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…]

The Beauty Dialogues, Part 1

bwstw sticker winterToday Morgan Meis continues his periodic exchanges with Image founder Gregory Wolfe.

 Dear Greg,

When we first started our conversation (see posts here, here and here for background), I thought we were having a debate about the declining relevance of religious intellectuals in today’s public realm. But that’s not what it was really about. At its heart, this conversation has always been about beauty.

So, I think we should get right to that, to beauty. I don’t know the story of how “Beauty Will Save the World” became a motto for Image Journal and for The Glen. I’m assuming it is a reference to Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot.

I think I remember reading somewhere, in one of your essays (but I forget which one) how you’d come across the idea of beauty saving the world through Solzhenitsyn. Was it from Solzhenitsyn’s Nobel Prize Lecture? In the lecture, Solzhenitsyn says:

One day Dostoevsky threw out the enigmatic remark: “Beauty will save the world.” What sort of a statement is that? For a long time I considered it mere words. How could that be possible? When in bloodthirsty history did beauty ever save anyone from anything? Ennobled, uplifted, yes—but whom has it saved?

The next sentence in the lecture reads as follows:

There is, however, a certain peculiarity in the essence of beauty, a peculiarity in the status of art: namely, the convincingness of a true work of art is completely irrefutable and it forces even an opposing heart to surrender.

Is that what you were getting at? Is that how beauty will save the world? Are we after a “peculiarity in the status of art” by which it becomes “irrefutable?” I’m curious as to how you would define that peculiarity, where it comes from and what it means. [Read more…]

Making Contact: A Christian-Atheist Friendship, Part 2

shadow-friends-by-monika-on-flickrAn introduction: Decades ago, in the faraway land of Orange County, California, two young women made contact. Jen and I shared a number of classes but traveled in different social circles. I was scary nerdy awkward—E.T. and Laura Ingalls’ lovechild, and she was scary sexy cool—black eyeliner, skateboards, and bands I couldn’t pronounce. Only in the past few years have we developed a deeper relationship, sharing our lives with one another on Facebook.

Recently, during an intense chat about religion, science, and philosophy, Jen told me that the movie Contact—a 1997 sci-fi flick based on Carl Sagan’s novel that engages the intersection of science and faith—is the key to understanding her spiritual struggles.

Maybe we can write something about it together, she said, comparing our points of view as a Christian and an atheist. Well, that was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Yesterday’s post featured Jen’s letter to me, using Contact as a central theme. Today I respond.

Jen,

If someone told me thirty years ago that one day I’d be writing you a letter about God, a letter that virtually anyone in the world could access on a pocket-sized screen with the click of a button, I would have called it science fiction.

And today, as we write to one another about aliens, science, and spaceships—the stuff of Contact—I realize how quickly those thirty years have gone. [Read more…]

The Smell of Black Mold

Natural Cut Fries with Sea Salt Close

By John Bryant

I write in order that the ornery old bastard and toothless schizophrenic might be more welcome in my life. The man who calls three times a day to give voice to his shattered mind.

I met him at Advanced Autoparts. I’d bought a brake light, put the new one in, was about to step into my truck. Then I heard a kind of rustling sound just loud enough to make me wonder if someone was talking to me.

I turned and saw him, this old man fifty yards off in a busted wheelchair he’d tell me later he’d won in a fight, talking slowly and softly to me as if I was inches from his soft beard.

He pulled himself with tiny feet, unable to push with the hands he kept in his lap because, he said, his fingers were warped from gout and fights. [Read more…]

Drive-By Memory

nastroeniya-cvety-cvetkiMy first memory takes place in Lakewood, CA, a small suburb south of Los Angeles. Lakewood, the nation’s first planned community, also happens to be the subject of D. J. Waldie’s Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir. “In a suburb that is not exactly middle class,” Waldie writes at the beginning of the book, “the necessary illusion is predictability.”

Because the families that settle there are anything but predictable.

After they married in 1969, my mom and dad bought one of those small, square dream homes from my father’s parents. It was my dad’s first marriage and my mother’s third. Heidi, my sister born during one of my mother’s prior lives, was in junior high. The street, Maybank, figures nicely into the Facebook formula for “my stripper name,” along with Penny, my first dog.

On August 4, 1972, Penny Maybank took the stage. [Read more…]