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513 A Response Paul Elie Christianity and Literature Vol. 63, No. 4 (Summer 2014) I’m grateful for the opportunity to take part in this exchange. An AAR conference badge is hard to get and an invitation like this one even harder, or so I understand. It took some time to find a way to respond to these essays, because it took me some time to recognize what I grasped instinctively early on: that they aren’t responses to my essay in the Times Book Review—in the sense that they engage with it directly—so much as they are essays by scholars of religion and literature who take the Times essay as a point of departure for prearranged excursions into the field. The role of the transcendent in Tinkers; the superabundant indeterminacy of Toni Morrison’s texts; the appealingly uneven texture of Alice McDermott’s Someone, which covers the span from bishop to pagan, from Brooklyn to Lebanon, more broadly than any of McDermott’s previous books does; the way the disquisitions about meaning in Ian McEwan’s Saturday bear a radioactively faint resemblance to religious belief: These are strong points, and I am going to follow them through several seasons of reading and rereading. PaulContinocharacterizesthereligiousdimensionofAliceMcDermott’s Someone with an elegance and economy akin to McDermott’s own. The novel, he explains, “dramatizes the faith of characters who yearn that Christ’s promise of everlasting life be true. Within the ordinary contours of they receive glimpses that it might be, that their loving Creator co-inheres in their ordinary lives.” Larry Bouchard touches on the difficult work of historical comparison, which no writer with an argument to make can settle altogether. “One need not subscribe to Harold Bloom’s anxious antagonism between traditional belief and artistic innovation to notice that the number of usual suspects of Christianity and Literature 514 strong faith in strong modern fiction has always been rather low,” Bouchard declares, and goes on: “To wonder if fiction has ‘lost’ its faith (and was the essay’s title Elie’s or the Times’?—I wonder) implies that modern fiction did ‘have’ a lot of it until some point. But I’m not sure it did, at least not in terms of traditional belief, during my two centuries.” I’m not sure it did, either— not if we are reckoning according to quantity. But if we are reckoning according to quality, then a few great writers (such as the four depicted in The Life You Save May Be Your Own) do an epoch make; and against those four and their contemporaries the unquestioned greatness of Marilynne Robinson seems solitary in comparison. “Central to the Christian understanding of sacrament is a sense of the immanence of the holy, even under the most broken or unholy signs”: that is beautifully put, and it goes a long way toward justifying Matthew Potts’ account of the tumbledown religiosity he finds in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, where sacramentality stands slowly oxidizing (or is it corroding?) in the spaces faith once filled. “For Elie the problem is in the writing itself, not its appreciation of, and recognition by critics”: this clear statement of Richard Rosengarten’s gets my emphasis exactly, and I wish I’d had it in hand as I engaged with the responses of Gregory Wolfe (in The Wall Street Journal and Image) and Dana Gioia (at USC, where he made remarks akin to those in his essay on “The Catholic Writer Today” in First Things). For Greg, a part of the problem is that neither religious nor secular readers are prepared to hear the “still small voice” of faith in fiction; for Dana, part of the problem is that literary culture today lacks critics, and lacks a broader background in the Western tradition, of the kind that fostered the work of O’Connor, Percy, and their peers. In a series of posts about the topic on everythingthatrises. com, I sought to make the point that O’Connor (as Rosengarten suggests) made over and over again: that literature is made by the individual writer who takes indifference or misunderstanding as a given and knows that she can’t await ideal circumstances...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2056-5666
Print ISSN
0148-3331
Pages
pp. 513-517
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-04
Open Access
No
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