5.31.2016

yet in my flesh I will see God

Moshe Barasch. Icon: Studies in the History of an Idea. New York University Press (1992)
Sceptics and philosophers of the critical tradition, who so violently denounce idolatry and even the production of idols, seem hardly to have asked in detail why these images are made, and what it is that moves people to making and worshiping them. Philo [of Alexandria] seems occasionally to have departed from this inherited limitation; he did wonder, at least from time to time, what might be the reason for such production. In one of his most interesting essays, On Drunkenness, we read,
Man, who is devoid of any consideration, who is blinded as to his mind, by which alone the living God is comprehensible, does, by means of that mind, never see anything anywhere, but sees all the bodies that are in the outward world by his own outward senses, which he looks upon as the causes of all things which exist. 
On which account, beginning to make gods for himself, he has filled the world with images and statues, and innumerable other representations, made out of all kinds of materials, fashioned by painters and statuaries, whom the lawgiver banished to a distance from his state.
Philo uses passionate language to describe humanity's desire to see God. Of Moses he says that he "so insatiably desires to behold" God that "he will never cease from urging his desire," and though he "is aware that he desires a matter which is difficult of attainment, or rather which is wholly unattainable, he still strives on." But people who do not have the spiritual powers of Moses, we understand, attempt to substitute images of their own making for the true God they cannot attain. People, then, make idols not simply out of stupidity, but because of profound desire that will forever remain unfulfilled. In modern parlance one could say that images are the product of humanity's tragic limitation.

5.28.2016

o que te os deuses dão, dão no começo

W. J. T. Mitchell. Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology. UCP (1986)
Perhaps a simpler way of saying all this is just to note that æsthetics is Marx's blind spot, the one major philosophical topic that remained relatively undeveloped in his writing, the one topic on which his opinions tend to be conventional and derivative. Lessing, Diderot, Goethe, and Hegel were his aesthetic mentors, and however much he might quarrel with their idealism in the sphere of political economy, his fragmentary opinions on the arts reflect basic agreement with the Enlightenment idealization of art. That is why æsthetics and the Marxist tradition have always confronted each other in a state of mutual embarrassment. Marxism is embarrassed because, if it follows the logic of Marx's economic thought, it seems inevitably to fall into a vulgar reduction of the arts to mere commodities, or to "mechanical reflections" in the camera obscure of ideology. If it follows the idealism of Marx's actual opinions about the arts, sustained by the humanism of his early writings, then "Marxist æsthetics" seems to become soft, neo-Hegelian, and un-Marxian.

5.25.2016

iconophobia II

W. J. T. MitchellIconology: Image, Text, Ideology. UCP (1986)
Lessing's wanderings from his first principles into subjects like idolatry and fetishism help us to see finally, the source of the curious power his text has had over all subsequent attempts to comprehend the difference between poetry and painting. This power does not stem only from the surface rhetoric of reason and necessity, but more deeply from Lessing's cunning exploitation of the iconophobic and iconoclastic rhetoric that pervades the discourse we call "criticism" in Western culture. Lessing rationalizes a fear of imagery that can be found in every major philosopher from Bacon to Kant to Wittgenstein, a fear not just of the "idols" of pagan primitives, or of the vulgar marketplace, but of the idols which insinuate themselves into language and thought, the false models which mystify both perception and representation. By literalizing this iconoclastic rhetoric — by applying it, that is, to painting and sculpture rather than to figurative "idols" or icons — Lessing may help us to expose some of the dangers that lie hidden in our iconophobia. He may help us to measure, for instance, the extent to which we have made a fetish out of our own iconoclastic rhetoric, projecting the very idols we claim to be smashing. An idol, technically speaking, is simply an image which has unwarranted, irrational power over somebody; it has become an object of worship, a repository of powers which someone has projected into it, but which it in fact does not possess. But iconoclasm typically proceeds by assuming that the power of the image is felt by somebody else; what the iconoclast sees is the emptiness, vanity, and impropriety of the idol. The idol, then, tends to be simply an image overvalued (in our opinion) by an other: by pagans and primitives; by children or foolish women; by Papists and ideologues (they have an ideology; we have a political philosophy); by capitalists who worship money while we value "real wealth". The rhetoric of iconoclasm is thus a rhetoric of exclusion and domination, a caricature of the other as one who is involved in irrational, obscene behavior from which (fortunately) we are exempt. The images of the idolaters are typically phallic (recall Lessing's account of the adulterous serpents on ancient statues), and thus they must be emasculated, feminized, have their tongues cut off by denying them the power of expression or eloquence. They must be declared "dumb," "mute," "empty," or "illusory." Our god, by contrast — reason, science, criticism, the Logos, the spirit of human language and civilized conversation — is invisible, dynamic, and incapable of being reified in any material, spatial image.

Nunca me esquecerei que no meio do caminho / tinha uma pedra

If Elvis (minus Dylan) is the definition of rock, then rock is remembered as showbiz. Like Frank Sinatra, Elvis did not write songs; he interpreted songs that were written by other people (and like Sinatra, he did this brilliantly). But removing the centrality of songwriting from the rock equation radically alters it. Rock becomes a performative art form, where the meaning of a song matters less than the person singing it. It becomes personality music, and the dominant qualities of Presley’s persona — his sexuality, his masculinity, his larger‑than‑life charisma — become the dominant signifiers of what rock was. His physical decline and reclusive death become an allegory for the entire culture. The reminiscence of the rock genre adopts a tragic hue, punctuated by gluttony, drugs and the conscious theft of black culture by white opportunists. 
But if Dylan (minus Elvis) becomes the definition of rock, everything reverses. In this contingency, lyrical authenticity becomes everything; rock is somehow calcified as an intellectual craft, interlocked with the folk tradition. It would be remembered as far more political than it actually was, and significantly more political than Dylan himself. The fact that Dylan does not have a conventionally “good” singing voice becomes retrospective proof that rock audiences prioritized substance over style, and the portrait of his seven‑decade voyage would align with the most romantic version of how an eclectic collection of autonomous states eventually became a place called “America.”
Chuck Klosterman. Which Rock Star Will Historians of the Future Remember? NY Times. 23/05/2016

5.24.2016

Pôr as coisas em perspectiva

The effect of the [invention of artificial perspective, first systematized by Alberti in 1435], was nothing less than to convince an entire civilization that it possessed an infallible method of representation, a system for the automatic and mechanical production of truths about both the material and mental worlds. The best index to the hegemony of the artificial perspective is the way it denies its own artificiality and lays claims to being a "natural" representation of "the way things look," "the way we see," or (in a phrase that turns Maimonides on his head) "the way things really are." Aided by the political and economic ascendance of Western Europe, artificial perspective conquered the world of representation under the banner of reason, science , and objectivity. No amount of counterdemonstration form artists that there are other ways of picturing what "we really see" has been able to shake the conviction that these pictures have a kind of identity with natural human vision and objective external space. And the invention of a machine (the camera) built to produce this sort of image has, ironically, only reinforced the conviction that this is the natural mode for representation. What is natural is, evidently, what we can build a machine to do for us.
W. J. T. Mitchell. Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology. UCP (1986)

iconophobia

. . . a book which began with the intention of producing a valid theory of images became a book about the fear of images . . . 


W. J. T. Mitchell. Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology. UCP (1986)

5.21.2016

Arianismo e Mariologia

It was the lifelong obsession of Athanasius to insist that to be the Mediator between Creator and creature Christ the Son of God must be God in the full and unequivocal sense of the word: "through God alone can God be known," as the refrain of many orthodox church fathers put it. On the other hand, the Arian opponents of Athanasius, with their unstinted praise for Jesus as the crown of creation and as the supreme created embodiment of human nobility, were attributing to Christ as creature the kind of mediation that, according to Athanasius, only the Creator could exercise. In the words of Henry M. Gwatkin, they "degraded the Lord of Saints to the level of his creatures," but in the process they did make of him the supreme creature. Yet no creature, howsoever sublime metaphysically or exalted morally, could qualify as the Mediator who had saved the world; for to be a creature meant to be "subject to decay, corruption [phthartos]." Being itself subject to decay and corruption, no creature could make another creature "incorruptible [aphthartos]" or confer on it the gift of "incorruption [aphtharsia]" and of authentic participation in the divine nature. By drawing the line between Creator and creature and confessing that the Son of God belonged on God's side of the line, Nicene orthodoxy made possible and necessary a qualitative distinction between him and even the highest of saints. When the church, after several false stats, finally made its own this position of Athanasius that the Son and Logos of God now incarnate in Jesus Christ was the uncreated Mediator between God and the human race, that act of doctrinal legislation left the position of supreme created mediator vacant. Now that the subject of the Arian sentences was changed, what was to become of all the predicated? And so, in a sense quite different from that implied by Harnack, "what the Arians had taught about Christ, the orthodox now taught about Mary." And that was the position that the Mary of orthodoxy came to occupy, in place of the Christ of the Arians: the crown of creation and the supreme created embodiment of human nobility.
Jaroslav Pelikan. Imago Dei: The Byzantine Apologia for Icons. Princeton University Press (1990)

5.18.2016

ob und wie der Tag des Heiligen dämmert

In dieser Nähe vollzieht sich, wenn überhaupt, die Entscheidung, ob und wie der Gott und die Götter sich versagen und die Nacht bleibt, ob und wie der Tag des Heiligen dämmert, ob und wie im Aufgang des Heiligen ein Erscheinen des Gottes und der Götter neu beginnen kann. Das Heilige aber, das nur erst der Wesensraum der Gottheit ist, die selbst wiederum nur die Dimension für die Götter und den Gott gewährt, kommt dann allein ins Scheinen, wenn zuvor und in langer Vorbereitung das Sein selbst sich gelichtet hat und in seiner Wahrheit erfahren ist. Nur so beginnt aus dem Sein die Überwindung der Heimatlosigkeit, in der nicht nur die Menschen, sondern das Wesen des Menschen umherirrt.
Martin Heidegger. Brief über den Humanismus.

5.06.2016

A piety without a home

I am not afraid to say that a devout and God-fearing man is superior as a human specimen to a restless mocker who is glad to style himself an "intellectual," proud of his cleverness in using ideas which he claims as his own though he has acquired them in a pawnshop in exchange for simplicity of heart. Besides, it seems to me that we are born either pious or impious, and I would be glad were I able to number myself among the former. Piety has no need of definition—either it is there or it is not. It persists independently of the division of people into believers and atheists, an illusory division today, since faith is undermined by disbelief in faith, and disbelief by disbelief in itself. The sacred exists and is stronger than all our rebellions—the bread on the table, the rough tree trunk which is, the depths of "being" I can intuit in the letter opener lying in front of me, entirely steeped and established in its being. My piety would shame me if it meant that I possessed something others did not. Mine, however, is a piety without a home; it survives the obsessive, annihilating image of universal disjointedness and, fortunately, allows me no safe superiority.
Czeslaw Milosz. Religion in Space in To Begin Where I am. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux (2001)