The Sunday's New York Times Book Review interview with Philip Roth, March 2, My Life as a Writer, comes out of a deeper mind.
I think of the Christian life in terms of the novel's form, the novel's embrace of thought, its grasp of reality out of fiction. What gave the man we know as Jesus Christ the confidence, the acceptance of belief and faith, the authority to give, so strongly, his version of human reality? So blasphemous and unbelievable to accepted norms of the expectations of what life was about as far as its possibilities… Who is it that can cure on the sabbath day? How can the poor and the meek and the humble possibly be the inheritors of contended things? What a fairy tale to believe… even putting aside the miraculous, the healings… And yet, the man goes about 'writing his novel.' The confidence comes from somewhere, a primary understanding of the world of the human being. The cynicism we know is gone, out of play.
And so, Novelist, where does your confidence come from? Is it based on some form of hope, that we might then judge as being realistic or not (as if we had an ultimate test for such)? Does that form of hope have something to do with the sense of being able to do good in the world, for self, for others, for all? Is there a body of fundamental realities capable of being understood and corroborated by the symbols of whatever kind of science humans can discover? How could the Christian story fall in with the understandings of the rational mind trained by Western sophistication? How can that story be integrated actively into life, moving beyond the base camp of any church and the entire form of church structure?
Yes, follow the commandments, learn by err and sin. Remember always the real good one can do when in the present moment with people, being simply hospitable, kind, sharing life in a friendly manner, even if it would seem that one could never cure the real ills and sicknesses and problems that prey on all of us. Have faith. Christian confidence is of a different sort, it seems, than the picture of self-confidence as believing in the ability to beat the next guy at whatever or to achieve any particular goal other than to know the right. In other words, as far as much of us are concerned, entering into the world of fiction.
Within this world of fiction, vaguely (or perhaps explicitly, in an odd roundabout kind of way) Christian, what are the possibilities raised for living a full human life? Can a novel reveal from out of its crystal prisms a picture of marriage and good profession, a chaste quality with a deeper understanding, even as it would seem suspended from the realities that press so. Can it suggest things to honor and respect? Can its world show the falling into the worldly, young people trying to fit in, but within still the instinct, still the asking of questions leading in good directions?
Does the world of Christ the perceptive imaginative being rise over the world of any particular novelist, a kind of model? Does that model provide the confidence to allow one to work at such things? Does that model bring a lasting sense of good to the things that are good as far as people are able to do the good? Does that model allow us the sense that goodness is not some separate fantasy, not some meddlesome thing?
Mr. Roth comments on the "all-consuming, voraciously consumed popular culture," and one such as myself can easily agree with his commentary here in its extensive reach. What would an obscure novelist who, in humble hopes of maintaining a salon of some accessible sort, tends bar know beyond the sense of a need for an alternative to that mass culture, "the moronic amusement park," in Roth's terms. Like a nineteenth century Russian novelist of a Karamazov or a Karenina, there seems a form in the Christian ethos and story something the imagination can cease upon, and perhaps even from that find, as they call it, a real life, a better sense of how to act in the world, thereby defending the 'absolute craziness' of the primacy of Christian love over some material concerns.
Philip Roth: "The thought of the writer that matters most is the thought that makes him a novelist."
That is an interesting statement. It may say something about the great novel, the great novelist, at the center of the Christian treatment of the world.
"It was also my good luck that happiness didn’t matter to me and I had no compassion for myself." Another vital insight on the authorial life, from the Roth interview. The necessity of a writer admitting his own faults and sins in a tradition-honored conversation with God is a page from an older style book. He has a fellowship with Czech writers living in political disgrace under the regime, children of Kafka, more shunned than celebrated in their own times.