Sunday, 29 April 2012

Dante Online

I've written before about Paul Claudel's thoughts about Dante but haven't actually given any information about Dante's work directly. Thanks to a recommendation from Stratford Caldecott's 'Beauty in Education' blog, I can now put that right.

He recommends this wonderful site about the world of Dante, which contains the complete text of The Divine Comedy in both Italian and English. Where to fit it into the curriculum is tricky, of course, but it could come in handy if you're teaching or studying T.S. Eliot or John Milton (and there are still a few people who do).

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The Distortion of Language

There is an extremely interesting article by Neil Scolding, Professor of Clinical Neurosciences at Bristol University, in the current (April 2012) edition of Standpoint.

I won't do Professor Scolding the disservice of summarising his article, which deals with abortion and "after-birth abortion" (or "infanticide"), but my eye was caught by his comments about "The distortion of language" and, in particular, the use of terms such as "non-persons" and "after-birth abortion".

It is very easy to shy away from the discussion of this sort of language in the classroom (unless we are studying 1984) but there is no intrinsic reason why we should do so. Language change is a perfectly valid topic for discussion and the horrifying manipulation of the language by advocates of infanticide should shock us into action.

Professor Scolding's articles are always worth reading - click here or here for articles about adult stem cell research - or you can hear him talking about the Day for Life here. For a more personal discussion of his life, work and faith click here.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

The Voice of God

Is it possible for God to be a character in fiction?

Some authors clearly think so. This is how Peter Esterhazy's The Book of Hrabal begins:

The two angels spoke to each other in the language of (what else?) angels. They had assumed the guise of young men; one of them was called Blaise, the other Gabriel, but everyone, including the Good Lord, just called him Cho-Cho.
   'Look here, Cho-Cho, you'd better go and check out what in God's name, if you'll pardon the expression, they're up to down there ... Straight to the point, minimum of fuss, but plenty of circumspection, you know how it is ... free will and tact and all that jazz. And take someone along ... You'll need him.'
   'For a witness?'
   'Are you pulling my leg, Cho-Cho, or what? You're an azes ponem, a wiseguy, eh? So stop it. And cut the crap. No need spelling it all out. What're you, a frustrated accountant? Don't you make me account for myself, you hear?'

And this is Irvine Welsh's God in The Granton Star Cause:

- Shut it cunt! Ah've fuckin hud it up tae ma eyebaws wi aw this repentance shite. Vengeance is mine, n ah intend tae take it, oan ma ain lazy n selfish nature, through the species ah created, through thir representative. That's you.

[You can read about another example of God in fiction (written by a Jewish author, Shalom Auslander) here.]

There are perhaps two questions which arise here. 1. Should God ever be a character in fiction (which I'll address in another post about Noye's Fludde)? 2. If He is a character in fiction then how should He be portrayed?

Welsh's God speaks not in the Standard English of the narrator but, more surprisingly, in Boab Coyle's vernacular. He seems, in terms of language and attitude, to be a projection of Coyle rather than a divine being. In other words, Welsh is far more interested in human weaknesses than he is in divine and he uses humour (and the full resources of the language) to depict our various weaknesses. Some critics have also suggested that The Granton Star Cause is, in part, a response to Calvinism, which suggests an intriguing link with the Catholic Muriel Spark.

Nevertheless, however much we seek to understand Welsh's and Esterhazy's work from a literary perspective, we cannot ignore theology. If we believe that God has spoken, if we believe that we should not take the name of God in vain, then we need to think very carefully indeed before including God in our fiction.

This is something Hemingway understood: "I don't like to write like God," he once wrote. Let alone include Him in his fiction. The writer sometimes has a duty to be humble.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

'Please God, Find me a Husband'

Catholic graphic novels seem to be coming of age. As I've mentioned before, Gene Yang's American Born Chinese was shortlisted for the National Book Award and next week Simone Lia's Please God, Find me a Husband is being launched. Click here for more details about that launch.

Lia's book has been favourably reviewed not just by The Catholic Herald but also by the much less obviously Catholic-friendly Guardian. Lia, who has exhibited at Tate Britain, has already published Fluffy - see here and here - to critical and popular acclaim and so the launch of her new book is quite an event.