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Thomas International Center
June 2006


Ralph McInerny


Raging In The Dark



I have recently written a little book called Some Catholic Writers which is due to appear in the months ahead. Considering the influence of the faith on the minds and imaginations of authors reveals how various and unpredictable that influence can be. It occurs to me that one might gather together authors who lost the faith and ask how that affected their work.

Among the moderns, James Joyce most dramatically sought to make a religion of art, which is all he had left when he lost the faith of his childhood.  Art or faith? William Butler Yeats has a short poem called The Choice that suggests that the artist must choose between moral goodness and artistic excellence.


The intellect of man is forced to choose

Perfection of the life or of the work,

And if the latter must refuse

A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.


Reading about many poets can certainly suggest that they think the ordinary moral life does not apply to them.  There is a vestige of the Romantic notion of the artist in this, But I keep thinking of such writers whose lives were a veritable hell B Delmore Schwartz, Dylan Thomas, Edna St. Vincent Millay.  One could go on.  Clearly it is nonsense to see a per se connection between artistic creativity and the rejection of morality. Think of Dante, think of Shakespeare, think of Cervantes, think of Manzoni. Or is there a special moral danger in the immersion in feeling and imagination? Disputandum est.


Ralph McInerny