On Christian Writing
In writing this piece, I reached out to a Catholic writer I admire: Phil Klay, whose 2014 book of short stories, Redeployment, won the National Book Award. What, I asked him, made his writing Catholic, in content and form and subject matter?
The best writing, he responded, rejects the idea that the shape of the world can be easily explained away by “reason alone,” or understood as a confederacy of “isolated individual consciousness.” It takes seriously the understanding “that evil is real, as are sin, redemption, atonement, and the soul. It does not allow itself the cheap comfort of despair, or utter cynicism. It accepts that we are fallen creatures in a world full of suffering, but that there is grace.”
Furthermore, he says, it “thinks novelists who write as though the world is intelligible are silly. It thinks novelists who write as though human beings are intelligible are silly. It’s more terrifying, disorienting, forgiving, and challenging than either the bland humanism or strident politics than underlie many contemporary novels. It suspects that if you don’t have a bloody, beaten body dying in agony at the center of your symbolic system, you’re not playing the game right.”
Tara Isabella Burton, “Toward a Christian Aesthetics: Novel-Writing in an age of COVID” (Breaking Ground, 15 July 2020).