THE LITERARY ESSAYS OF THOMAS MERTON by Thomas Merton

THE LITERARY ESSAYS OF THOMAS MERTON

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The best of the essays here were written while Merton served as Abbot of the Trappist monastery at Gesthemeni, Kentucky; and if the Christian existential approach that suffuses them is hardly surprising, what does surprise is Merton's range, catholicity, and general wariness of the tag ""religious"" being put on every other profound work of art. ""I would submit that the term 'religious' no longer conveys the idea of an imaginative awareness of basic meaning,"" says Merton; he prefers the term ""sapiential."" And on such ""sapiential"" writers as Pasternak he is indeed very good, and even better on Faulkner. But weightiest of all here are seven essays on Camus: ""the modesty. . . refusing justification both by works and by faith. It is the modesty which simply elects to fight against death because life is a value beyond question."" Also included: a famous (and severe) essay on the differences between contemplation and imagination, between being and creating (Merton later modified it). Plus acute, wide-ranging appreciations which demonstrate how this ""contemplative"" Trappist always aimed outward as well as inward: on Julian Green; Louis Zukofsky (""that nonnecessary necessity of classic art. . . the man who does not have to be a prophet. And who realizes that one life does not exhaust the possibilities of one man""); Roland Barthes; J. F. Powers; and Flannery O'Connor. (""Flannery's people were two kinds of trash, able to mix inanity with poetry, with exuberant nonsense, and with the most profound and systematic concept of reality. Her people know how to be trash to the limit, unabashed, on purpose, out of self-contempt that has finally won out over every other feeling and turned into a parody of freedom in the spirit."") All in all, a worthwhile compilation of the literary criticism of a strong, open, and (a truly meaningful adjective in Merton's case) unorthodox writer.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1981
ISBN: 0811209318
Publisher: New Directions