IgnatiusInsight.com: A few years ago you wrote Literary Converts, which is a series of biographical vignettes of late-nineteenth-century and twentieth-century converts and their ties to one another. How is your new book, Literary Giants, Literary Catholics, different from that earlier book? What is the central focus, or goal, of Literary Giants, Literary Catholics?
Pearce: The earlier book was an integrated narrative history of the twentieth century, detailing the network of minds (and grace) that animated the Catholic Literary Revival. The new book discusses some of the key writers of this Revival in greater detail.
IgnatiusInsight.com: In the introduction you bring up two themes that you indicate inform the whole of the book: the conversion of culture and the evangelizing power of beauty. How do you think Literary Giants, Literary Catholics and your other books support and foster these two themes?
Pearce: It seems to me that our sick, decaying and wayward modern culture can be converted by the power of Reason (theology, philosophy, apologetics and catechetics), Love (the example of sanctity in action) and Beauty (the power of art, architecture, music, film and literature). Although these three areas of cultural engagement overlap, and indeed are united in Truth, they represent distinct approaches to changing the world in which we live. I see my vocation as a writer, speaker and teacher to be in the third of these areas. The awesome power of beauty to convert and evangelize the modern world needs to be unleashed through the employment of cultural apologetics: converting the culture with culture itself. I hope that my latest book will succeed in bringing souls to the truth by leading them through beauty to Beauty Himself.
IgnatiusInsight.com: Literary Giants, Literary Catholics has a strong apologetic quality. Is it your most overt work of apologetics, in the general sense of defending and explaining Catholicism?
Pearce: Many of my earlier works were biographies of major Catholic literary figures in which my role was to tell the story of their lives in an objective manner. In such books, as in such lives, the truth emerges from the lessons learned from the experience of the protagonists. In the new book I concentrate on the deep Christian content in the works of these writers. This has enabled me to explore the Catholic dimension in greater detail than was possible in the biographies. As such, it can be said to be more overtly a work of apologetics than my previous work.
IgnatiusInsight.com: One of the longest chapters is titled "Tradition and Conversion in Modern English Literature." What is the paradoxical relationship between the two and why is that relationship so important?
Pearce: We live in a world of chronological snobbery in which it is presumed superciliously that the present is always superior to the past purely because it is assumed that society is always progressing from an ignorant past to an "enlightened" future.
How anyone can believe such drivel after the horrors of the past century is astonishing. From the killing fields of World War One to the Holocaust of World War Two; from the bombing of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Dresden to the Gulag Archipelago of Soviet Russia and the institutionalized murder of Mao's China; not to mention the mass infanticide of abortion; from any perspective the past century has been the bloodiest and most murderous in the whole of humanity's bloodstained history. Against this destructive "progressive" backdrop, we see the resurrection of Tradition: the power of the Past to make sense of the Present. The paradoxical relationship between Tradition and Conversion lies in the fact that conversion requires a rejection of post-Enlightenment "tradition" in order to embrace the older and authentic Tradition of Christendom. The paradox resides in the necessity of rejecting a lesser tradition to embrace a greater.
IgnatiusInsight.com: Several of the essays are on a topic you've written much about in other books, including two biographies: the Chesterbelloc. Although so closely identified with one another, Chesterton and Belloc were actually quite different in nearly every way, weren't they? What are some of the respective strengths and weaknesses of each man as author and apologist?
Pearce: The new book examines these two great writers at greater depth than was possible in either biography. It is true that Chesterton and Belloc differed in many ways. Chesterton lived almost exclusively in a world of ideas, dreaming of action; Belloc married the world of ideas with the world of action, from his travels in Europe and America to his turbulent years as a Member of Parliament. Chesterton's charity embraced the command to love our enemy; Belloc's bellicosity sometimes seemed to justify the desire of the "Sailor" in one of his poems that "all my enemies go to hell"! On the deepest level, however, Chesterton and Belloc were united in their robust defense of the Faith. I look at the complex relationship between these two great men in a chapter of Literary Giants, Literary Catholics entitled "The Chesterbelloc: Examining the Beauty of the Beast".
This interview was conducted with Joe Pearce on the 28th of June, 2005. Joe Pearce's blog can be found at:
On a separate note the Hilaire Belloc Blog would like to congratulate Mr Pearce on his recent appointment:
'I am delighted to announce that I have accepted a new position with Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in New Hampshire (www.thomasmorecollege.edu). I have been appointed as a Visiting Fellow and as Writer-in-Residence and will commence teaching in the coming Fall semester. I have a long-standing friendship with, and admiration for, William Fahey, the College President, and Christopher Blum, the Dean, both of whom I have known since their days at Christendom College. I am truly delighted and very excited to be part of the same Faculty as these wonderfully learned and devoutly orthodox men. I'm also excited to be part of such a dynamic hub at the centre of the New Evangelization. Thomas More College is not only a Catholic liberal arts school of the first rank and highest order but is also associated with Crisis Magazine and Sophia Institute Press. I feel that I am entering into the very heart of all that is best in contemporary Catholicism and will be joining a band of culture warriors who are defending the Faith robustly against the rising tide of secular fundamentalism. I hope I prove worthy to fight in their ranks.
On a sadder note, my move to Thomas More College ends my eleven year association with Ave Maria University in Florida. I have deep respect for the Faculty at AMU and wish them every success in the future.'