December 22, 2012
Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?
Paul Elie in The New York Times:
A seminary student has an affair with an insurance adjuster he met in an office building near Riverside Church; then they go their separate ways — and that’s the whole story. A collective of Dumpster-diving dropouts follows an “Anarchristian” creed on the edge of a student ghetto, and in the novel about them the faith is as sloppy as the sex. In The New Yorker, a novelist describes his best seller as a work about free will written from a Catholic perspective — but the novelist is Anthony Burgess, dead almost 20 years, and his essay (about “A Clockwork Orange”) is a lecture exhumed from 1973. This, in short, is how Christian belief figures into literary fiction in our place and time: as something between a dead language and a hangover. Forgive me if I exaggerate. But if any patch of our culture can be said to be post-Christian, it is literature. Half a century after Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Reynolds Price and John Updike presented themselves as novelists with what O’Connor called “Christian convictions,” their would-be successors are thin on the ground. So are works of fiction about the quandaries of Christian belief. Writers who do draw on sacred texts and themes see the references go unrecognized. A faith with something like 170 million adherents in the United States, a faith that for centuries seeped into every nook and cranny of our society, now plays the role it plays in Jhumpa Lahiri’s story “This Blessed House”: as some statues left behind in an old building, bewildering the new occupants.
It’s a strange development. Strange because the current upheavals in American Christianity — involving sex, politics, money and diversity — cry out for dramatic treatment. Strange because upheavals in Christianity across the Atlantic gave rise to great fiction from “The Brothers Karamazov” to “Brideshead Revisited.” Strange because novelists are depicting the changing lives of American Jews and Muslims with great success.
Posted by Azra Raza at 07:55 AM | Permalink