Valentin de Boulogne
Saint Paul Writing His Epistles, c. 1618-1620
Oil on canvas
Art speaks of something behind itself. Walter Benjamin used to say that there is something “auratic” about art, something mysterious and (well, he wouldn’t say this following word) supernatural about it. When we are confronted by art, it gives us pause. Or it should.
I find it difficult to shoot through certain books quickly. I like to shoot through books quickly, though. But, for some reason, I have to go slower when I am confronted by terrifying beauty. Or by terror. Or by beauty. Or some other combination of these ideas that I cannot quite conceptualize here.
The crucial bit is, as Slavoj Žižek has noted, that there is some Absolute that reaches through the beautiful, or the horrible, or whatever the situation is, and touches us. It hits us at some level that we cannot explain. It is “fragile,” but sure. C.S. Lewis based his life off of one of these sorts of experiences from reading Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who wrote “Balder the Beautiful / Is dead, is dead” (“Tegnér’s Drapa”). Another of these moments, for Lewis, occurred when he read George MacDonald’s “The Golden Key” and longed, alongside Tangle and Mossy, for “the land from whence the shadows fall.”
There’s a reason that I have covered every post, every page here with some kind of fine art, that I write about mainly the greatest of novels and the most provocative of non-fictions. It isn’t because I have some sense (or care) as to what the “canon” is or ought to be. It is because, rather, I have some sense of what “art” is, and that I am interested in provoking you with that art. I have the sense that the arguments of the late 19th-century about art were all wrong. Art is not “for art’s sake,” as Oscar Wilde and Walter Pater would have said; nor is Art for a purpose’s or utility’s sake, as William Morris thought. I think the answer regarding Art is far simpler: Artists, in their heart of hearts, know that Art is about something beyond itself.
This makes it hard to quantify. But it does not make it un-true. In fact, I would argue that Art is about Truth, including even Art that is explicitly about the falseness of Truth (see Magritte’s La trahison des images). It uproots us and provokes us, it undermines us and undoes us. That is precisely what makes it effective, and precisely what makes it difficult to pin down within a simple teleology.
My aim is to write about Art, specifically Written / Literary Art, and to engage the claims of the Christian Gospel in light of and in opposition to the powers of Babylon, wherever they may appear. My conviction is that just as Babylon manifests in every place it can possible be, so too the Kingdom of God manifests in its Mystery even in the words and ideas of fallen men. So whether I speak in the tongues of men or angels, my goal is to communicate the Good News, even in a foreign language, even in exile, in such a manner that the Beauty of God’s Truth might be seen, even here.