(urth) Hanging Out with the Dream King

Adam Stephanides adamsteph at earthlink.net
Sun Feb 13 08:05:40 PST 2005

on 2/11/05 7:27 PM, maru at marudubshinki at gmail.com wrote:

> Could you give some context there Adam?

The interviewer mentions Wolfe's use of the "concept of the messiah" as a
theme, and asks him how he has been able to keep his "emotions ... [from]
block[ing] the intellectual examination [of the concept] ... where so many
other writers failed to do so."

Wolfe answers in part: "I'm not sure that it's anything that I have done; I
think it's part of my character. It's innate. It seems to me that it is
wrong to write propaganda that is not clearly propaganda. I teach writing
from time to time, and you get a certain number of people who basically want
to write what's basically propaganda for some cause or other. Or some church
or other -- I have a Mormon friend, and when he tries to write fiction, his
characters lecture on Mormonism when the lectures on Mormonism have nothing
to do with the story, frankly. Someone asked Avram Davidson, 'Why aren't any
of your characters Jewish?' ... He said, 'They all are.'  He wasn't pushing
Judaism, but he was writing with what he was, which was a Jew. And I think I
write as what I am."

While his meaning isn't totally evident, he's drawing a distinction between
writing as a Catholic (for example), which is desirable if you're a
Catholic, and writing Catholic propaganda in the guise of fiction. I'd say
his practice as a writer bears this out as far as religion is concerned,
except for a couple of short stories where the devotional aspect is pretty
obvious: I've never been convinced by claims that his novels are intended to
illustrate or proselytize for Catholic doctrine. On the other hand, when it
comes to politics it's a lot harder to reconcile his practice with what he's
saying here.

> I'm not quite sure how to take that comment: does it mean he
> regrets even a little not making it glaringly obvious the religious
> content, and his fringey religious beliefs in particular (I think
> I'm justified in saying fringy; I've heard time and again that his Catholic
> viewpoints are practically pre-Vatican II. But I haven't gleaned enough
> on my own to appraise this view, so if someone wants to correct me, go
> ahead.)

He has said that his Catholicism is pre-Vatican II, iirc, but I wouldn't say
that makes him fringey. That's the Catholicism he was raised in, after all,
and I would imagine that even today there are a substantial number of
Catholics who by and large prefer the pre-Vatican practices. (There's a book
called _The Smoke of Satan_, iirc, which is an entertaining look at some
genuinely fringey Catholics: people who believe that the popes from John
XXIII on have been illegitimate, for example.)

> Or should I take it as a barb against the C.S. Lewis type writers?

You could certainly convict Lewis of "writ[ing] what's basically
propaganda," at least in some of his novels. But it's not clear to me that
this is any less true of Chesterton, whom Wolfe admires.


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