- The Maritain Factor: Taking Religion into Interwar Modernism ed. by Rajesh Heynickx and Jan De Maeyer
This strong collection of essays fills an important niche in Maritain studies. Through its consideration of the interwar period during which Jacques and Raïsa Maritain first launched their apostolate to culture, these authors do much to illuminate the interplay of the aesthetic, religious, philosophical, and political aspects of the crucial decades preceding World War II. The Maritain works best known to American readers were written during the two decades after World War II. Therefore, this collection of essays would assist such readers to appreciate the broader perspectives as well as the origins of Maritain’s later work.
The collection includes both overviews of the Maritains’ work and studies of particular relationships and specific trends and movements. These essays are well informed, and they unearth new details about the important relationships of the age. Most of all, the authors develop fresh interpretations of their life and work. The editor, Rajesh Heynickx, seeks to break with the “schematic” and “myopic” views (p. 14) of Maritain that either consign him to irrelevance because of his Catholicism and Thomism, as well as those who lionize him as the privileged way into the recovery of revitalized philosophy. What they both miss, he claims, is the concrete historical dimension that would make possible such a tremendous impact [End Page 672] of a philosopher of “fixed principles” (p. 14) and eternal perspective on the practices and discourse of the modernists who celebrated change and fragmentariness.
Exploring Maritain’s own paradoxical claim to be both antimodern and ultramodern, the many essays in book considers how Maritain’s Thomism and devout Catholicism led him to friendships and significant dialogue with many of the leaders of modern art, literature, and culture. Stephen Schloesser’s “The Rise of a Mystic Modernism” presents a nice summary of the discoveries and hypothesis of his book Jazz Age Catholicism (Toronto, 2005). In sum, he explores how the very distinction between matter and form opened Maritain to a variety of ways of manifesting the form in diverse materials, style, and approaches. Rather than imitate the past in a neo-Gothic style, modernism could be seen as a way to explore new manifestations of the personal being, the search for God, and the conflict of good and evil. In addition, the modernist struggles with the guilt of war would lead to a “reparation” for the dead in fitting tribute to the young lives sacrificed in the horror of war. Philippe Chenaux writes on “the Neo-Thomistic Infrastructure.” The retreats and literary engagements gathered around the Maritains offered an alternative to the nihilism and positivism. Maritain’s early works defining his mission, such as Art and Scholasticism (New York, 1923), Three Reformers (London, 1925), and Primacy of the Spiritual (aka The Things That Are Not Caesar’s, New York, 1931) found a ready audience who sought a “bridge between the Catholic tradition and the innovative literary and artistic currents of the time” (p. 51). Each of the essays devoted to specific writers, artists, and critics is solidly researched and extremely insightful about the significance of Maritain’s aesthetic and the meaning of the various trends in interwar Europe. There are affinities, conflicts, and confrontations between Maritain’s philosophy and the modernism of this period to be discovered in the string of essays dealing with an impressive list of many people not well known to American audiences along with a few justly celebrated: Michel Seuphor, Albert Servaes, Pieter van der Meer de Walcheren, Gino Severini, Walter Benjamin, Brian Coffey, André Gide, Joseph Roth, and Anton van Duinkerken. Each essay masterfully carries forward the hypothesis posed by Heynickx in the introduction concerning the historical and spiritual conditions that offered to Maritain a way into modern culture. The final essay, by Jason Harding, considers the problem of culture and Christian philosophy through a comparison...