Susan Sontag, Simon Weil, and the Pursuit of Seriousness

Susan SontagI could stare for many hours at that famous 1975 picture of Susan Sontag lying on her bed. She’s wearing a turtleneck sweater and her arms are tucked behind her head. She is thinking. Her eyes are open, slightly dreamy, but fixed.

She looks serious. How else could she look? By God, that woman was serious. It is her main contribution as a belletrist, the idea that seriousness itself is a goal, that in the collapse of all other values, we can be serious about being serious.

There is also a picture of Simone Weil at age thirteen, before she got those round glasses you see in the later photos. Weil is laughing and pretty and resting her left arm casually on her neck. It seems impossible that this is the woman who later refused treatment for her tuberculosis and who more or less starved herself to death out of spiritual solidarity with those suffering under German occupation during WWII.

Susan Sontag wrote a review of a collection of Weil’s essays for the New York Review of Books in 1963. Sontag used the publication of Weil’s essays as an excuse to talk about her favorite subject: being serious. Sontag loved Weil’s harshness, her unrelenting, unremitting commitment to seeing her thoughts through wherever they lead. [Read more...]

What Now?

Guest Post

By Scott Cairns

Image has just published its 25th anniversary issue (#80). We’re pleased today to run an excerpt from a symposium in that issue entitled “The Road Behind Us: Image’s Founding Generation,” in which we asked several writers and artists who have been part of Image’s community from its beginnings what they see as having changed over the years, whether there’s still a need for a venue like Image, and what our new calling might be.

Yes, the cultural landscape in America has changed dramatically since the 1980s. And building upon the previous brilliant, pioneering successes of a relative handful of remarkable writers—among them, John Updike, Annie Dillard, Denise Levertov, and Larry Woiwode come to mind—Image journal has been key to effecting dramatic change in the three decades of interim.

I believe that it was sometime in the fall of 1993 that I first learned of Image. I was gigging a Texas writers’ conference in San Angelo, and I met up with Virginia Stem Owens and her husband David who were also presenting their work. We hit it off, and—between readings, panel discussions, and other typical conference fare—struck up a series of conversations that led to what has been a continuing friendship. It was during that long weekend that Ginger first told me about this newish “Journal of the Arts and Religion,” suggesting I might send some work to Greg Wolfe, her then colleague at Newman University in Wichita, Kansas, and the editor and publisher of the magazine.

To be honest, I didn’t think I would be sending anything to Greg anytime soon. I had by then seen more than my share of literary journals attempting to bridge the chasm between art and faith, and in no previous case had I witnessed anything other than an acute diminishment of art, more often than not coupled with a cartoonish take on faith, to boot. That is to say, I was not expecting anything different along those lines.

Then I saw a copy of the new journal, Image Number 3, published the previous spring.

[Read more...]

Creation, Evolution, and the Over-Active Imagination, Part 2

Guest post

By Jeremy Begbie

In yesterday’s post I had to skip over a lot of detail and nuance, but only to make what I hope is a fair point: that behind much of the polemics of the evolutionism controversy lies an imagination that has got out of hand. The problem is not with the imaginative drive to find and construct patterns, which help us make sense of things, or the fact it often works with metaphors. The difficulties start when the imagination gets over-confident too quickly, ending up with patterns that extend beyond their proper use, and thus distort our view of reality.

How can artists of Christian faith help us here? At the very least, artists can help us imagine the universe as the creation of the God of Jesus Christ.

The Christian imagination is, or should be, in the business of discovery, disclosure—just as it constructs its visions, metaphorical or otherwise. (Just think of C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters.) It cannot indulge in undisciplined fantasizing, only in disciplined truthfulness to the vision of the cosmos disclosed in life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

In this light, with limited space, I close with four reflections.

[Read more...]

The Problem with Waiting, Part 1

books, candleI don’t have much time. I’m sitting in a coffee shop less than a mile from my house and place of employment feverishly re-reading Dana Gioia’s recent First Things essay “The Catholic Writer Today” and pounding out these words. But in an hour I will need to pack up my laptop and books and make the walk back—my morning course “The Elements of Fiction” starts at 9:50 am.

There are two ways of making the walk, one practical the other prosaic. The practical one is the most direct and takes me along the shoulder of a busy two-lane county road whose berm is piled with old snow. The prosaic takes me into the woods behind the elementary school adjacent to this coffee shop. There I can pick up a well-blazed trail lined with towering pines that drifts away from the road and eventually leads to the cul-de-sac at the end of the subdivision where I live. [Read more...]

Face to Face: The Imago Dei Project

spiralGuest Post by Kathleen L. Housley

In November, I attended a colloquy presented by Image on Evolution and the Imago Dei: The Artist as Translator—a significant subject about which I could write pages. Instead, I am going to write about something simpler: the value of people coming together, to be near each other, to talk face to face.

The word face is important in the Bible; it means to turn toward, to stand opposite, to look someone in the eye. To see the face of God, as Moses longed to do, is to see God directly, the Imago Dei, without anything or anyone coming between. [Read more...]


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