Guests on Volume 141
• GRANT WYTHOFF on the technophiliac obsessions of Hugo Gernsback, the geeky midwife of modern science fiction
• SUSANNA LEE on how the hard-boiled protagonists of crime fiction in the 1930s and '40s were replaced by more nihilistic tough guys in the 1950s and '60s
• GERALD R. MCDERMOTT on how the work of theologian E. L. Mascall can expose blind spots in contemporary Christian thought
• CARLOS EIRE on how and why religion became “interiorized” in the wake of the reformations of the sixteenth century
• KELLY KAPIC on theology’s use of experience and why the Incarnation is the ground of Christian hope
• JAMES MATTHEW WILSON on the beauty of truth and goodness, and on the necessity of cultivating “intellectual vision”
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“There was a lot of technological utopianism that was happening on both sides of the Atlantic before the Great War. After World War I, the tone changes drastically in Europe as all of these countries see the kinds of horrible impacts that modern technology can have on warfare and on people’s modes of existence . . . In the U.S., people were much more removed from the impact of that war . . . so I think [that] that technological utopianism was allowed to live on for a bit longer in the U.S. than it was in Europe and Gernsback was definitely part of that second wave . . . of hopefulness in the project of technology.”
— Grant Wythoff
Ever heard of the Hugo Awards? In this opening interview, literary and media scholar Grant Wythoff talks about the “father of science fiction,” Hugo Gernsback. Gernsback’s utopian views about technology helped to influence American optimism about science and technology through his publishing of columns, stories, and catalogs such as Modern Electrics.
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“One of the most treasured Western ideals is the idea that there are utterly secular individuals who instinctively and naturally, and ‘without thought of it,’ incarnate spiritual virtues. And they don’t do it because they’re religious; they do it because that’s just the way they are.”
— Susanna Lee
Francophone studies professor Susanna Lee joins us to talk about moral authority in the heroes of hard-boiled crime fiction. Drawing from Georg Lukács’s distinction between epic heroes and heroes of the modern novel, Lee explains how the hard-boiled detective of French and American crime fiction shares similarities with both of these archetypes. Though the hard-boiled protagonists navigate a world in which God is absent, Lee locates the models for their moral authority in the religious and literary figures of the early nineteenth-century who were attempting to fill the void of religious authority left in the wake of the French and American revolutions.
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Gerald R. McDermott
“The Church is an organism for Mascall. It’s not a bunch of people gathered together to talk about Jesus, although of course it is that at one level, but it’s so much more than that. It is the life of the Trinity imparted to men and women. The Church is the Trinity in all of its fullness because it means Christ in all of his fullness, which means, as Augustine put it, totus Christus, the whole Christ, the whole Messiah with his Body, i.e. the Church.”
— Gerald R. McDermott
In this conversation about the re-issuing of Anglican theologian E. L. Mascall’s book Christ, the Christian, and the Church, theologian Gerald R. McDermott discusses Mascall’s cosmic vision in his treatment of Christology and ecclesiology. During the mid-twentieth century, at a time when many religious leaders and intellectuals were losing confidence in Christian orthodoxy and influence, Mascall was writing with a “holy boldness” about the most fundamental tenets of Christian creed and practice.
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“How do you live with these people on a daily basis? How do you cohabitate? And it becomes necessary, in order to have ‘business as usual’ — in a literal sense — to be conducted, for religion to be an interior, private thing rather than a public thing . . . It’s not so much theory that brings about toleration; it is daily living . . . [T]his is much easier to do when the natural and supernatural are separated from each other or given some distance from each other.”
— Carlos Eire
Early modern historian Carlos Eire explains how the perennial temptation to separate the natural from the supernatural in theory became institutionalized in practice during the Protestant reformations as a consequence of the desperate attempt to live out daily life with one’s neighbors while avoiding the crossfire of competing churches. However, the gradual effect of that response was an increasingly interior and privatized faith that could give little guidance to civic life.
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“[W]e kind of think after the Enlightenment: Now we finally have the guts to honestly look at the world and suffering and say ‘This is so terrible there must not be a God’ . . . and really Calvin and Augustine and Aquinas and all those others, they just weren’t willing to be as honest as we are, but now we have the guts . . . I don’t buy that; I think it betrays this kind of problematic view of progress . . . One of the great surprises is not that [earlier Christians] thought suffering isn’t a problem, but that the Church responded to suffering with liturgy. The Church responded to suffering with actions, with defiance.”
— Kelly Kapic
Theologian Kelly Kapic talks about the significance of the many forms of Christ’s Body in our thinking about pain and suffering. We often think about the Body of Christ as the crucified Christ, but he is also the body in daily life, the body resurrected, the body ascended, and the body extended into the Church. The members of Christ’s Body, the Church, share each other’s suffering in a way that transcends common sympathy and that resists the powerfully isolating and privatizing effects of suffering.
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James Matthew Wilson
“Complexity is not what marks off an en-souled being, or an intellectual being; it’s depth. To think of reality as reducible to information is to reduce it to a series of flattened nodes whose relationships can be graphed. It fails to recognize that what’s peculiar about intellectual beings in general is their depth. Why does that matter? Because depth is the way in which we describe things as always transcending the sum of their parts so that everything is more than itself . . . This is one of the first lessons of what it means to refer to Being as beautiful.”
— James Matthew Wilson
Poet and humanities professor James Matthew Wilson talks about how cultivating the desire to perceive the interior life of things sustains the basic human capacity for recognizing truth, pursuing wisdom, and contemplating beauty. The modern approach towards reality has surrendered that desire, settling instead for a “concupiscence of the eyes,” which views reality as a mere assembly of parts that can be decoded without being understood.