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…]

Dinner with Dona Adélia 

Jessica Goudeau’s translations of the work of Adélia Prado, Brazil’s foremost living poet, appear in issue 91. 

The night I met Dona Adélia, she told me my husband was the perfect man. She came to the University of Texas for a poetry reading with her longtime translator and editor, Ellen Doré Watson. At almost eighty, Dona Adélia had aged with the grace of a self-possessed movie star, Sofia Loren as a Brazilian poet. Ellen, several years younger than she, translated her words with the ease that exists between women who have been friends for decades. They were traveling together with Dona Adélia’s statuesque daughter across the United States and came to Austin to read to a packed house.

The reading was a week after my dissertation defense. Kurt, my graduate advisor, had known Ellen since they were in school and had planned the evening. Dona Adélia lingered over one of her long poems dedicated to the figure of Jonathan, who sometimes stands in for the ideal man and sometimes Jesus, and about whom she has written dozens of poems, which differ from the earthier poems about her husband, Senhor José. When she heard that my husband’s name was Jonathan, she grabbed a pen to write in a copy of her book of poetry: “With happiness, for Jonathan (the perfect man) and his kind wife, Jessica.”

Over dinner at an intimate Italian restaurant, the scent of garlic and spicy wine mingling with candle smoke, we comfortably mixed Portuguese and English. Jonathan grew up in Brazil; we lived there together for a few years before graduate school. Ellen and Kurt and other translator friends joined us. Dona Adélia leaned in, breaking garlic bread delicately over her plate, asking questions in her melodic voice. We asked her about her poems, but she waved our questions away. She wanted to hear about what it was like for Jonathan to grow up in the western part of Brazil; they discussed fishing in the Pantanal. Dona Adélia’s children are older than we; we talked about how much she loved being a grandmother. When Dona Adélia asked about our children, we paused and looked at each other. [Read more…]

Now is the Time to Read The Man in the High Castle

the-man-in-the-high-castle-by-chris-drumm-via-flickrImagine an alternate history in which a regime arose in the United States that believed in power over equality, profit over values, the privilege of the few over the good of the many, and appearance over truth.

Imagine these powers infiltrated the highest offices of our government, and that they began to institute anti-democratic policies, to undermine the system of checks and balances, to destabilize international relations, and to generally dismantle the foundations of our country while propping up their own narrow interests.

Well, maybe it’s not so hard to imagine. A year ago, it might have been. In fact, a year ago it would have sounded like the stuff of science fiction. [Read more…]

Why Annie Dillard Supports Image

Annie Dillard illustrated by Alissa BerkhanDear readers,

When Image was founded in 1989, we turned to a few literary exemplars for endorsements. After all, we had no reputation, money, or power, so we needed to find advocates whose words carried authority.

One of the first we turned to was Pulitzer Prize-winner Annie Dillard, whose incandescent prose dealt with some of the deepest and most challenging questions, from the existence of God to the mystery of nature, which can possess so much beauty and so much brutality.

To our great surprise and delight, she responded with her usual gusto, stating in her endorsement that “Image is one of the best journals on the planet.”

So as we launched our end of year financial appeal last month we decided to chance asking her again to say why she still reads (and comments on!) every issue of Image.

Once again she responded with her signature blend of passion and truth-telling. What follows below is not marketing language. It is, verbatim, Annie Dillard’s thoughts about where we are as a culture and why Image is worth supporting. After writing it she joked that this is the most she has written since retiring from literary life! [Read more…]

Good Letters Is My Devotional

Image Glen OnlineBy Cathy Warner

I came to Christianity in my mid-twenties and joined a Protestant church whose denominational arm publishes devotional booklets that called to mind the copies of Watchtowers Jehovah’s Witnesses used to foist on me.

As a new believer, I was supposed to develop a disciplined spiritual life, the cornerstone being morning devotions: Rise at dawn, open the booklet, read the single line opening prayer, open the Bible to the selected lectionary verse, etc.

But I’m an insomniac who began my sleep-deprived days with a quick shower and breakfast eaten while commuting. I tossed the tiny booklets with their small font and facile prose in the recycling, unread.

By the early 2000s I was writing poetry, prayers, and meditations for my congregation and denomination. Finally, in the act of writing itself, I had found a form of spiritual discipline. I never woke at dawn, but I remained faithful to the practice.

Though I was adept at writing the devotional formula, it quickly began to feel constrictive. I wanted to read outside the “inspirational” genre. I began to hunger for risky, authentic, platitude-free writing that could inspire my own clumsy efforts.

I shared my longing with an artist-painter-pastor who recommended Image. [Read more…]