About Gregory Wolfe

The Beauty Dialogues, Part 2

Maddalena_di_Donatello_Opera_Duomo_Florence_n03The following is a response to Morgan Meis’s letter posted yesterday.

Dear Morgan:

Thanks for throwing down this particular gauntlet. Yes, we adopted Dostoevsky’s phrase from The Idiot, where one of the characters attributes the saying “beauty will save the world” to the eponymous hero of the novel, Prince Myshkin.

I’m well aware that any slogan or mantra can quickly become a stand-in for real thought, for Jacob-and-the-angel wrestling with difficult, complex subjects. Neither I nor the extended Image community is immune from that sort of danger.

We acknowledged that a while back when we published an entire symposium on the topic of “The Word-Soaked World: Troubling the Lexicon of Faith” in issue #75. The purpose there was to interrogate and “trouble” frequently invoked terms (art, faith, mystery!) that had become anodyne through thoughtlessness and over-usage.

And just for the benefit of readers wanting to pursue these issues further, I would point out that I’ve dealt with some of your challenges in essays like “The Wound of Beauty” and “The Tragic Sense of Life.”

Given the large amount of historical baggage attached to the word beauty, it is never going to be a word that we can use without qualms and qualifications. That’s why T.S. Eliot once wrote:

We mean all sorts of things, I know, by Beauty. But the essential advantage for a poet is not to have a beautiful world with which to deal: it is to be able to see beneath both beauty and ugliness; to see the boredom, and the horror, and the glory. [Read more…]

Listening to Silence

silenceI arrived at the advanced screening for Martin Scorsese’s new film, Silence, in the worst possible frame of mind. For one thing, I was running late after seeing to some errands. Also, I was starving. My only option for getting some food in time was a fancy burger joint near the entrance to the multiplex. It was one of those places that makes your burger to order and I fidgeted at the table, waiting for my number to be announced.

I sensed the irony of chowing down before watching a story that chronicled both the extreme poverty of Japanese peasants in the seventeenth century and the torture and execution of missionary priests and converts. Then while I was waiting for my mega-burger and fries a man entered the restaurant who seemed both high and homeless. Having lived in or near big cities most of my life I was instantly on to what he was up to. He was approaching various people in an oblique way, as if to sit down beside them.

I knew that he wanted to make the diners uncomfortable and generate a sense of obligation toward him. And yet, when he asked if he could sit by me, I instantly said no in such a loud voice that I startled myself. He moved on and was soon being told by one of the cooks to leave the premises. [Read more…]

The Patron Saint of Losers, Part 2

vincent-van-gogh-enclosed-field-with-ploughman-on-wikimedia-public-domainThis post, which appears as the Editorial Statement in Image issue 90, is continued from yesterday.

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, a contemporary of Shakespeare, knew his share of failure.

As a young man he went off to serve in the military—whether to escape arrest for wounding a man in a duel or for some other reason remains unclear. As a marine he participated in the fateful battle of Lepanto, in which the naval forces of the Ottoman Empire were decisively defeated. On another expedition he was captured by pirates and spent five years as a slave in Algiers before he was finally ransomed and came home.

His efforts to support himself with his pen met with little success. Neither did his petitions for compensation for his war service. He was imprisoned twice and only late in his life did the publication of Don Quixote ease his financial woes. He died soon after its second volume was brought out. [Read more…]

The Patron Saint of Losers, Part 1

honore_daumier_017_don_quixote-on-wikimediaThis post appears as the Editorial Statement in Image issue 90.

One of the stranger conversations I’ve ever had took place during my senior year of college. I was attending a conference, and during one of the coffee breaks I was talking with a scholar who had taken a shine to me. He asked if I was considering doing a PhD, and if so, in what field. I told him that I was, probably in English literature. He frowned.

“No, there’s a glut in the market for that. You do want a teaching position ultimately, right?”

I said it was likely. He thought for a moment.

“I’d recommend Soviet Studies, but if the Soviet Union falls you’d be in trouble.”

He pondered a while. He may have rubbed his chin.

“I’ve got it,” he said brightly. “Egyptology.”

I looked to see if his tongue might be in his cheek, but he seemed cheerily sincere. I muttered that I’d think about it and went on my way. [Read more…]

There is More to See: A Letter from Gregory Wolfe

don-quixote-600Dear friends,

We are entering a season of thanksgiving, and soon we’ll begin a season of reflection as we prepare to celebrate a remarkable birth that changed human history.

I begin with thanksgiving. On behalf of all the staff at Image, thank you. Thank you for being part of our community. Thank you for your subscriptions and financial support. Thank you for receiving this letter with grace, knowing that we, as so many charities do this time of year, will be asking for your support to launch us into 2017. Thank you!

2016 has been a helluva year—about that I think we can all agree. With the presidential campaign behind us, calls for unity and healing seem more impossible than ever. We remain shaken by the coarsening of public discourse and the lingering fear and anger that threaten to divide us into warring tribes.

But grace and hope can still be found.

Late in the campaign, when it seemed that things couldn’t possibly get worse, I found both in an unlikely place: the pages of Don Quixote.

I read the book because I never had—and I felt guilty about the omission. I knew it was hilarious and poignant but I wasn’t prepared for how directly it spoke to my own sense of vocation. [Read more…]