Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

140—Let’s Get Real—Joshua Hren

By Catholic Culture Podcast ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 19, 2022 | In The Catholic Culture Podcast

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Joshua Hren, author of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, editor-in-chief of Wiseblood Books, and co-founder of a new Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, returns to the podcast to discuss his recent essay, Contemplative Realism: A Theological-Aesthetical Manifesto:

As ever, but especially in our present age of raging post-truth unreality, we ought to heed Pope Benedict XVI’s summons to “ask rather more carefully what ‘the real’ actually is.” So-called “realism,” when relegated to material tangibilities, can blind us—instead of binding us—to things as they are. “Are we not interested in the cosmos anymore?” Benedict asks. “Are we today really hopelessly huddled in our own little circle? Is it not important, precisely today, to pray with the whole of creation?” If this preeminent mind of our time is not wrong, and “the man who puts to one side the reality of God is a realist only in appearance,” then we ought to ask with unflinching intensity and openness: what is real? Like liturgy, literature asks this question with a range of forms that answer it very differently. At times, both art and worship seem to devolve into the manners and mood of self-referential and inconsequential play, gestures without meaning, or “bank notes” (says Benedict) “without funds to cover them.” These too-closed circles of communication wall off transcendence. In living cruciform liturgy—on the contrary—“the congregation does not offer its own thoughts or poetry but is taken out of itself and given the privilege of sharing in the cosmic song of praise of the cherubim and seraphim.” In living contemplative literature something analogous happens: we suffer and praise with the whole of creation; the prose cultivates a grateful disposition, prompting us to yearn for a vision of the whole.

But this manifesto on behalf of a “contemplative realism” makes no claims to create, ex nihilo, a new aesthetical species. Nor does it advance this rough school of literary fish as some preeminent or sole “way forward” for fiction in our time. Rather, it seeks to articulate a literary approach that exists already in diffuse books as well as in the potencies of living artists. It seeks to gather and galvanize those souls. More than anything, it yearns to quicken a contemplative realist disposition among as many comers as possible—literary chops or no. For, in a very bad way (to borrow from Josef Pieper), “man’s ability to see is in decline.” (Publisher’s description)


Read a short version of the manifesto

Buy the full version of Contemplative Realism

Wiseblood Books

MFA program in creative writing at UST

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Thomas V. Mirus is Director of Podcasts for, hosts The Catholic Culture Podcast, and co-hosts Criteria: The Catholic Film Podcast. See full bio.

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