Is Fiction Christian? The English Language, Too?

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers:

“English, like most languages, is covertly male chauvinist. It is also, as the novelist Harold Brodkey points out, covertly Christian. Nearly all our most resonant words and images carry a trace of Neoplatonic Christianity. Even so innocent a word as ‘friend’ has overtones. in feudal times it meant one’s lord and protector; in Anglo-Saxon times it meant the opposite of ‘fiend.’ We can of course read a book about friends without ever consciously invoking the undercurrents of the word; but where the friendship grows intense, in this story we’re reading, we are almost sure to encounter images of light or warmth, flower or garden imagery, hunger, sacrifice, blood, and so on. The very form of the story, its orderly beginning, middle, and end, is likely to hint at a Christian metaphysic” (88).

And again:

“A novel is like a symphony in that its closing movement echoes and resounds with all that has gone before. . . . Toward the close of a novel, the writer brings back–directly or in the form of his characters’ recollections–images, characters, events, and intellectual motifs encountered earlier. Unexpected connections begin to surface; hidden causes become plain; life becomes, however briefly and unstably, organized; the universe reveals itself, if only for the moment, as inexorably moral; the outcome of the various characters’ actions is at last manifest; and we see the responsibility of free will. It is this closing orchestration that the novel exists for. If such a close does not come, for whatever theoretical reason, we shut the book with feelings of dissatisfaction, as if cheated. This is of course tantamount to saying that the novel, as a genre, has a built-in metaphysic. And so it does. The writer who does not accept the metaphysic can never write a novel; he can only play off it, as Beckett and Barthelme do, achieving his own effects by visibly subverting those traditional to the novel, working like the sculptor who makes sculptures that self-destruct or the composer who dynamites pianos. I am not saying, of course, that the artist ought to lie, only that in the long run the anti-novelist is probably doomed to at least relative failure because we do not believe him. We are not profoundly moved by Homer, Shakespeare, or Melville because we would like to believe the metaphysical assumptions their fictions embody–an orderly universe that imposes moral responsibility–but because we do believe those assumptions. . .” (184–85).

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