Personalism and popular genres : American Catholic fiction after Vatican II.
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This dissertation explores the Catholic literary landscape in America after the Second Vatican Council using the framework of former Pope John Paul II’s Thomistic personalism as a theological correction to the aesthetic problem of overly reductive, formulaic fiction of popular genres such as the Western. From within this framework, this dissertation argues that post-Vatican II American Catholics revise and employ popular forms of literature as a means to articulating foundational premises of Christian orthodoxy in a way that is fundamentally different from their Catholic predecessors, Flannery O’Connor or Walker Percy. Indeed, the works by novelists Ron Hansen and Alice McDermott demonstrate a rich and vibrant experience of the faith as it is lived, and their method of positing the truthfulness of Catholicism is to create complex, dynamic characters who reveal the fundamental goodness of each human being when considered in light of Christian teachings and who also disrupt the rigidity of formulaic popular genres. In doing so, these novelists reflect a post-Vatican II concern for the laity and its vernacular expressions that deviates but maintains connections to the larger Catholic tradition. Therefore, this work offers an argument on behalf of contemporary literature that responds to the postmodern aesthetics and modes of literature dominant in discussions of contemporary fiction in complex ways: neither rejecting the technical and methodological insight of aesthetic and philosophical postmodernism, these novels resist the recourse to formalized nothingness that contemporary critics argue is the basis for postmodern religious fiction. The vision of Catholicism more precisely, and Christianity more generally, which emerges from these authors’ works exhibits a careful attentiveness to the particular ecclesial, political, and aesthetic crossroads of the contemporary situation and a faithful reaction to the encroaching nothingness that lifts up small but substantial, tenuous yet tenacious and positive though critical affirmations of the dignity of human beings, created by God and living in communities of the committed, faithful few.