The Priority of Nature

The Priority of Nature November 5, 2003

In the introduction to Anxiety of Influence , Harold Bloom quotes Geoffrey Hartman to the effect that art seeks “to overcome priority,” specifically the priority of nature: “art fights nature on nature’s own ground, and is bound to lose.” Bloom, of course, links this up with his own project of theorizing influence: “The argument of this book is that strong poets are condemned to just this unwisdom.” But this is only to say that culture/art is itself locked in Hesiodian and Oedipal tragedy. Whereas Christianity would affirm a) the primordial character of art/culture (Adam placed in a GARDEN), and b) that art is a glorification of nature.

This suggests that some substantialist ontology is inheren in tragic metaphysics, or rather that substantialist ontology is itself tragic. Art is locked in a fight against the priority of nature only if nature is a fixed and “self-identical” substance, any addition to which is accidental, degenerative, mere supplement. But, as Derrida argues, nature is not like this; there are “holes” in nature that must be filled with supplements and additions, including the additions of culture. Again, Christians can affirm, in one sense, the supplementary and secondary role of art without seeing art as a violation of or as violence against nature. Insofar as Platonic metaphysics is the foundation for Platonic aesthetics (art as falsehood, because two removes from reality), just so a Trinitarian critique of Platonic metaphysics is also a critique of Platonic aesthetics.

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