Thursday, March 17, 2011
Interview with Bernardo Aparicio García
Bernardo Aparicio García is the twelfth interview at The Fine Delight. This interview was conducted through e-mail. A bio note, as well as relevant links, follow the interview. Thanks for your insights into producing a Catholic-focused literary magazine, Bernardo!
1. Can you tell us about the origin of Dappled Things?
Well, perhaps as might be expected, it was one of those crazy ideas that can only grow out of having too much time on your hands. The summer after graduating from Penn, I was spending some months at home waiting for a job offer to come through, and that’s when the idea came to me.
My majors in college were economics and international relations—in fact, I only took two English classes while I was there—but my interest in literature and Catholicism had grown tremendously over the past four years and I found myself thinking that it was a pity that among so many Catholic publications, there were none whose primary focus was the arts. During college I had been privileged to meet many smart, talented Catholics, not only at Penn but in colleges across the country, and I thought, man, it’s really too bad that nothing exists where all that talent can be pooled together and showcased. At first I thought the idea of starting the magazine was pure pie-in-the-sky, but then I realized that since I did know all these great people, I might as well put them to work. So I sent some emails out and by December we had released our first edition online. Then a year and a half later, during the summer of 2007, we released our first printed edition.
I imagine most of your readers will recognize the title from the first line of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty.” While the magazine was still in its pie-in-the-sky stages, I started looking for possible names and at first all that was coming to mind was some version of The [Something] Review, which I thought was terribly boring. So I began poring over the books in my library until I happened to run across “Pied Beauty.” As soon as I saw it, I thought, “that’s it.” The way Hopkins revels in that poem over “All things counter, original, spare, strange,” perfectly captures what we’re about. We want to publish work that gives glory to God by exploring a world that is “dappled,” irregular, surprising, that considers things that might be perplexing at times, yet all the more wonderful and satisfying for it. Mysterious, I guess, is the word, though I’m afraid it’s beginning to suffer through overuse.
2. What have been the successes and struggles of editing a literary magazine that "engage[s] the world from a Catholic perspective"?
On the success side, people really seem to want something like DT, so we’ve gotten overwhelmingly positive reactions from the start. I think many people today are frustrated with much of the literature being produced, either because it flattens and brutalizes human nature through reductionism, or because it fails to explore our spiritual dimension with seriousness and honesty. We try to fill that gap, and it’s something that readers and writers who hear about us appreciate.
The same goes for our team. All of us are volunteers and—believe me—I often wonder how we manage to have lives and keep this journal going at the same time. I, for one, have often daydreamed of chucking it. But I don’t because in my view the work is just too worthwhile. The same goes for the other editors. Not to get grandiose, but our mission is intensely motivating almost by necessity, since it brings together matters (art, God) that lie at the heart of what makes us human. That’s what gets so many of us—both editors and contributors—to give up our time, resources, and sanity to put together this journal. Unless so many people were willing to volunteer their work, DT could never exist, as we certainly don’t have the money. Our beautiful new website, for example, was coded by a brilliant high school student whom we had never met, who approached us online and offered her expertise.
With regards to struggles, the main challenge has been money. We are now a tax-exempt organization, so we’re hoping that this year we can succeed in getting some grants, which would be a huge help. The money problem is a bit of a vicious cycle, because the lack of money makes it more difficult to get the word out, which makes the number of subscriptions stagnate, which keeps ad revenues low. The new website has drawn lots of traffic, and that’s helping us break the cycle, but even just a few small grants would be tremendously helpful. We’ll see whether the Catholic angle is a help or hindrance in this respect. One worry we have is that arts foundations who might otherwise be well disposed will perceive us as “sectarian” and therefore ineligible for grants. My hope is that they will judge us on our artistic merits. We’ll see.
3. Are you ever surprised by how potential submitters self-define "Catholic" within their own writings?
That question touches on the much-debated, never-quite-resolved question of what “Catholic literature” is in the first place, if anything. We do think that is a meaningful term, or at least that there can be particularly Catholic approaches to literature—else I don’t think we would be in this business—but in many ways Dappled Things is an exercise in exploring that question. As editors we have our own ideas, of course, but we try to keep an open mind. Much of the material we receive is indeed explicitly religious and Catholic, but then again a lot of it deals with things that are very much of this world. We even get some submissions that, at least at the surface level, are concerned with other religions. To us everything is fair game because, well, we believe Catholicism is true. That means that it is one with reality, so insight into any part of reality can give us insight into the Catholic faith, and vice versa.
So yes, sometimes we get surprises. Some delight us; others, admittedly, leave us scratching our heads as to why the author thought we were an appropriate venue.
4. Your site has just undergone a beautiful redesign and relaunch in time for your 5th anniversary edition. What are some of your favorite selections from the new issue?
Most of the pieces in the new issue are actually selections from work published in the early online-only editions. Each editor got to select a couple of favorite pieces to republish, so I guess first of all I would have to recommend my own selections: “Refiner’s Fire” by Shannon Berry and “Light from the East” by Matthew Alderman. The former is a moving personal essay that deals with discernment, love, and the holiness of silence. It’s especially intriguing because it follows the author as her boyfriend drops her off at a contemplative convent to decide whether she should become a nun. The second piece is a very thorough essay on the question of orientation in the liturgy by one of our own editors, who also happens to be a brilliant architect and illustrator.
Other pieces in this issue that I’m particularly fond of are “Meat” by Matthew Lickona and “Carla” by Arthur Powers—both of them short stories—as well as the feature, “Sacred Places,” which is a collection of short essays by Joseph Bottum, Fr. James Schall, SJ, David Clayton, Joseph Pearce, and Duncan Stroik. Each essay considers a concrete location that has somehow enriched its author’s faith, a place in space and time that also points beyond either. Then there are several poems that really speak to me, but if I keep naming things I’ll just end up recommending the whole issue (which, in fact, I do!).
5. Do you think an active Catholic literary culture/subculture exists? What could be done to better sustain such a culture?
I guess that depends on how you define culture, and where it is that you’re looking. In any event I think it is undeniable that to the extent that there is such a culture, it is very weak. I think part of the reason is that we have gotten too accustomed to existing in the world according to the world’s own terms. When talking about Catholic culture, especially Catholic art and literature, the first thing people bring up is the “sacramental imagination.” That’s certainly true and important, but I think it is just as important to develop what we might call the “paradoxical imagination.” Perhaps I need a better term, but what I mean is that part of Christianity’s genius is getting at the truth of things by standing them on their heads. That’s how the most triumphant and hopeful image in our religion ends up being also the most humiliating and desperate: the crucifix. No Catholic literary culture or subculture is going to flourish until we can rediscover and internalize the paradoxes at the heart of life and reality, instead of just trying to create a sanctimonious or vaguely mystical version of what the secular world has to offer.
On a more practical level, I think it would be a huge step forward if we could turn our mega-parishes into actual communities rather than just centers where people gather once a week, like a movie theater. Others know better than I how we might achieve that, but here I just want to point out that to the extent that we do, we will see writers and artists who have actually developed the habit of understanding and experiencing the world through a Catholic frame of mind. Without community there is no culture, much less a specifically literary culture. One is built on the other. Aristotle said that we are political animals because it is only in a polis that we can exercise and develop the full array of the habits (virtues) that make us fully human. That’s exactly right, though I would add that at a deeper level we are ecclesiastical animals. In any case, if we want to develop the virtue of art in a way that is consistent with our nature as creatures created in God’s image, we need a community where that virtue can be fostered and actualized.
6. If you could publish one Catholic writer of the past in Dappled Things, who would it be and why?
Only one? I think in that case you’re basically forcing me to go with an obvious pick: Flannery O’Connor. Not only was she an amazing writer of fiction, but her essays and letters are required reading for anyone who wants to think about the relationship between Catholicism and literature. She’s been one of the strongest influences on our aesthetic and editorial philosophy, though through her we get a lot of Maritain and Thomas Aquinas, and a lot more besides. For more on that you can read an essay titled “Self-Gift and the Literary Vocation” by Katy Carl, our editor in chief, which was published in our SS. Peter & Paul 2007 edition.
7. What are your future plans for the magazine?
You mean beyond mere survival? Well, our immediate goals are to improve our budget situation through grants and sponsorships, and then to use the new resources to improve the journal’s visibility and expand our subscriber base. Part of the marketing push would include traditional ads in various outlets, but we’d also like to have a greater presence at conferences throughout the country. In fact, Eleanor Donlon, one of our editors, will be presenting at this year’s Chesterton Conference. She’s currently editing Stoker’s Dracula for the Ignatius Critical Editions series, so her talk will have a vampiric theme of some sort. Our long run goal is to get Dappled Things on a solid financial and institutional footing that can allow it to flourish for many years, hopefully long after the current team of editors has moved on. Then who knows what sort of projects we might take up.
That said, our main goal is always to keep improving the quality of the work we publish, and to share that work with as large a readership as we can manage.
Bernardo Aparicio García is founder and president of Dappled Things. He grew up in Cali, Colombia, and then moved to the United States to attend the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied economics and international relations. After deciding not to run for President of Colombia, he received his M.A. in liberal arts from the Great Books program at St. John’s College in Annapolis, and has since been teaching at the high school level. He lives with his wife and baby daughter in Arlington, VA.
Posted by Nick Ripatrazone at 12:16 AM