"Your posting got me thinking about another Christian novelist. D. Keith Mano, in Reflections of a Christian Pornographer (Christianity and Literature, Spring 1979, v28 n3, pages 5-11) tried to explain why `[f]or any serious Christian writer the obscene, the grotesque, the violent seem almost prerequisite.'
"He quoted from an essay in Flannery O'Connor's Mystery and Manners, in which she explains what Mano calls the Christian novelist's `special alienation' in an age so unlike Dante's, i.e. in an age where, according to Mano, there is not for the Christian writer a "prodigious consensus of emotion and shared symbolism':
"`When I write a novel in which the central action is a baptism, I am very well aware that for a majority of my readers, baptism is a meaningless rite, and so in my novel I have to see that this baptism carries enough awe and mystery to jar the reader into some kind of emotional recognition of its significance. To this end I have to bend the whole novel-- its language, its structure, its action. I have to make the reader feel, in his bones if nowhere else, that something is going on here that counts. Distortion in this case is an instrument; exaggeration has a purpose, and the whole structure of the story or novel has been made what it is because of belief. This is not the kind of distortion that destroys; it is the kind that reveals, or should reveal.'
"`Our salvation is a drama played out with the devil, a devil who is not simply generalized evil, but an evil intelligence determined on its own supremacy. I think that if writers with a religious view of the world excel these days in the depiction of evil, it is because they have to make its nature unmistakable to their particular audience.'
"`The novelist and the believer, when they are not the same man, yet have many traits in common-- a distrust of the abstract, respect for boundaries, a desire to penetrate the surface of reality and to find in each thing the spirit which makes it itself and holds the world together. But I don't believe that we shall have great religious fiction until we have again that happy combination of believing artist and believing society. Until that time, the novelist will have to do the best he can in travail with the world he has. He may find in the end that instead of reflecting the image at the heart of things, he has only reflected our broken condition and, through it, the face of the devil we are possessed by. This is a modest achievement, but perhaps a necessary one.' (pages 7-8)
In particular, Mano tries to explain his artistic need to use `obscenity'...
"`. . . if there is anyone with whom I feel a blood brotherhood, whose purposes and tactics are mine, it is-- not a fiction writer-- but the poet John Donne.' [He quotes "Batter my heart, three person'd God" (http://www.bartleby.com/105/74.html).] `In that holy sonnet I could rest my case. For only the sexual act can approach-- in its wild animal consummation-- the working of God's love in the human soul. Match that with St. John of the Cross: you know who is the greater poet. And who the greater mystic. Though their language and imagery are similar, Donne and St. John begin from different starting blocks, different premises. John has attained and needs to express. Donne needs to express so that he-- and his readers-- might hope to attain.' (page 10)
"`In a profane age, the profane must be taken unawares and in their own tongue.' (page 10)
"`You might say that the end, doubtful as it is, cannot justify the means. But the Flood was a means. Saint Paul's blindness. And the crucifixion. God does not go gently into our self-imposed night.' (page 11)"
March 17, 2009
Onward Christian Novelists
Interesting addendum to an interesting post: