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Mending the Broken Estate

By Gregory Wolfe Essay

JAMES Wood is a literary critic to die for. Earnest, passionate, and erudite, Wood’s lucid, distinctive voice has cut a wide swathe through what often seem like the mutterings and tergiversations of contemporary literary discourse. Still in his thirties, this British expatriate is now the in-house critic at The New Republic and his first collection…

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My Grandfather’s Easel

By Gregory Wolfe Essay

MY earliest recollection of my grandfather, James Nicol, comes from a trip to Britain when I was very small. Seeing him and my grandmother was a special treat, because we lived in New York and they lived far away in a place called South Africa. On this trip, however, we were all visiting their native…

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Shaggy Dog Stories

By Gregory Wolfe Essay

BACK when this journal was nothing more than a mere proposal, I sought out a meeting with the distinguished church historian Martin Marty to enlist his support. Despite his frenetic schedule, he responded immediately, offering to meet me for a drink when next I came to Chicago. When we got together the conversation eventually turned…

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Shouts and Whispers

By Gregory Wolfe Essay

HAVING been a participant in any number of roundtables and panels on the state of religion in America, and in particular the relationship between faith and culture, I’ve grown accustomed to hearing my conservative colleagues argue that contemporary writers of faith are flabby compared to the more muscular writers of the early and mid-twentieth century.…

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Singularly Ambiguous

By Gregory Wolfe Essay

SAMUEL Johnson, the great eighteenth-century critic, moralist, and wit, once said of the American revolutionaries: “How is it that the loudest yelps for liberty come from the holders of slaves?” I don’t know what Johnson’s friend, Edmund Burke—a proponent of American independence—said in response to this, but I rather hope it was: “Touché.” While I…

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Why the Inklings Aren’t Enough

By Gregory Wolfe Essay

TOWARD the end of his life, Karl Marx found himself in conversation with an earnest, would-be acolyte who was burbling about his plan to found a Marxist club. The older man suddenly rounded on him, declaring: “Je ne suis pas une Marxiste!” (I am not a Marxist). In a few simple words Marx managed not…

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Picturing the Passion

By Gregory Wolfe Essay

NOW THAT Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ has reached thousands of screens around the world and the frenzy of editorializing, pre- and post-release, has died down, two of the early questions about the film have been answered. Once the film entered the public domain, most of the fears about whether the film was…

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Strange Pilgrims

By Gregory Wolfe Essay

IN HIS his masterful book The Life You Save May Be Your Own (reviewed in this issue), Paul Elie has crafted a braided narrative about the lives and works of four twentieth-century American Catholic writers, all of whom have become canonical figures: Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O’Connor, and Walker Percy. The first sentence of…

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The Culture Wars Revisited

By Gregory Wolfe Essay

TEN years ago in these pages I attempted to explain “Why I am a Conscientious Objector in the Culture Wars.” At that time, the dust had only recently settled on the public controversies over National Endowment for the Arts funding of works by Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano. In addition to the debate over public…

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Follies Worldly and Divine

By Gregory Wolfe Essay

IN THE summer of 1509, as he lay sick in bed, Desiderius Erasmus decided to pass the time by producing a literary gift for his friend and fellow Christian humanist, Thomas More. Within a week, he completed the Encomium Moriae, which can be read as either the “praise of More” or the “praise of folly”…

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