A few thoughts on the Arts

    1. On Christian literature and music
    2. Recommended short read
    3. Porn messes people up
    4. A Hemingway quote

1

When it comes to literature, I’m a consumer, not an author. When it comes to music, I’m a performer and consumer, not an composer.

But I recognize the distinctive genius of a Flannery O’Connor, or a Walker Percy, or Henryk Górecki or Arvo Pärt. And I don’t see anything comparable today. “Comparable” meaning in this instance great work from a deep Christian impulse.

Maybe that’s normal. But Dana Gioia seems to think it isn’t, and worries particularly about the paucity of Catholic writers (who don’t have to be Roman Catholic to qualify). The link is to a long essay that’s getting lots of commentary. If you’re a Christian serious about the Arts, you’re probably ahead of me on this. (And if you are, you do read Image, don’t you?)

Dan Hart in Punk Rock Catholicism thinks that Lou Reed (about whose catholicity he makes no claims) and U2 may light the way. They weren’t what you’d call “derivative.”

Being neither an author nor a composer, I’m not quite sure how one applies Hart’s advice or heeds Gioia’s call. Oh, obviously, one follows it partly by not trying to think a pious thought and then translate it into “art.” It’s more a matter of viewing the world Christianly than crafting “Christian” blurbs.

But as an experienced consumer I think I know how to respond. Reject treacle and sobbing strings or catch-in-the-voice sentimentality. I won’t go looking for great new Christian music on “Christian radio” (I can tell I’m listening to “Christian radio” in less than 30 seconds; I tune out within 35), nor for great new Christian literature in “Christian bookstores.” Sadly, that’s not how the world works over the last 50 years or so, which may have nothing to do with the prevalence of mediocre work (by definition, most stuff in any era is mediocre) but a lot to do with the paucity of outstanding work. The Christian imagination too often has been confined to a stultifying commercial ghetto.

2

I Played My Best for Him isn’t Flannery O’Connor or Walker Percy. It’s more Harrison Bergeron. But the author is a Priest in his day job, and I wish I could do half so well.

3

One of the old laissez-faire arguments for allowing pornography is that it’s harmless. Meet a victim:

I remembered the book that messed me up: Hal Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth.” I read it at a vulnerable age — 12 — and it frightened me to death. I went down the rabbit hole of End Times nuttery for two years, and believed the worst; the Iranian hostage situation was going on, and the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan at that time. I was also terrified of nuke war. That was just the wrong book at just the wrong time for me. Though I burned out of that insane mindset, I think that my present-day weakness for apocalypticism and catastrophism are rooted in the intense emotional and imaginative reaction I had to that awful book.

(Rod Dreher, The Book That Messed Me Up) Heh, heh, heh. I’ll bet you thought I was thinking of sexual pornography.

Other nominees in Dreher’s commenters:

  • Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God
  • The Closing of the American Mind
  • The Hobbit and the Rings Trilogy, with this interesting addition: “I am incapable of appreciating Peter Jackson’s Tolkien, which, to me, is comparable to a Catholic church built in 1978 or so with ‘Environment and Art in Catholic Worship’ as the guiding principle.”
  • Fahrenheit 451. Nineteen Eighty-Four.
  • Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, and Anthem
  • The Bible Code (now that title certainly is a microcosm!)

4

I’m not going to try to tie this in to the other items with some transitional sentence. The sentences I tried were leading down blind alleys.

Suffice that Ernest Hemingway was never thought of as a “Christian writer,” though he was a product of Christendom. I was struck by the sobriety of this paragraph from A Moveable Feast, concluding a chapter about a year in ski country:

The last year in the mountains new people came deep into our lives and nothing was ever the same again. The winter of the avalanches was like a happy and innocent winter in childhood compared to that winter and the murderous summer that was to follow. Hadley and I had become too confident in each other and careless in our confidence and pride. In the mechanics of how this was penetrated I have never tried to apportion the blame, except my own part, and that was clearer all my life. The bulldozing of three people’s hearts to destroy one happiness and build another and the love and the good work and all that came out of it is not part of this book. I wrote it and left it out. It is a complicated, valuable and instructive story. How it all ended, finally, has nothing to do with this either. Any blame in that was mine to take and possess and understand. The only one, Hadley, who had no possible blame, ever, came well out of it finally and married a much finer man than I ever was or could hope to be and is happy and deserves it and that was one good and lasting thing that came of that year.

That’s adult writing. You don’t need to spell out anatomical details.

* * * * *

“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.