The Beauty Dialogues, Part 7

Today philosopher Santiago Ramos steps in with the last word (we think) of “The Beauty Dialogues,” a periodic exchange between Image contributor Morgan Meis and Image founder Gregory Wolfe.

For a while now I have borne the fearful hunch that sooner or later, Image would have to confront Immanuel Kant. A journal whose reason for existing rests on the idea that beauty is a source for personal redemption and cultural renewal—in other words, the idea that “beauty will save the world”—would have to eventually come to terms with the aesthetic theory that has provided the framework for Western thinking about beauty in the last three centuries.

For this reason, I was happy to read that Morgan Meis had at long last set the stage for this confrontation in his most recent installment of his ongoing dialogue with Greg Wolfe about beauty. However, I don’t agree with his take on how Kant’s theory poses a challenge to the idea that beauty has a “salvific” power.

Meis argues that Kant’s theory poses such a challenge because it disentangles aesthetic judgment from all other types of judgement; beauty must become its own category. This disentangling has radical effects for the history of beauty: “Kant’s argument basically collapses both poles of the Christian/Greek approach to beauty,” because while the Christian links beauty judgments with spiritual ennoblement, the Greek approach links it to sensuous pleasure or (in Plato’s special case) to the intuition of the divine forms.

Post-Kant, we must contend with an aesthetic realm that is completely autonomous. [Read more…]

The Beauty Dialogues, Part 5

image of a theater scene painted by Python, Greek potteryToday Morgan Meis continues his periodic exchanges on the nature of beauty with Image founder Gregory Wolfe.

Dear Greg,

In your last letter, you asked me not to hesitate in taking a “real swing” at you, philosophically speaking. (Or were you suggesting that this tête-à-tête must inevitably culminate in the back of an alley somewhere?) I’ve been setting up the foundation for doing so over the last couple of letters. But maybe it is time to draw the threads together and take my little “swing.”

Basically, we are going to have to wrangle with Kant, which is never easy and rarely pleasant.

We have to wrangle with Kant because I think he, along with the aesthetic Modernists who came after him, dealt a kind of deathblow to the uneasy civilizational alliance between Athens and Jerusalem that we talked about in the last exchange of letters. You have characterized the conflict between Athens and Jerusalem, following Jaroslav Pelikan, as one of “synthesis,” a synthesis of “tension and complementarity.”

Sounds nice. [Read more…]

This Old House

I was raised in a house full of old furniture: old desks, old mirrors, old rugs. There are old paintings on the walls and old linens in the drawers. The silver is old, the lamps are old, and at this point, even most of the photographs are old. After all, who prints such things out these days?

Most of the time the images we take stay locked within the device upon which they’re captured. And there they remain, always new, even as the reality that they memorialize grows further and further into eclipse.

Most of the trappings I speak of are legacies from people much older than I, and in turn those people most likely received them from those who were much older than they. It seems that whenever one of my forbears died, the contents of his house were incorporated into a house belonging to the living, folded in and blended through, the everyday effects and commonplace uses of one set of lives engulfed and assimilated—salt and sugar caught up by water, flour, and milk—ever richer, ever thicker, never done.

On and on it went, the generations past living cheek by jowl with the generations present. Open a drawer and you could easily find a wallet from 1957 sitting alongside fingernail clippers, fresh from Walgreens—earrings from a woman dead a hundred years tangled up with an extra set of the new Ford truck keys—or a parasol handle resting next to a packet of Doublemint gum. Portieres as well as pen knives, oyster plates as much as cuff links, the coin of the nineteenth century was kept deep within the purse of the twentieth. [Read more…]