Potok Compares Himself To…

Chaim Potok describes his relationship to “Catholic” writers in a 1981 interview with S. Lillian Kremer collected in Conversations with Chaim Potok (edited by Daniel Walden)

Potok: … Interestingly enough, I feel closer to someone like Joyce [than Roth] who really did, in terms of models, precisely what I’m trying to do. Joyce was right at the heart of the Catholic world and at the same time at the heart of western secular humanism. And this confrontation, both as an artist and as a human being in the twentieth century was a core-to-core confrontation. As a human being, he fused his Catholicism with his secularism and produced a Catholic-secular way of writing, if such a thing is possible. His epiphanies, his sacrament of language, the way he structures and sees things are all Catholic, Jesuitical, and he went the secular route through his Catholicism. That didn’t happen to me. I stayed inside the Jewish tradition and took the secular into it. He took the Catholic into secularism and I took the secular into Judaism.

Kremer: Do you feel a similar kind of kinship to Flannery O’Connor?

Potok: To O’Connor, and interestingly enough, in no small measure, to Greene, who grapples with the problem of evil in a strange Catholicism. There are models, in this century, for what it is I’m trying to do with my work, but they aren’t people like Roth.

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