Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wit's Way to Wisdom: Four Catholic Satirists

Every fall since 2002, the Center has sponsored the Catholic Culture Series, a set of lectures focused on prominent figures in the Catholic literary tradition. The series sprang from the Center's desire to expose Notre Dame undergraduates- and the entire Notre Dame community- to the richness of the Catholic literary heritage. Highlighting such major Catholic figures as Flannery O'Connor, G.K. Chesterton, Graham Greene, Walker Percy, and J.R.R. Tolkien, we at the Center hope to promote such writers both for the quality of their works and the uniquely Catholic dimension of their literary perspectives.

Entitled "Wit's Way to Wisdom: Four Catholic Satirists," this fall's edition of the Catholic Culture series explored the work of Evelyn Waugh, Baron Corvo, Hilaire Belloc, and Oscar Wilde through five lectures spread over six weeks. Since classical times, satire has been a keen weapon of criticism used by rhetoricians in western civilization. Some of the greatest satirists of modern times have been Catholics, yet from the Catholic perspective there are also reservations about whether satire is truly a meaningful instrument in a dialogue of evangelization. Our five speakers contributed to this debate by examining the critique of modern society that these four men offered through their satire.

1. Rev. Paul Mankowski, SJ, a scholar of Scripture and Hebrew at the Pontifical Biblical Institute of Rome, and a native of South Bend, opened the dialogue with his Sept. 23 lecture on Evelyn Waugh. Mankowski raised the question, "Can a Catholic in good conscience be a satirist?" and answered it by characterizing Waugh's novels: "Waugh did not like his work pigeon-holed. His satire was not composed of pithy one-liners, but rather had an emancipating element." He acknowledged that satire could be used to be hurtful, but that Waugh's stories have the substantial positive truth of the Catholic faith behind them.

2. Ralph McInerny, a philosophy professor at Notre Dame for over 50 years, delivered the only lecture in the country on Baron Corvo at Notre Dame on Sept. 30. Born Frederick Rolf, Baron Corvo is a controversial figure because he is best known for his egotistical, solipsistic personality. McInerny agreed that in Corvo's case, the mean-spirited and self-absorbed character of his work reveals the dangers that can overtake Catholic satirists.

3. Rev. Marvin O'Connell, Notre Dame history professor emeritus continued the series by offering the life of Hilaire Belloc for our inspection on Oct. 7. O'Connell praised Belloc for his "deep perception of human grandeur and human folly," that came with an "uncanny capacity to see both the forest and the trees," that made him a great historian.

4. Joseph Pearce, Writer in Residence and associate professor of literature at Ave Maria University and internationally acclaimed author of numerous books, delivered the lecture on Oscar Wilde on Oct. 14. Pearce argued that Wilde is misinterpreted as a gay icon by those who do not pay adequate attention to his satire, in which he clearly condemns the promiscuity and self-absorption of his characters. His death-bed conversion is the final word on his life.

5. Rev. Charlie Gordon, CSC, from the University of Portland, concluded the series with his lecture, "Waugh Revisited" on Oct. 28. He focused on Brideshead Revisited, which highlights the societal tension between the desire to be ephemerally praised in public, and the competing desire to anchor one's life on the eternal.

No comments: