Louder Fenn

Friday, March 01, 2002

Kevin Holtsberry has a nice anecdote about trying to see U2 as a youth. His anecdote; the NRO article that prompted his anecdote; and my next modicum of The Spare Midge, have all got me wondering about the potential conflicts between Art and Faith.

I'm not about to resolve such conflict in this post. But things do occur to me.

Like almost everyone else in this age, I have chosen my form of popular music. Unfortunately, mine is probably the very farthest from Restfulness in God: hardcore heavy metal. While one can certainly imagine the sounds of a U2 being wedded to faithful ideas, the sounds of what I listen to... hey, I'm not talking Stryper or Bon Jovi or Def Leppard, which my brother once accurately described as Heavy Aluminum. While I have enough class to avoid the bloodily violent and certainly I reject the out-and-out anti-Christian garbage, I cling to some extremely Hard Stuff. Let's put it this way: Nothing I listen to will ever make it into Muzak.

When I returned to the Faith nine years ago, I got rid of everything, even the Devo. It was that typical purging of the re-born. As the years passed, though, things crept back in. Not nearly the worst of it; but things I wouldn't show to my nieces and nephews. Is my discretion well-founded -- or unthinking? Is there something intrinsically Satanic about the sound of death-grinding guitars? Is it the sound -- or is it what is spoken from within the sound?

Are some forms of Art simply contrary to a good Christian life?

And I wonder about the Art that I produce. (I use Art with a capital A not to elevate myself; I'm just speaking in grand terms.) Certainly my works for children are at least not contrary to the Faith. I hope.

Yet I do wonder about one story I wrote (which was also published): It's about an extremely unhappy 16-year-old girl. She does a terrible thing at one point and there is never a moment of penitence or redemption. There is, at the end, a subtle shift in the narrator, towards his girlfriend, who is Catholic and who has asked God to intervene with His grace; but in some ways, I indulge that awful 16-year-old girl. She is never actually called to account.

And that brings me to The Spare Midge.

This story, of course, is utterly for adults. Especially because part of Midge's dissolution -- all of it, really -- is wrapped up in sex. Now how does one depict a sexually dissolute teenage girl without descending into porn? Well, as a matter of principle I think it is only the incompetent artist who ever actually uses the word (brace yourself) penis in a story. As soon as you start describing the mechanics of sex, you've descended into mere titillation; and I don't care if you're a genius otherwise.

At the same time, sex is what it is, and if you're going to use it in a story, you can't be overly scrupulous. Tasteful, yes; but how tasteful can you be, when it is dissolution you're depicting? Balances, balances.

So what is my solution? I'm not sure. A kind of smirking, casual weirdness. What do I mean? Well -- read Modicum 8 of The Spare Midge, which I will be posting tonight. I think this passage is about as -- well -- crude as I get. Again, no porn. God forbid. But not PG-rated, either.

Would God, reading this passage, be disappointed in me?

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