Bearing the Mystery
Twenty Years of Image
Edited by Gregory Wolfe
Eerdmans, $30, 446 pp.
The project of the literary quarterly Image has always been hard to define. And purposively so. In his introduction to this collection celebrating the journal’s twentieth anniversary, editor Gregory Wolfe lauds Image’s lack of “a programmatic mission statement” as one of its strengths. Over the past twenty years, the journal has striven to publish fiction, essays, poetry, and art that draw from—and struggle with—the Judeo-Christian tradition, without ever becoming merely the “high-art wing” of the politicized culture wars.
This endeavor is not an easy one, especially with fiction. While essayists can directly address the interrelations of faith and art, and poetry and visual art conduce to treating religious themes without sacrificing formal integrity, fiction is inherently resistant to thematic restrictions. A good story never subordinates its characters’ fully embodied, sensory experience to an overarching argument; narrative proceeds according to a sequence of events or an emotional arc, not an idea. Marcel Proust reflects in Swann’s Way on the experience of a young man who wants to be a writer and who searches for a grand philosophical theme to treat in his work, only to realize that what really matters to him is embedded in, and inextricable from, sensory experience. As Flannery O’Connor wrote, “the fiction writer...appeals through the senses, and you cannot appeal to the senses through abstractions.” The Image challenge has...