‘Banned Books Week’ Winding Down

book-2aI just realized that Banned Books Week is almost over and I haven’t celebrated it with a banned classic yet. I’ve been so absorbed in Gann’s No Such Thing as Silence that I almost missed the celebration altogether. Thankfully, I checked the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library (KVML) website yesterday to see what they were up to, or I would have missed out completely.

For those who may be unfamiliar with Banned Books Week but want to know more, the KVML’s website and the American Library Association’s website are great places to start. My interest with the movement is not so much in saving the Captain Underpants books of the world (no matter how funny they are), but rather with celebrating the once—banned classics which have become a part of the literary canon. I don’t always agree with what the authors have to say and some go a bit further than I’m willing to follow, but I fully support an author’s right to express his/her view of existence, so long as the point is made intelligently and the piece itself has been well crafted.

Some of my favorite books can be found on the ALA list of “Banned Classics.” For instance, there’s Joyce’s, Ulysses, which (among so many other things) showed me just how unfocused and multi—threaded the thoughts in my mind truly are. There’s also Updike’s, Rabbit, Run, which opens with a wonderful illustration of a married young man confronting the enormity of his vocation (of course Harry doesn’t respond as we’d hope he would, but then would the story still be worth reading if he did?). There’s also the “Banned Classic” I most recently read, Slaughterhouse—Five, by Kurt Vonnegut — a writer that both Graham Green and Walker Percy held in high esteem.

Catholic authors have also fallen victim to censorship. The ALA list contains both Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (this one baffles me), and Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. I can see why Brideshead would upset some, but that’s only when it’s been given a superficial and/or incomplete reading. A deep reading reveals a work so totally infused with the workings of God and Grace toward the salvation of the (very flawed) major characters, that you would be hard pressed to find another comparable piece of fiction. The extremely powerful deathbed scene in particular is one of my favorite moments in all of literature.

So which “Banned Classic” am I going to choose? Every time I scan the various lists, I seem to find one that I hadn’t noticed before. This year’s surprise came from the KVML website where I found John Gardner’s, Grendel. Who could have banned this book? Haven’t they seen the picture on the cover of the Vintage edition? Grendel looks like a harmless kitten, mewing softly for a saucer of milk. A Google search lead to a page that claimed the book was banned for the usual reasons, such as complaints that it’s a bit to graphic, and it’s told from the viewpoint of a viscous monster whose thoughts/feelings contradict the standards of traditional morality. With the last item, I would assume that (given an appropriate reading) we will find ourselves on safe ground, as Gardner was responsible for polarizing so many people with his insistence On Moral Fiction (a work Tuscany Press approves of, but the great Frank O’Connor did not). At any rate, my interest is piqued, and I’ve found my choice.

“Valjean’s nobility inspires us because it is ultimately expressed in the quotidian and the domestic”

Leah Libresco of Unequally Yoked offers an insightful response to The New Yorker critic David Denby’s pan of Les Miserables, in which Denby argues that “Saints don’t make interesting heroes.” The editorial board of Dappled Things holds no official position on the merits of the recent film adaptation, but Libresco’s post is a thoughtful examination of virtue as exemplified by the character Jean Valjean.

…we can see the fruit of making the right choice day by day.  It’s not winning the right to a love interest and getting a big, dramatic kiss at the climax of the story.  It’s the development of phronesis or practical wisdom.  By choosing the right thing day after day, Valjean is strengthening his conscience so that the wrong choice feels awkward and alien to him.

Read the whole thing.

Our Future Is in Your Hands

Dear Friends,

We are sorry to report that the response to our fundraising appeal sent a few days ago has been dismal. A few donations came in during the first hours after the e-mail went out, but the trickle has quickly dried up. We are still far away from our fundraising goal. At this point in the magazine’s life, there is no wiggle room for having a campaign that does not meet its goal. If the campaign is unsuccessful, the magazine cannot make it through the coming year, which we think would be a serious blow the cause of creating a vibrant Catholic culture. Great art that glorifies God and ennobles the human person does not easily happen in a vacuum, the random product of some lone genius, but rather requires a cultural context in which it can develop and flourish. That’s what we help create. Please donate today by clicking here. Don’t think that someone else will do it instead; that hasn’t happened. And please know that any amount is welcome.

All the growth and successes we have had this year, triumphs for the cause of achieving a revitalized culture, in no way imply that we are less vulnerable to financial constraints. If anything, they mean the opposite, since growing the magazine means that it becomes more complicated and costly to manage subscriptions, submissions, and distribute the journal. We are at the end of an explosively successful year in terms of growing our readership (our most successful yet, in fact). Is this the time to call it quits? If you don’t think so, please help us keep going. Donate today.

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Reviewed by Meredith Wise


by Ron Hansen
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008
227 pages, $23.00

The first thing to keep in mind about Exiles, if you are going to avoid being disappointed, is that it is a novelized biography rather than a conventional novel. Ron Hansen imposed some very strict limits on his invention, which he summarized in a discussion on the web journal InsideCatholic: [Read more...]

Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Once Upon the Ruins

Bernardo Aparicio Garcia 

The bitter blend of sweat and blood on her forehead glistened under the mid-afternoon sun as she darted between the mounds of brick and stone on the street. The sky was overcast with towers of smoke that watched like sad sentinels over a dead land that seemed to fade away down below. Now that the guns had been quiet for two hours, Sara could hear nothing except her own heavy breathing pounding in her ears like blows of thunder. [Read more...]

Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Catholic Classic Translated in New Dappled Things

The SS. Peter & Paul 2012 edition of Dappled Things has just been published, and among its many offerings, it includes an excerpt from the first translation since 1939 of a classic of Catholic literature: Leon Bloy’s The Woman Who Was Poor.  The issue also features an interview with the translator, DT Assistant Editor Joshua Hren, whose own literary work has been deeply influenced by Bloy. As Hren explains, The Woman Who Was Poor (La Femme Pauvre) played a crucial role in the conversion of luminaries such as Jacques and Raissa Maritain, and the painter Georges Rouault:

Raissa [Maritain] recounts how she and Jacques encountered Léon Bloy. Steeped in the intellectual nihilism of their times, troubled specifically by a scientific determinism the tenets of which they deeply understood and by which they were left in anguish, the two young geniuses, who were then courting, made a pact to commit suicide together on a given date, unless they should come in contact with absolute truth. If the world lacks absolute truth, as they had been taught, then existence, they concluded, is too cruel to countenance any longer. There is a remarkable earnestness to this proposition, even as it is extreme and dark. As their search for this truth ticked away, they happened to read a review of La Femme Pauvre that touted the novel as one of the only French works of the age that flashed with genuine metaphysical insights.

Upon reading the novel, they found themselves, “for the first time . . . before the reality of Christianity.”

We’re very excited to bring a portion of this classic back to print, and we hope you will relish it as much as we have. You can enjoy these and other offerings for free online, including the striking paintings of David Anthony Harman, but only  print subscribers get the full range of what we publish. And, as many new subscribers write to tell us after receiving their first issue, at only $19.99 a year you’ll only wonder why you hadn’t done it sooner.

Celebrating a Gifted Welsh Poet

The story of Hedd Wyn, one of the many artists killed in the Great War.

The judges of the Eisteddfod, which was held at Birkenhead near Liverpool that year, were unaware that Hedd Wyn had died of his wounds at the age of 30 on July 31 at Pilkem Ridge during the battle of Passchendaele.

At the award ceremony the archdruid rose to summon the poet, in the traditional fashion, to come to take the chair, calling him three times to make himself known. But it then had to be revealed, to the consternation of the gathering, which included the prime minister, David Lloyd George, that Hedd Wyn had fallen while fighting with the Royal Welch Fusiliers “somewhere in France.” The empty chair was draped with a black shroud, and the festival of that year has ever since been called Eisteddfod y Gadair Ddu (The Eisteddfod of the Black Chair).

Micah Mattix discusses Rilke in the Wall Street Journal

We spotted Dappled Things contributor Micah Mattix reviewing Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters On God, and critiquing his individualized, humanist take on Christianity:

In this second letter, written in 1922 in the guise of a factory worker and addressed to the deceased poet Emile Verhaeren, Rilke asks: “Who is this Christ that is meddling in everything?” For Rilke, Christ is holy to the extent that he embraced death and, therefore, life. He is an example of a life fully lived. “I cannot believe,” the poet writes, “that the cross was meant to remain; rather, it was to mark the crossroads.” People who worship Christ, Rilke writes, are “like dogs that do not comprehend the meaning of an index finger and think they have to snap at the hand.”

Still, whatever Rilke’s lack of orthodoxy, “The Birth of Christ” (included in the Sophia Institute Press anthology O Holy Night) is one of the loveliest of Christmas poems.

Welcome, Bad Catholics!

That’s a compliment, not an insult. We’re delighted to welcome all of you who are coming from Marc Barnes’s BadCatholic blog. Some of you may already be familiar with Dappled Things, but for those who are not, we want to point out some things that will help you know us better. Dappled Things is the only English-language Catholic journal in print today that not only features intelligent commentary on contemporary culture, but is actually engaged in the production of culture by publishing creative work that is informed and inspired by the Church’s tradition. We publish short stories, poetry, plays, interviews, and articles on any number of issues. Here’s a sampling of pieces published in previous editions that we invite you to check out:

We hope you enjoy your visit. If you like what you see, we invite you to follow us through Facebook, Twitter, and our RSS feed, and to subscribe to our gorgeously printed quarterly edition in order to enjoy all of our content.

John Watson and the Holmesian Mythos

John Watson Martin Freeman SherlockKindly permit us to indulge in a bit of pop culture, albeit highbrow.

Friend of Dappled Things Joseph Susanka considers how the character of John Watson, as “neither the bumbling fool so often portrayed in the early years nor the superfluous sidekick,” is a spiritually significant figure in the BBC’s latest update of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective.

Without him, the gulf between the dazzling, irksome Holmes and his audience would prove too difficult to navigate; we might respect him as the world’s most brilliant consulting detective, but we would never be able to love him. With the help of Watson the Reliable Narrator, however, we can bridge the gap between what we know of Holmes through our own experience and what his friends see (and love) in him. Without Watson, Holmes would be little more than a freakishly gifted alien; with him, he becomes a troubled, troubling, redeemable human being.

Does Watson take on new significance in light of the Incarnation? Read the whole thing and decide for yourself! And if you haven’t checked out the BBC’s Sherlock yet, delay no longer! If you’re a Netflix subscriber, it’s currently available via their streaming service, and the first two seasons are also out on DVD.