Archives For Essay

 

Or So I Like to Think:
The Great Talk of
David Bentley Hart

 
 

The Hidden and the Manifest:
Essays in Theology and Metaphysics

Paperback: Eerdmans, 2017
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The Dream-Child’s Progress And Other Essays

Paperback: Angelico Press, 2017
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Essay by Martyn Wendell Jones

 

*** This essay first appeared in our Fall 2017 magazine issue.
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There are few things as pleasing to me as the great garrulous tradition in American literature. Our country’s abundance of grandly verbose storytellers represents the best of our cultural inheritance. Think of Melville, the wild and abyssal “thought-diver,” author of one of the world’s greatest stories of maritime and metaphysical adventure; think too of Whitman, irrepressible and expansive and democratic, who shed tears at the death of Lincoln—“O Captain!”; then there is Twain, whose creation Huckleberry sees his raft go “all to smash and scatteration,” which the critic Michael Schmidt identifies as evidence of a thrill for great speech.

Since our nation’s founding, we have been a polemical people; Gilbert Seldes’s The Stammering Century, American to its core, is a record of people of the 19th century, some of real eminence, giving themselves over to various utopianisms and cultic enthusiasms—the snake oil pitches and True Enlightenment hustles mixing with earnest seeking after the God-of-backwoods-revival. Our nation’s complete spiritual history and profile would show us to be strivers after the ineffable by way of quite a lot of declaiming.

Numbered among our country’s current generation of great talkers would certainly be the Eastern Orthodox philosopher-theologian David Bentley Hart, whose two recent essay collections attest to his capacity for a great speechifying all his own.

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This week marks the release of George Saunders’s debut novel:

Lincoln in the Bardo
George Saunders

Hardback: Random House, 2017
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George Saunders has been renowned over the last two decades for his short stories. Since we are running a review of the book by Brent Schnipke in our Lent 2017 magazine, I asked Brett Wiley to write a short reflection that was less review and more setting the novel in the context of his earlier work…

By W. Brett Wiley

George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, like many of the stories in earlier collections, creates a strange version of the real world, but, remarkably, it all seems entirely plausible. The novel, Saunders’ first, meets Aristotle’s famous requirement for art: “a probable impossibility is to be preferred to a thing improbable and yet possible.” The impossible is easy to identify. The novel is populated, mostly, by ghosts of Georgetown’s Oak Hill Cemetery who, as the title of the novel suggests, are in the bardo, a liminal space between death and rebirth described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The novel opens with three main characters, all ghosts, welcoming Willie Lincoln—the sixteenth president’s second son who died on February 20, 1862—to the afterlife. The historical event of Willie’s death suggests that the book is historical fiction, but it is not. In fact, like many of Saunders’ short stories, the genre is difficult to nail down. Previous stories have taken unusual forms including a lab report, a corporate complaint letter response, a memo, and diary entries.

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July 11 marks the 90th Birthday
of one of my favorite writers,
Frederick Buechner!

 

[ ENTER to win a copy of this book ]

 

In honor of the occasion,
here’s an Excerpt from
Buechner’s essay
“Faith and Fiction.”

 
 
This essay can be found in the new book:
Buechner 101:
Essays and Sermons by Frederick Buechner
Intro by Anne Lamott.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]

 

If someone were to come up and ask me to talk about my faith, it is exactly that journey that I would eventually have to talk about—the ups and downs of the years, the dreams, the odd moments, the intuitions. I would have to talk about the occasional sense I have that life is not just a series of events causing other events as haphazardly as a break shot in pool causes the billiard balls to careen off in all directions but that life has a plot the way a novel has a plot, that events are somehow or other leading somewhere. Whatever your faith may be or my faith may be, it seems to me inseparable from the story of what has happened to us, and that is why I believe that no literary form is better adapted to the subject than the form of fiction.

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Kierkegaard

Yesterday marked the birthday of Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (b. 1813).

 
In honor of the occasion, here is one of his renowned essays:
 

The Crowd is Untruth

Søren Kierkegaard

Translated by Charles K. Bellinger

 
 
My dear, accept this dedication; it is given over, as it were, blindfolded, but therefore undisturbed by any consideration, in sincerity. Who you are, I know not; where you are, I know not; what your name is, I know not. Yet you are my hope, my joy, my pride, and my unknown honor.

It comforts me, that the right occasion is now there for you; which I have honestly intended during my labor and in my labor. For if it were possible that reading what I write became worldly custom, or even to give oneself out as having read it, in the hope of thereby winning something in the world, that then would not be the right occasion, since, on the contrary, misunderstanding would have triumphed, and it would have also deceived me, if I had not striven to prevent such a thing from happening.

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This week marked the launch of a book that we are very excited about…

… Marilynne Robinson’s latest book of essays!

 
Have you bought a copy yet?
 

The Givenness of Things: Essays
Marilynne Robinson

Hardback: FSG Books, 2015
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Since Saturday October 31 is Reformation Day, we thought it would be appropriate to share Robinson’s essay “Reformation” from this new book…
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This brief essay by ERB Editor C. Christopher Smith,
originally appeared in the very first print issue of our magazine (Advent 2010)…

We reprint it here today in honor of Allen Ginsberg’s birthday.

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AllenGinsberg-AldrichHow Not To Be A Counter-Culture:
A few thoughts occasioned by a reading of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg’s correspondence


Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg:
The Letters

Bill Morgan & David Stanford, editors

Hardback: Viking, 2010
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by C. Christopher Smith

 

I have long been intrigued by the works and lives of the Beat writers, the spontaneity and attentiveness of their works combined with their critiques of the stifling culture of post-World-War-II middle-class American Christianity have been particularly appealing to me. Although the term “Beat Generation” is commonly used to refer to wide array of American counter-culturalists from the mid-1940s to the early-1960s, Jack Kerouac’s assessment in the essay “The Philosophy of the Beat Generation” (Esquire 1958) that the “Beat Generation” was a short-lived phenomenon in the late 1940s among a tight-knit group of friends based in New York City is widely accepted today. In order to understand this movement, if we accept Kerouac’s definition, we would do well to examine the relationships between those in this seminal group of New York friends. Key among those friends are Kerouac himself and Allen Ginsberg, and there is no better way to trace the arc of their friendship than by examining their correspondence. Thankfully, for ones like myself who have an interest in this sort of study, the bulk of the correspondence between these two writers has recently been published by Viking Books. This volume, entitled Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg: The Letters, paints a vibrant picture of the counter-cultural movement spawned among Kerouac, Ginsberg and their New York friends and its infusion across the American landscape in the 1950s and early 1960s.

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Dylan Thomas

Today marks the centennial of the birth of the renowned Welsh poet Dylan Thomas

In commemoration, we offer this wonderful essay by the poet on why he writes poetry.  This essay can be found in:

The Poems of Dylan Thomas

Hardback: New Directions, 2003
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Notes on the Art of Poetry
Dylan Thomas

“The joy and function of poetry is, and was, the celebration of man, which is also the celebration of God.”
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Nectar to an Aching Soul

An essay on the classic novel

Franny and Zooey
J.D. Salinger

Paperback: Back Bay Books
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By Craig D. Katzenmiller

 

“I’m so horribly conditioned to accept everybody else’s values, and just because I like applause and people to rave about me. I’m ashamed of it. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody. I’m sick of myself and everybody else that wants to make some kind of splash.”

 
These are the words that Salinger puts on the lips of Franny Glass, a young university student who is rebelling against university life and one of the main characters in Franny and Zooey.
 
I was introduced to this book by a friend, who sent the above five sentence quote to me in an email. A D.Phil student in a German university at the time, I was growing frustrated with the whole academia scene, and these words were nectar to my aching soul. I sat with them as my wife and I made the decision to return to America in order to find fulfilling work. Upon my return to the States, Franny and Zooey was the first book I picked up.

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Facing Death Without God.

A Christian’s Response to

Mortality

Christopher Hitchens

Hardback: Twelve, 2012.
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An Essay by Alex Dye

 

“Once more into the fray, into the last good fight I’ll ever know, live and die on this day, live and die on this day.”
-John Ottway from The Grey

 

“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,”  -Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 (NIV)

 

Editor’s Note: Page references are to Mortality unless otherwise noted.

 

Christopher Hitchens never met a cow so sacred that he would not gleefully serve it medium-rare with a glass of red wine (or more-likely scotch), if the mood struck just right.  As a journalist, he endeavored to explore, unravel, and critique the largely unchallenged parts of society.  In doing so, has taken on Christianity and religion as a whole, the Pope, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, and even dear Mother Theresa in his short work Missionary Position:  Mother Theresa in Theory and in Practice.  For some, he has been on the radar for quite some time as an author, speaker, and avid spokesman for atheists.  For others, his name has only recently cropped up with the much hailed release of his series of essays entitled Arguably and his posthumously released memoir on the process of dying from cancer, Mortality.  It is the latter that I would like analyze and respond to in this article.

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2012 marks the 350th Anniversary of The Book of Common Prayer.

 

Penguin has released a new edition of this classic prayer book that features a new introduction by James Woods.

 

The Book of Common Prayer

350th Anniversary Edition.

Paperback: Penguin, 2012.
Buy now: 
[ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]

 

 

 

Woods published an alternate draft of the introduction in The New Yorker this fall:

 

Suppose you find yourself, in the late afternoon, in one of the English cathedral towns—Durham, say, or York, or Salisbury, or Wells, or Norwich—or in one of the great university cities, like Oxford or Cambridge. The shadows are thickening, and you are mysteriously drawn to the enormous, ancient stone structure at the center of the city. Continue Reading…