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The Call of Literature

Theology, Philosophy and Literature in Conversation

The Power of the Word International Conference VI


Organised by The Power of the Word Project and the Loyola Institute, Trinity College Dublin  


The Loyola Institute, Trinity College Dublin , 1 - 4 July 2020

Picasso woman writing.jpeg

La littérature? Une exploration de l’abîme: celui de l’auteur, le nôtre aussi (André Blanchet)

The importance of literature, John Henry Newman observed, stems from our very nature and God-given powers as human beings, above all language. ‘Great authors’, he said, were ‘the spokesmen and prophets of the human family’ (‘Literature’, 1858). In the same vein Karl Rahner declared that ‘it will still be the few words with eternity in them that go on being real in face of the many words of commonplace talk; the books that belong to our hours of silence will remain’(Christian in the Marketplace, 1966). The book, it seems, is the ‘quintessence of human life’ (Romano Guardini, Lob des Buches,1951). Literature, or so these three authors intimate in their different ways, has a special ‘call’.


The sixth Power of the Word Conference will explore aspects of this ‘call of literature’, for authors and audiences alike. How do writers and critics understand it? What does it mean to speak of a ‘vocation’ to write and what have theologians and philosophers got to say on the matter? In what sense can we speak of readers being called to literature? However we might resolve these questions, we are still left with a profound problem. Is the spirit of literature necessarily an ‘angel of light’? Or does the call of literature sometimes prove to be a siren song? Reading is ‘dangerous’, wrote Marcel Proust, when, ‘rather than waking us to the inner life of our soul, it tends to take its place’ (Sur la lecture, 1906). The many different ways that we experience literature, as authors or readers, invite questions about discernment, authenticity, truth, beauty and much else besides. These issues have, understandably, preoccupied literary authors over the ages. They assume, however, a special poignancy when we bear in mind that many philosophers, theologians and critics have not only discussed the call to literature but also often assumed a literary voice, both in poetry and prose, to explain their ideas. 


The conference aims to explore, without geographical or chronological restrictions, the ‘call of literature’, the problems of discernment that it introduces for literary authors and their readers, and philosophers’, theologians’ and critics’ recourse to the literary. 

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