I’ve been reading a rather interesting perspective on the nature of art lately. The author’s interest is, apparently, to present art as a broader more all-encompassing enterprise: as something with the potential to reach deep into the psychic as well as philosophical realms of human Being. This advocate for the arts maintains that a total sensual and intellectual emersion on the part of the art consumer might potentially move him/her far beyond simple aesthetic appreciation onto a psychological plateau of unimaginable ecstasy or at least engagement: that art, when attentively considered might changer one’s way of perceiving and thinking about the world.
The idea, I guess, is that art at its best may produce psychic displacement, as in a nightmare when those around you are aware of information you aren’t privy to leaving you exposed, naked, alienated, outside of the common knowledge shared by everyone else. Such a shocking realization might then lead to basic questioning of all you previously took for granted: the physical and social norms of daily existence come into question.
Well, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. The author’s intent though is that the best art will provide the attentive consumer a truly cathartic experience. As I think about it, there’s nothing really new about the idea of art as catharsis: the ancient Greeks were creating such work millennia ago and it was pretty successful. Such art provided respite from the anxieties suffered during the disruptive wars between the city states. Given our politics these days I’m thinking we could probably use a bit of that now.
I’ve been reading about Martin Luther recently. Quite an exciting story really: deeply religious god-fearing monk confronts the powers of a Roman Church that in the 15th century was pretty much absolute. The newly developed printing press provided a means for the prolific Luther to convey his dissatisfaction with a corrupt church to a more than receptive peasantry who bought into his conception that redemption was justified through faith alone and could be accomplished by the individual without a mediating clergy.
As tensions rose so did the peasantry who overran monasteries, burned churches, looted and murdered indiscriminately in God’s name. Luther, rethinking what he had started, turned on the peasants, encouraging the established powers to put them all to the knife.
Later in life Luther took responsibility for the peasant uprising as well as their ultimate slaughter at the hands of political and Papal authorities. In explanation he responded: ‘God commanded me to speak as I did.’ I guess his personal messages from God might have inspired him to vehemently denounce, demonize the Papists and Jews as well because he attacked those folks with particular zeal, not to mention his denunciations of the Calvinists, humanists and Anabaptists. His absolute certainty that God had shown him the only true way to salvation, justification through faith alone, displayed a zealotry that rather than bringing mankind together in a peaceful harmony did just the opposite.
Well, on the positive side, I guess Martin’s actions in the 16th century gave Lutheran church fathers a lot to think about over the centuries. The idea of justification through faith alone must require a lot of explaining.
I’ve been aware for some time of the existence of a mysterious algorithm alive within the internet that feeds me stories and information it thinks I want to see. It’s usually pretty much right on and I’m assuming it (the algorithm) does the same to everyone who shops on-line or just surfs the web.
Having become aware of this insidious (being?) hovering over my every search I find a couple of things disturbing: I think twice about seeking out a sight that might generate pop-ups that I would find embarrassing should someone happen to be looking over my shoulder at the wrong moment. And, I’m somewhat concerned that my political perspectives are being reinforce daily when it would be to my benefit if I were to receive a more balance view, although, as the algorithm knows, I prefer reading such reinforcement so am inclined to stay on-line longer, which, I guess, may very well be the algorithm’s intention.
So, as I participate in what I always thought to be pure freedom of unrestricted surfing, searching out information, shopping or whatever, I’m being manipulated by an entity who is essentially satisfying my desires and inclinations whether I want it to or not. I don’t think I’m in a filter bubble, or anything, I do get news feeds I don’t agree with but every once in awhile I contemplate escape. I wonder what would happen, if I’d be followed were I to make the plunge into the deep web?
I happened upon a news item the other day that reported researchers have found how the medieval church’s prohibition on marriage between relatives promoted, over time, some very positive results for the cultural developments of mankind. Scientists attribute to the ban the reduction of clannish behaviors, broader social cooperation and an individualism that produced free thought and new ideas leading to considerable progress in the development of western societies.
I got to thinking about why exactly the church might have decided to take such a stance in a time well before knowledge of the genetic dangers of inter-breeding were known. Then I happened upon a conjecture by researchers that suggested that disrupting and reducing clan structures created a situation where less inheritors for family properties made it more likely that, sans descendants to pass the farm to, the church would become a likely recipient seeing as how those medieval folks were pretty convinced an extended and fairly unpleasant time in purgatory awaited them and that such time could be shortened through the intercession of the church fathers.
Boy, as much as I might like to think of the church’s intentions as positive there all too often seems to have been ulterior motives.
I’ve been coming across some new terms in my readings lately that seem to indicate a bit of cultural shift or maybe potential social upheaval in the ways we all relate to each other. The term ‘woke’, I find, suggests the importance of paying closer attention to sexist or racial slights that have existed for a long time and need to be called out. These slights or ‘micro-aggressions’ marginalize minority groups and really have no place, I totally agree, in public discourse.
I’m just wondering, if, perhaps, some of us are spending too much time, looking too hard for slights and questionable behaviors , and are, thereby, bordering on adherence to ‘safetyism’ in which emotional reasoning distorts what reality actually offers, because now, I read, the paintings of Paul Gauguin, the 19th century French painter are being petitioned for museum removal because of the artist’s dalliances with underage girls during his years in Tahiti.
Considering the personal behaviors of some of the other art world notables, Leonardo and Michelangelo among them, I fear the cancel culture, given free reign, could erase a whole lot of the history of western civilization.
I’ve been reading lately about the differing perspectives among certain religious scholars in medieval times, and earlier too, as the church fathers gradually constructed through biblical interpretation the dogmatic beliefs which formed the essence of the Christian religion.
As one might imagine deciphering meaning from sacred texts led to conflicting beliefs, then power struggles within a church hierarchy that became more interested in material gain than saving souls, overtime producing a church that treated it’s parishioners less as children of God than as prey, selling indulgences that were claimed to be one’s ticket directly to heaven, which was a big deal because the fear of the tortures of purgatory was so embedded in people’s minds that extortion was pretty easy to practice. So, with the clergy in complete control, calling the shots, getting rich off of indulgences, the parishioners cowed into subservience, things weren’t looking too good for an extended run of a religion that began as a promise of true salvation to an oppressed people of meager prospects.
Jumping ahead a few centuries we find that the church did survive and has pretty well got it’s act together, you know, practicing honest concern for those in need and pursuing the spiritual well being of it’s community, not demanding unreasonable alms and recognizing, for the most part, the legitimacy of other belief systems.
They should, though, probably work on staying out of politics.
I’ve been reading about the difficulties that the Early Christians faced translating the Bible into Latin. There were, apparently, a number of translations from the original Hebrew and Greek in early Christian times that were treated as ‘living text’, altered to suit the inclinations and personal biases of the interpreter. Serious scholars like Jerome (whom the church eventually thought well enough of to grant sainthood) struggled, in the 4th century CE, to gain a sufficient knowledge of Greek to produce an accurate (or fairly accurate anyway) translation of what was originally written. Even so our intrepid scholar, given the enormity of the task, made plenty of mistakes. And on top of it all, the time being pre-printing press, copies had to be made by hand by ill-fed, poorly housed monks who it is certainly reasonable to understand, made plenty of errors of their own.
Later, in the 16th century, Erasmus of Rotterdam, a respected Biblical scholar, unhappy with the grammatical errors and discrepancies of meaning in the New Testament returned to the original Greek in order to produce a translation more in keeping with the intentions of the authors of the gospels and epistles. Erasmus (whom the church apparently didn’t deem sufficiently saintly) spent years working on his Biblical update. He, too, was prone to translating mistakes.
Assuming the multiple translations into modern languages has inevitably built mistakes upon mistakes I have to wonder how today’s Christian Fundamentalists can maintain a belief in Biblical inerrancy.
I’ve been reading about a phenomenon occurring within the social milieu of high school students. It appears there’s a censorial application called ‘cancelling’ that groups impose upon those they find to be politically incorrect (you, know, from a high school perspective), out of sync or in some way offensive to the group. The cancelled individual becomes persona non grata, looses any sort of identity or recognition and is ignored as non-existent, which, I suspect, among socially needy adolescents may very well be devastating.
I can kind of understand negative reaction to someone spouting racist, sexist or misogynistic commentary among their peers, those whom the offender might wish to befriend. But it seems at some point confrontation is warranted. An attempt, maybe, to understand the offender’s point of view or at the very least informing him/her that his/her comments are upsetting and inappropriate, whereby an understanding may be reached, a consolidation of views that will reasonably determine the potential or lack thereof for future friendship.
Maybe the social milieu of politicized adults could benefit from similar interventions.
I find myself spending a lot of time, lately, following the real-time reality drama that is the daily news. As soap operas go, the story lines, being divisive and antagonistic to a considerable degree, don’t lend themselves to feel-good reaction, but I’m captivated, hard-pressed to turn away from the unfolding events available to me almost as soon as they happen. What I’m experiencing in moments of contemplation between bombardments is more often than not anger and anxiety as soundbites reemerge in my thoughts.
So, It’s pretty clear this obsession of mine is interfering with my true goal of achieving eudaemonia: a peaceful tranquility beneficial in so may ways, manifesting in personal health and greater care for others, which, it’s additionally clear to me is a vastly superior stance to dwelling on issues beyond my capacity to change in any meaningful way.
Time, I guess, to shut down the laptop, turn off the Newshour, catch my breath and re-establish the countenance that I know will make me happier and more useful.
Reading the news these days leads me to the observation that humankind is existing in disparate realities. Political discourse seems to be polarizing, getting nastier, adherents on left and right becoming angrier and angrier. It’s almost as if we’ve submerged ourselves in sensory deprivation chambers resulting in a behavioral regression to a more primitive animal nature. ‘Sensory deprivation’ in this case amounts to willful ignorance, to a refusal to see views other than our own as valid, leading to tribalistic demonization of the ‘Other’.
It is pretty easy to find one’s preferred narrative nowadays, there being such a variety of news offerings. Unfortunately, many of these information providers seem to be less interested in providing fair assessment than attracting followers who prefer their intuitive beliefs reinforced, which seems to be a pretty consistent characteristic of our innate tribal natures.
Sometimes it’s hard not to be embarrassed for our species.