Idle Thoughts

Hello dear reader, the point of departure for today’s post is two quotes. The first comes from Paul Klee, ‘Art does not reproduce the visible, it renders visible.’ The second is from Marxist art critic Max Berger, which can be more or less paraphrased as art is anything that raises our consciousness. As a Marxist his definition of consciousness is more systematic and unrelated to my unforgivably vague definition. That gap between me and Berger is not worthy of comment because it is so natural. It is normal. But I often forget it. We live in the fragmentation of definitions, and consciousness neither has the associations of Marxism Berger used nor the Freudian, bourgiesie definitions he sought to overturn. Instead it’s just a pleasant mix of post-modern clutter. A bit of psychology, maybe a bit of sociology but generally consciousness exists in my mind as word. I know its definition in the abstract but practically, as here, it means just about anything. It is a symbol that points to a gap. It’s sad, in a sense. Who is Oediphus, now, but a fragment pointing to Freud?

Ah well, such is life.

This lack of substance reminds me of the other day. I was standing in the house of a partner at a respectably large and well-fed Southern man, partner at a local law firm. He had a desperate look in his eye I’ve seen in dozens of other Southern men. They will soon be unelectably and ineluctably fat. I blame it on the food. “His house should be bigger.” I nodded absentmindedly. It was time for the guests, myself included, to chat amicably, stare into the fire and miss each other’s points. “The television,” as if it needed no modifiers. Its existence served as an indictment. My eyes betrayed me with an elaborate roll. The betrayal went unnoticed. The conversation turned inexorably to a few other perceived slights. Some slights were unrelated to us, others were. I yawned. A few of the slights were based on that twenty-something, affable liberalism that can’t stand too much scrutiny.  Continue reading

People Power: The history of Western art tells a story

People Power: The history of Western art tells a story

An excellent little walk through sacred art.

Many believers would question whether non-believers can truly comprehend the meaning of religiously inspired art. We can, however, turn this round and ask a different question. What is it that is “sacred” about sacred art? For religious believers, the sacred, whether in art or otherwise, is clearly that which is associated with the holy and the divine. The composer John Tavener, who died at the end of last year, was one of the great modern creators of sacred music. A profoundly religious man – he was a convert to Russian Orthodoxy – Tavener’s faith and sense of the mystic suffused much of his music. Historically, and in the minds of most people today, the sacred in art is, as it was with Tavener, inextricably linked with religious faith.

Believers and non-believers do hold this view but this is not nearly as universal as the author would like. My mind wanders over to a recent post over at Mere Inklings.

All the books were beginning to turn against me. Indeed, I must have been as blind as a bat not to have seen, long before, the ludicrous contradiction between my theory of life and my actual experiences as a reader. George MacDonald had done more to me than any other writer; of course it was a pity he had that bee in his bonnet about Christianity. He was good in spite of it.

Chesterton had more sense than all the other moderns put together; bating, of course, his Christianity. Johnson was one of the few authors whom I felt I could trust utterly; curiously enough, he had the same kink. Spenser and Milton by a strange coincidence had it too.

Even among ancient authors the same paradox was to be found. The most religious (Plato, Aeschylus, Virgil) were clearly those on whom I could really feed.

On the other hand, those writers who did not suffer from religion and with whom in theory my sympathy ought to have been complete—Shaw and Wells and Mill and Gibbon and Voltaire—all seemed a little thin; what as boys we called “tinny.” It wasn’t that I didn’t like them. They were all (especially Gibbon) entertaining; but hardly more. There seemed to be no depth in them. They were too simple. The roughness and density of life did not appear in their books. . . .

The upshot of it all could nearly be expressed in a perversion of Roland’s great line in the Chanson—Christians are wrong, but all the rest are bores. The natural step would have been to inquire a little more closely whether the Christians were, after all, wrong.

I think C. S. Lewis’ story is particularly well-told, and deserves replication in part, yet he is hardly novel or alone. There is something about art, and perhaps something particular about sacred art, that captures the mind. I do not need to be a Catholic to appreciate a cathedral of space, or Jewish to appreciate Heschel’s Jewish cathedral of time. I doubt that if I became atheistic that would change. Sincerity has a quality all its own and there seems something particularly sincere about the sacred. Why is that, dear reader, I leave up to you and your experiences.

If you have any other popular instances of conversion on account of religious art I would appreciate the links. I have a few in mind, but I’m always looking for more.

Two parting notes. First, my criticism shouldn’t deter you from visiting. The article is excellent and is perfect for someone who wants to look at interesting things. Second, I hope you can forgive me for such long quotes. I try to be more than a compilation of choice quotes but apparently I have failed today.

Those are pearls that were his eyes

The Waste Land, read by T. S. Eliot. In spite, or perhaps because of, his subject material nothing makes me quite the same type of happy as a poem by this Eliot. How peculiar.

The Burial of the Dead begins at 00:00; A Game of Chess: 04:58; The Fire Sermon: 10:21; Death By Water: 18:19; What The Thunder Said: 19:00.

My favorite line: “those are pearls that were his eyes” exists at 3:00.

Has anyone else noticed that T. S. Eliot spelled backwards is Toilets? Life has a humor.

The Writer Had a Problem

The Writer Had a Problem

What our correspondent also understood, sitting there in his basement bathtub, was that the literature of creativity was a genre of surpassing banality. Every book he read seemed to boast the same shopworn anecdotes and the same canonical heroes. If the authors are presenting themselves as experts on innovation, they will tell us about Einstein, Gandhi, Picasso, Dylan, Warhol, the Beatles. If they are celebrating their own innovations, they will compare them to the oft-rejected masterpieces of Impressionism — that ultimate combination of rebellion and placid pastel bullshit that decorates the walls of hotel lobbies from Pittsburgh to Pyongyang.



I Can’t Wait For Our Generation of Middle-Managers

Francis Fukuyama fretted that the end of ‘history’ as envisioned by German Idealism, and Hegel in particular, was essentially ‘wimpy.’ We would Homer Simpson on a grand scale: educated, we can all operate a nuclear powerplant, but so clearly incomplete we resemble a 2-D idiot (if essentially kind and lovable) rather than an actual human being.

I always thought that was a bridge too far, as it were. Arnhem, his conclusion, would have to be captured, proven, by other writers. Or not at all. Who would think that he would be proven right by, of all things, our lifetimes?

You know there is a problem with our culture when The Weekly Standard and Slate are walking in lock-step. The arbiters of our culture have, in the immortal words of Kristol, “lost” and those who are still around are left to salvage plausibility from such sentences as “the aspirational paradigm of the new worker: creative, unconventional, flexible, nomadic, creating value, and endlessly travelling. In a post-Fordist work paradigm defined by immaterial labor, artists are the perfect entrepreneurs and incarnate the new faux bohemianization of the workplace.” Ah, of course, I was worried that we were talking about a pre-Fordist work paradigm! Dodged a bullet there. Or was it a missile of feces wrapped around the Virgin Mary that’s supposed to represent the white, over-caffinated, single-child’s conception of inner-city youth’s oppression? So much to groupthink about in graduate seminars.

Every successive year of duly and dully taught graduates seem in equal parts apathetic and ignorant. We’re all a bunch of ‘Business’ majors who do not yet realize that it’s an euphemism for ‘faceless middle-manager.’ There will be a man at our grave who intones, boldly and emptily, ‘he was a company man’ (or woman?).

Of course, at least we have WordPress where we will be endlessly congratulated on our posts: no matter how trite, contrived, precious and precocious the content is.