6 Dec

The Catholic Writer Today

Category: What We're Reading
By: Ben Garner
Published: 12/06/13

Dana Gioia on the need for a renewal of Catholic literature

Dana Gioia

Dana Gioia, poet and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, wrote a lengthy article for the latest issue of First Things in which he details the decline over the past fifty years or so of the prominence of Catholic literature in the greater world of American literary culture. Gioia is a catholic Catholic: he argues that the decline of Catholic literature has a negative effect on everyone interested in a thriving artistic culture, not just Roman Catholics:

The retreat of the nation’s largest cultural minority from literary discourse does not make art healthier. Instead, it weakens the dialectic of cultural development. It makes American literature less diverse, less vital, and less representative.

It’s not just Catholic voices that are being squeezed out of the dialogue, Gioia argues; it’s the loss of any real engagement between the dominant culture of materialistic philosophy and any persons who believe that “all reality is mysteriously charged with the invisible presence of God.” Anyone who “tend[s] to see humanity struggling in a fallen world,” who “combine[s] a longing for grace and redemption with a deep sense of human imperfection and sin” suffers when Catholic literature declines.

Gioia closes the essay with some choice observations on the nature of culture:

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.

Read the whole essay here.

Dana Gioia has been featured on five Journal issues, most recently on Volume 111.

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