"Christian dogma is about the only thing left in the world that surely guards and respects mystery. The fiction writer is an observer, first, last, and always, but he cannot be an adequate observer unless he is free from uncertainty about what he sees. Those who have no absolute values cannot let the relative remain merely relative; they are always raising it to the level of the absolute."
What does it mean to be an artist? To be an artist and a believer, in the midst of a world so steeped in utility, secularity, "science," and technology that it seems to have no time or place for either? What are the contrasts and parallels among art, prudence, morality, wisdom, and contemplation? These profound questions are asked by too few and answered by still fewer. If we could overhear a conversation about them, would we not find Jacques Maritain and Flannery O'Connor a surprisingly well-matched pair-the influential matchmaker of the wedding of "art and scholasticism" and the great fiction writer who nourished herself from the Summa?
Equipped with intimate and sympathetic knowledge of each writer, Joseph Nicolello deftly weaves a dialogue between the French philosopher and the American storyteller, in which first he, then she, takes the guiding role, exploring grand themes of "mystery and manners," the interdependencies of doing, making, thinking, and feeling, theological poetics and connatural knowledge, the requisites and rewards of literary culture-all the while taking sniper-like shots at modern idols and idiocies. The "Gloss and Primer" in advance of the dialogue presents us with a vision of how the art of fiction, and particularly Catholic fiction, can regain its bearings and its inspiration.