws in those ideals and their implementation, or both—thereby radically challenging “America’s self-mythologization as a nation of hope and harmony.” Such is the critical consensus. What scholars have failed to recognize adequately is the recurrent role in such fiction of a Catholicism that consistently threatens to break down borders separating U.S. citizens—or some representative “American”—from the larger world beyond. This role has in part reflected enduring fears of the faith in Anglo-American culture. British Gothic fiction originated in the eighteenth century as what one scholar pointedly deemed Horror Fiction in the Protestant Tradition, …

The Church Has a Morbid Streak

I was in my mid-twenties when my father handed me his 1929 edition of Sigrid Undset’s Nobel Prize-winning trilogy, Kristen Lavransdatter, and said, “I think you’ll really like this.” This is typically how my dad makes his book recommendations. He puts a story in your hands and says, “I think you’ll really like this.” It took a few years and a couple of starts and stops to get through this massive historical novel set in medieval Catholic Norway. The tome sat at the bottom of a stack for while, but in the end, I fell in love with Kristin Lavransdatter, which I have often described as not unlike Augustine’s Confessions if the Confessions were written in third person feminine voice and set in medieval Scandinavia. Sigrid Undset became one of my favorite authors because her writing reveals that rare perception of the pain and beauty of St. Paul’s words in the Letter to the Romans: “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.” Without affect, sentimentality, or illusion her writing expresses the realities of the …

Echo Alumni Interviews: Michele Chronister

In celebration of the upcoming graduation of Echo 12 on Saturday July 29, Church Life will feature interviews with select Echo alumni. Today’s interview is with Michele Chronister, of Echo 6. Michele served as an Echo apprentice at the parish of St. Pius X in Granger, Indiana. Church Life caught up with Sophie on her current work, renewing the Catholic Imagination, and her reflections on her time in Echo Are you currently working in theological education and/or ministry? What is your current role? I actually have several part time jobs that allow me to continue my ministry while raising my young children. I work as the social media manager for the Archdiocese of St. Louis’s Office of Natural Family Planning. I love getting to work with people on the diocesan level, and getting a sense of the good work being done throughout the archdiocese. St. Louis is very blessed with a very active Office of Natural Family Planning, committed to the well-being of the women in St. Louis, and some of the staff members are …