Patrick Kéchichian, literary critic and convinced Catholic
Well known to Catholics, journalist, literary critic and writer Patrick Kéchichian died on October 18, at the age of 71. He was an autodidact, he entered Le Monde at the age of 18, in February 1970, to then climb the ladder to become deputy editor. Coming from an Armenian family that fled the genocide, he came from a simple background and had left school in first class.
Hailed for his immense culture, as well as for his humility, he had converted to Catholicism in his thirties. Patrick Kéchichian collaborated on The crossto magazines To believe or Modern Times. He notably wrote a “Little Praise of Catholicism” (ed. Folio, 2009) and the work “Saint Paul, the genius of Christianity” (ed. Points, 2012). A great reader of Charles Péguy, Bernanos, Claudel, Léon Bloy or Ernest Hello, he was particularly attached to the literature of the mid-19th century and the first half of the 20th century. However, he did not disdain the work of contemporaries, such as that of Pierre Michon, author in 1984 of “Tiny Lives”.
Literature and revelation
Is literature, because it awakens an imagination, the ideal place to talk about God? In 2014, a cycle of three conferences was held at the Catholic University of Louvain on the theme: “God, a character in a novel?”. (The second of these three conferences, entitled “The enigma of Catholic literature in France, from the second half of the 19th century to the first half of the 20th century” was the subject of a book published by Lumen Vitae in 2016 , co-written by Patrick Kéchichian.)
The Belgian priest and theologian in love with literature Adolphe Gesché (1928-2003) drew an analogy between novelistic discovery and revelation. He spoke of the novel as a “visitation”, an “encounter with something unexpected suddenly revealed”. What Patrick Kéchichian opposed: “My point of view is completely different, I would be wary of this metaphor which would make the romantic experience a mystical experience.”
Bernanos, “the greatest novelist of the modern period of the Catholic Christian novel”
Mysticism and romantic fiction “do not have the same function”, said Patrick Kéchichian. “Mysticism is entirely centered on the relationship with God, on the explanation of this relationship, on the deepening of this relationship, on the exaltation of this relationship.” From this point of view, “the novel is a somewhat marginal form”. However, “she can join a center”, said Patrick Kéchichian. As such, “the work of a Bernanos obviously expresses this proximity”.
About Bernanos, “the greatest novelist of the modern period of the Catholic Christian novel”, Patrick Kéchichian spoke about his fairly clear relationship with God. “Through the novel, through the characters he creates, through the relationship he maintains with his characters, he shows a relationship with God, he shows a presence of God – not at all reassuring, moreover, it is not not hagiographical works, we are not in the praise of God but in the sometimes tragic, very worried relationship with God.”
Catholic writer: an unanswered question
What then is a Catholic writer? “The question, you have to ask yourself even if you can’t answer it!” answered Patrick Kéchichian. “Being a writer is a personal inspiration, he said, an inspiration linked to one’s own existence: Catholicism is a precise, dogmatic, well-defined reference, so the association of the two is not always simple.”
Between Peguy, Claudel and Bernanos, “Claudel was the most respectful – like any convert, I know something about it – of the Church and of what it represented: the two others could have some criticisms with regard to this authority”. Be that as it may, the three writers have “not at all the same relationship with their belonging to the Catholic faith”. About the novelization of faith or revelation there was a quarrel between Jacques Maritain and Mauriac, told the literary critic but “the question is not resolved”.
If we take the example of Sylvie Germain, “I don’t think she would say that she is a Catholic writer, and yet she has faith”. On another side, “there is indeed for some novelists, including novelists who do not directly claim Christ – a profound experience. I am thinking of people like Pierre Michon, the relationship with the sacred is something absolutely profound.”
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Mysticism and Literature with Patrick Kéchichian | RCF
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