I am not primarily a reader of modern literature. I am a would-be Miltonist (or if that sounds too pretentious, a lover of English Renaissance literature) who, having read Milton, Shakespeare, and the numerous excellent minor writers of that era, now looks around in his own age among his own generation for such breadth of spirit, such depth of Christian understanding, such profound love of human life in its cosmic setting.
Coming from the literary world of giant Christians who were giant writers, I feel like a citizen from the fruitful country of Really Real who has lost his way in the desert lands of Cheap and Tawdry. In the words of Thomas Howard, I have come from a world in which everything means everything to one where nothing means anything. Or worse—where that which seems to mean something vanishes under close scrutiny.
Let me explain what I mean. The literary landscape of our age—let’s say since World War II—is not barren. There are magnificent writers, men who express with great clarity what they see and who manifest in their writing both creativity and formal excellence. It is what they see that is disappointing, for it seems to me that they see with eyes shaded by false preconceptions. When they look at man they see a being who cannot understand hinself—a lost and wandering, sentient and self-conscious seeker who wants to know but can’t. Samuel Beckett’s characters come to know only that there’s nothing at all at the heart of them or the universe. Mankind merely waits stupidly for a God who never comes. For Beckett, man has no meaning.
For Camus, and here I am thinking primarily of the superb novel The Plague, man makes his own meaning by affirming—for no good reason, really—the value of other men’s lives. Christianity ...1
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