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Literature

Gravity, Grace, Weight, Love

Gravity, Grace, Weight, Love

In one of her strange and gleaming essays in The Givenness of Things, Marilynne Robinson describes grace this way: ‘Grace’ is a word without synonyms, a concept without paraphrase. It might seem to have distinct meanings, aesthetic and theological, but these are aspects of one thing—an alleviation, whether of guilt, of self-interest, or of limitation. […]

Death, Critique, Heaven, and Hell

Death, Critique, Heaven, and Hell

Last spring, I finished my undergrad, where I drug myself through a severely disoriented and disorienting thesis. Among the many lessons I learned in the process, I discovered something that deeply hindered my academic writing: I hated it. This revelation surprised me because I entered that research project believing I liked it and did it […]

That Time I Caved and Finally Read Harry Potter

That Time I Caved and Finally Read Harry Potter

On Monday, I experienced what millions of people were doing decades ago: I read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire until 1:00AM. No way was I going to go to sleep on a cliffhanger! Earlier in the evening, my housemate got home just as I started to scratch the surface of the most intense […]

PZ's Podcast: Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life, Facing the Cannons (NOT!), and Tupper

PZ’s Podcast: Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life, Facing the Cannons (NOT!), and Tupper

EPISODE 252: Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life In a quote that’s been making the rounds recently, Rudolph Bultmann wrote, “When we encounter the words of Jesus in history, we do not judge them by a philosophical system with reference to their rational validity; they meet us with the question of how we are to interpret […]

The One Power Source That Never Fails ("Without Your Wound, Where Would Your Power Be?")

The One Power Source That Never Fails (“Without Your Wound, Where Would Your Power Be?”)

I don’t know about you, but in recent months I’ve been avoiding the news. It’s as if I’m using those skills we develop to screen out the advertising that bombards us in order to screen out the painful news cycles around me, only letting in the ones that seem to be key to my understanding […]

Sleeping the Pain Away: A Young Woman Takes a Chill Pill in "My Year of Rest and Relaxation"

Sleeping the Pain Away: A Young Woman Takes a Chill Pill in “My Year of Rest and Relaxation”

When asked about her favorite holiday, writer Ottessa Moshfegh says, “I don’t know if I’ve ever been on holiday…?” And then laughs. On the one hand, I suppose she could be speaking literally. But I take the above response as an invitation, a question: Do human beings ever really relax? After all, we never catch […]

PZ's Podcast: The Spider and the Fly

PZ’s Podcast: The Spider and the Fly

EPISODE 251 Benjamin Britten’s ‘Spider and the Fly’ number from his Suite for “Johnson over Jordan”, by J.B. Priestley, takes you by surprise. It sounds like Gershwin at the start, then becomes a kind of danse, and is ultimately sinister. The composer meant it like that, for he was drawn to Priestley’s play because it […]

Negative Grace: Eliot's Dark Gospel

Negative Grace: Eliot’s Dark Gospel

I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre, The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness, And we know that the hills and […]

For the Record: Summer Reading (From the Humor Issue)

For the Record: Summer Reading (From the Humor Issue)

Here’s to hoping there’s a beach in your future, or some other cosy spot to kick up your feet and soak in a good book. Below, you’ll find staff picks for this summer, taken from the recently released Humor Issue. On Our Bookshelf Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I’ve Loved) by Kate […]

"The Confession of St. Jim-Ralph: Our Patron of Falling Short, Who Became a Prayer," by Denis Johnson

“The Confession of St. Jim-Ralph: Our Patron of Falling Short, Who Became a Prayer,” by Denis Johnson

The Confession of St. Jim-Ralph BY DENIS JOHNSON OUR PATRON OF FALLING SHORT, WHO BECAME A PRAYER I used to sneak into the movies without paying. I watched the stories but I failed to see the dark. I went to college and drank everything they gave me, and I never paid for any of that water on which I drifted as […]

Ignorance Is Not Bliss: Ivan Karamazov Visits Westworld

Ignorance Is Not Bliss: Ivan Karamazov Visits Westworld

This post was written by Nate Mills.  When Moses stood before the Burning Bush, he responded to the Lord by asking, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” Moses’s hesitancy was rooted in a deep uncertainty surrounding his identity. He was unsure of […]

A Visit to Another World: Modern Fiction and Life After Death – A Conference Breakout Preview

Christians have long puzzled over whether literary fiction is of any use to the remnant of believers in the world. Of course, most of the Western canon is essentially Christian; you can’t get anywhere in a lit course without some basic familiarity with the Bible. But many of today’s stories seem postmodern, remaining thematically ambiguous and unresolved. Even so, stories remain one of our surest avenues for (something like) transcendence.

Good fiction describes the reality of everyday life—describes, in the words of Flannery O’Conner, “what is.” But for many Christians this seems too earthly a goal. Where have the symbolic references to Calvary gone? How long do we wait for this character’s redemption? Good stories are not always innocent or sentimental, nor necessarily redemptive. O’Connor, a Catholic herself, seemed just fine with this: “We lost our innocence in the Fall,” she writes plainly, “and our return to it is through the Redemption which was brought about by Christ’s death and by our slow participation in it. Sentimentality is a skipping of this process in its concrete reality and an early arrival at a mock state of innocence, which strongly suggests its opposite.” Oof!

During this breakout session, we’ll spend some time looking at the work of 3 contemporary writers—Denis Johnson, George Saunders, and Ottessa Moshfegh—who I haven’t been able to get out of my head this year. Their stories relate, sometimes brutally, sometimes humorously, “what is.” These writers are not Christians (actually one of them is), but they nevertheless “reinforce our sense of the supernatural by grounding it in concrete, observable reality” (O’Connor). These stories poke fun at the absurdity of our everyday reality and illuminate our desperate need for a life after life. My hope is that their words will help us put some fresh “skin on the bones” of the Christian message (in the words of John Zahl). It should be fun and maybe a little weird! Hope to see ya there.

Click here to register for the upcoming Mockingbird conference in NYC! And check out the incredible line-up of speakers here.