Markets and the Good   /   Fall 2023   /    Book Reviews

Tradition and the Individual Christian Talent

The prospects for Catholic fiction in the twenty-first century.

Cassandra Nelson

Surreal Study (detail), 1952, by Shirley Markham; Heritage Image Partnership Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo.

French critic Michel Foucault used the word epistème—related to epistemology, the study of human knowledge—to indicate the set of a priori beliefs about ourselves and the world that determine which specific kinds of knowledge and discourses are possible in a given era. A Ptolemaic universe, for instance, lends itself to one mode of understanding, a Copernican universe to another. But never do we know all things at all times. In our moment, it is perhaps harder than it would have been even a few years ago to say what counts as valid knowledge-currency, let alone to articulate which bedrock assumptions have made possible the present cacophony in politics, on the news, in school board meetings, and on the Internet. Are we witnessing a real-time clash of epistèmes or the dissolution of one before another has fully been born?

As two recent slim volumes show, such conditions raise questions about the value and, indeed, viability of Catholic fiction. Can writers continue to produce stories and novels with a compelling Christian message? Will readers have eyes to see?

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