Thursday, December 19, 2013

why Dana Gioia is right

St. Dominic, by Fra Angelico
There’s a compelling essay by poet Dana Gioia that has become the impetus for much creative and inspired discussion in Catholic writers’ circles lately: “The Catholic Writer Today, EncouragingCatholic writers to renovate and reoccupy their own tradition.”

See, for example, the passionate personal response by Heather King, one of my favorite bloggers and authors.

The Gioia essay, published by the journal First Things, is long, and it is loaded with provocative and challenging statements.  It seems wrong to pick only one statement when there is so much food for thought.

But there is one assertion that I find especially troublesome—and accurate.

Gioia notes:
“What absorbs the Catholic intellectual media is politics, conducted mostly in secular terms—a dreary battle of right versus left for the soul of the American Church.” 
I detest the terms “liberal” and “conservative,” “right” and “left”—and I especially dislike the way these terms are thrown around by individuals and groups as if simply the label in itself makes a point “right” or “wrong”!

And I find it disturbing and sad that politics has become the “religious conviction” that defines not only ourselves, but also how we see and respond to the world in front of us.

As a Catholic artist—and as a Catholic, period, my starting point, my point of reference, for how I live, how I work, how I love, how I spend my time, how I spend my money, how I see the people and the world around me… is not based on my politics.  It is instead deeply rooted and shaped and founded on my Catholic faith and beliefs.

It means everything--or it means nothing.

The bottom line for me is this. The question I ask myself daily is — do I dare live this Truth that I encountered through my Catholic faith? And if this relationship with Jesus Christ is real, what difference does that make for me -- as a writer, as a member of a community in Norman, Oklahoma, as a wife, as a mother?
The renewal of Catholic literature will happen—or fail to happen—through the efforts of writers. Culture is not an intellectual abstraction. It is human energy expressed through creativity, conversation, and community. Culture relies on individual creativity to foster consciousness, which then becomes expanded and refined through critical conversation. Those exchanges, in turn, support a community of shared values. The necessary work of writers matters very little unless it is recognized and supported by a community of critics, educators, journalists, and readers. The communion of saints is not only a theological concept, it is the model for a vibrant Catholic literary culture. There is so much Catholic literary talent—creative, critical, and scholarly—but most of it seems scattered and isolated. It lacks a vital sense of cultural community—specifically, a conviction that together these individuals can achieve meaningful change in the world. If Catholic literati can recapture a sense of shared mission, the results would enlarge and transform literary culture.”
~Dana Gioia

[click here for more on Dana Gioia and his brother Ted, a musician and author]