April 17, 2013

Art, Love, Suffering, The Usual Suspects

Very interesting reading about Dante and Beatrice (I'd googled for something like "Was Dante's love for Beatrice idolatrous?") and how Peter Kreeft sees that love as coming out of seeing an icon, an image of God. It seems like one would be more likely to feel that way towards a saint since saints are, by definition, most like God incarnational. And I don't see too many people developing an intense love for Mother Teresa, though I suppose it's possible. Anyway fascinating subject. Makes me want to read that Eve Tushnet-recommended Love in the Western World book. A reviewer writes of it that the author, Rougement, is conflicted about the very subject he purportedly mastered:
Rougement traces the “courtly love” tradition from its orgins among 12th century troubadors in southern France through the high Romanticism of 19th century opera to the modern-day consequences of a love that is based on Eros, delusion, and selfishness–a passion that lives for passion, and whose only consummation can be death (for were it to endure, to be exposed to the glaring light of day, it would no longer be romantic passion)… It's impossible not to feel the conflicted emotions of the author himself. On the one hand, he presents himself as the enemy of “Eros” and proponent of “Agape,” as the critic of immature, romantic passion and the defender of mature relationships based on a realistic “dialogue” between two unique, complex individuals. On the other hand, he reveals the heart and soul of an incurable romantic, someone who has been love's thrall, who has been swept up in the dark rapture and sublimely lyrical death wish that is Wagner's “Tristan und Isolde.” But far from being a liability, that underlying tension provides the book's argument with an energy, vitality and, yes, “passion” that is lacking in similar studies of this fascinating topic…. I defy any close reader of this text to leave the book more repelled than enticed, entranced, and ultimately entrapped by the Tristan and Isolde myth. Rarely have I read a work in which an author so convincingly argues against himself.

Crazy how satisfying/addicting tumblr is. I'm amazed by the sheer quantity of art in the world, of how it feels like an infinite supply. I'm also surprised by how many painters depict women entering or exiting a bath. An excuse to paint a nude I suppose. If you want to paint a nude in a natural, normal setting I guess it's going to be involving a bath.

That aside, I'm just stupefied by the great kaleidoscope of art parading through my internet browser. Of course it's not quite the same as seeing paintings in person. I love the 3-dimensional aspect of “live” oil paintings, of how you can see the ridges of paint poking up and the gleam of it. Plus, of course, the works are so much bigger than a 10-20 inch screen.

I find myself looking back at my collection of posted tumblr art much less frequently than I used to. Partially this is because I follow enough people now that I don't have even enough time to go through everything posted by others in real time. But it does please me to know I have those images saved, even if the true value of tumblr is “in the moment”, that pleasing first view of a given image.

Today's catechism reading has a line that seems a bit odd: the unleavened bread that Israel eats every year at Passover commemorates the haste of the departure that liberated them from Egypt. Just seems a funny thing to commemorate. “Let's eat unleavened bread to remind us of how fast we had to get out of Dodge!” I'm sure I'm missing a much deeper significance. Perhaps it's intended mostly as a remembrance of God delivering them from Egypt.

Another interesting passage:

The Eucharist and the Cross are stumbling blocks. It is the same mystery and it never ceases to be an occasion of division. “Will you also go away?”: the Lord’s question echoes through the ages, as a loving invitation to discover that only he has “the words of eternal life".
The twining of the Eucharist and the Cross as stumbling blocks is interesting, going so far as to call them “the same mystery”. On the surface one could see them as different, as the Eucharist as a miracle of the changing of bread and wine into the resurrected flesh of Christ, and the Cross as the “less-miraculous” death and destruction of His earthly flesh. And yet they are the same in that they are both examples of Christ's willingness to humble himself by taking on bread or body. Both are incarnations as it were.

I also like how the Lord's question “Will you also go away?” is given the inflection of a loving invitation, not an accusation or sigh or indifference.   

Later I get would up over things I shouldn't. The latest is the controversy the Dispatch is trying to stoke, a story about a Catholic school teacher who came out as gay and got fired. Of course the newspaper is promoting the hell out of the story, including linking to an online petition to the archdiocese to reinstate the teacher.

I thought about commenting which, of course, is a fool's errand. I wrote some initial thoughts which went unheard, harming no one, until I decided to post this comment anyway:

During the '70s and '80s there were a lot of teachers at Catholic schools who weren't really on board with Catholic doctrine. Which isn't fair if you're a parent paying for a Catholic education, so there's been an understandable reaction. The Catholic Church, like it or not, has a duty to ensure there's “truth in advertising” in schools calling themselves Catholic. We already see how many colleges, such as Georgetown, are no longer Catholic in any discernible way. Knowing this history, if you're a teacher it's not advisable to publicly identify yourself as having a gay partner given it publicly undermines what the Church is trying to teach.
The whole gay agenda is scary to me not because of gay marriage or gay rights, but simply because it's importance to many intolerant lefties has gotten so disproportionate that it's suddenly not beyond the realm of possibility to see persecution based on it. Which is scary, and would seem to require some push-back from believers.


My fetish for all things Irish is evaporating with their religious beliefs. It seems a big part of the charisma of Ireland to me back in the '90s was that they seemed a throw-back to the Age of Faith. Of course I'm shorn of that illusion, as so many others. This life does tend to do a decent job of shearing illusions, but I'm reminded of the refreshment of a Calah Alexander [via Betty Duffy] post in which she wrote of those good folks offering places to stay for those in Boston in the wake of  the terrorist act: she said no one said in the ads "must be a Democrat", "must be Republican", "must be straight", "must be white", "must be black", etc...  I could use more of that attitude.


Woke early and spent the morn reading the new biography of Pope Francis. Not 8:30 and I'd already logged about 90 minutes.  Read the following anecdote about suffering, a topic that interests me in part because I'm so bad at it and which, unlike most things we're bad at, we can't avoid:

As young Bergoglio was recovering in the hospital, he was annoyed by the conventional words spoken to him by the friends and relatives who came to visit him: “You will see; you’re getting over it now”, or else: “How nice it will be when you are able to go back home.” There was a pain that he had to confront, an existential anguish that took no consolation from those phrases. Everything changed when a special visitor arrived at his bedside, who forgot about the conventional things to say, the pat phrases. She was a nun, the religious sister who had prepared him for his First Communion. Her name was Sister Dolores. “She told me something that really struck me and gave me much peace: ‘Keep imitating Jesus.’ ” Lo and behold, in light of those words, even everyday suffering took on a different value. It was not taken away, but it gained significance. “Suffering”, Bergoglio explained in the book El Jesuita, “is not a virtue in itself, but the way in which it is experienced can be virtuous. We are called to the fullness of happiness, and in this search, suffering is a limit. Therefore you truly understand the meaning of suffering through the suffering of the God-made-man, Jesus Christ.”
The future pope recalls the dialogue between an agnostic and a believer composed by the novelist Joseph Mal├Ęgue. The agnostic said that, for him, the problem was: “What if Christ had not been God”, whereas, for the believer, it was “What would have happened if God had not become Christ”, that is, if God had not become incarnate, had not come to earth to give meaning to our journey. “Therefore,” Bergoglio explains, “the key is to consider the Cross as the seed of the Resurrection. Any attempt to alleviate suffering will obtain only partial results unless it is based on transcendence. It is a gift to understand and to experience suffering fully. Moreover, it is a gift to live fully.”
Perhaps for this reason, too, the new pope mentions the White Crucifixion by Chagall as a painting he especially likes: “It is not cruel; it is full of hope. It depicts sorrow with serenity. In my judgment, it is one of the most beautiful things Chagall painted.”


BettyDuffy said...

I'm thrilled for the shout out, but need to note that that post was written by Calah Alexander at Barefoot and Pregnant. I would love to have written it, but only linked to it.

TS said...

Oh, oops, thanks for correction! Will update post tomorrow.