A Reflection on Vision (for while I’m away)

I am currently in Vietnam visiting family and focusing all my attention on getting to know that culture, not on writing blog posts. In my absence, however, Transpositions, the blog associated with the University of Saint Andrews program in Theology, Imagination, and the Arts, has published an article that I wrote for them on Jackson Pollock and Gregory of Nyssa called “God’s Back: Jackson Pollock and the Beatific Vision.”

The article engages one of my favourite words: “vision.” I’m interested in the word because it can mean both something that one sees (you are a vision of loveliness) and the capacity to see (I wear glasses because my vision is poor). One word captures both that which is received and the act of receiving. It therefore seems to suggest a connection between those two aspects – what is seen and the act of seeing. And so a question emerges: Are there different types of visions (the capacity) appropriate to different types of visions (the seen)? Can that which is visually received in some way shape or change the act of seeing itself?

Certain artists and theologians seem to say “yes.”

 

 

Image: By Rhododendrites – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44204608

Lenten Caesura: The silence of this blog for the next 40 days

The rhythm of a poem frequently includes a device known as a caesura: a mid-line pause indicated by a punctuation mark that breaks up a line-unit. On the one hand, the caesura is experienced as an interruption to an established rhythmic flow or pattern. The caesura intrudes upon the momentum towards completion, slowing the forward-momentum of the poem. It stops the reader suddenly, creating a feeling of coming up short.

On the other hand, however, the caesura also facilitates the perception of the rhythm by forcing “the line to reassert itself in the listener’s perception.” (Tsur, Poetic Rhythm, 113, 15.) The caesuric interruption breaks up the semantic content into two more manageable chunks, making the musicality of the line, its rhythm and pattern rather than only its semantic content, more available to the reader’s consciousness. Giorgio Agamben therefore compares the caesura to a situation in which a rider has fallen asleep on a horse. When the horse suddenly stops, the rider becomes aware of that which carriers her, that of which she was previously unaware (The Idea of Prose). The caesuric interruption makes one suddenly aware of the rhythm which was previously carrying one but had slipped into the background. The reader is then responsible for maintain the pattern in the face of this event, of accommodating the rhythm to the event such that it deepens and complexifies, but does not break. If the rhythm of a poem is to become complete, such complexification is necessary and this is largely accomplished through moments that disrupt the pattern begun at the outset.

The season of Lent is caesuric. It is an interruption, of one sort of another, to the daily routine of ordinary time. It is intended to “throw us off” in some way, destabilizing our typical habits of reliance and thereby forcing us to confront the fragility of the creaturely rhythms of eating, sleeping, working, communicating on which existence is carried. It is not necessarily a matter of breaking these rhythms as one would break a bad habit. These creaturely rhythms are good. But we are often unaware of them, eager as we are to set our minds on things that remind us less of our fragility, and as such we do not always perform them very well. So Lent is a caesura in that it requires us to notice these patterns by disrupting them and as such invites us to continue these rhythms in ways that are deeper, more complex, and more attentive.

The rhythms of the contemporary West, and consequently of my own space-time, are in large part determined by the rhythms of electronic and web media – social and otherwise – the rhythms of checking-and-rechecking, scrolling, of thinking and communicating in short bursts, of the background noises that govern electronic media. These shape the rhythms of the day more than many of us realize, and as such, my Lent this year is a caesura of the rhythms of those electronic media, so that I might return to performing them in ways that are deeper and more aware.

As such, this blog and all my other online presences will be silent for the next 40 days. I look forward to this creative interruption and wish you a likewise caesuric Lent.

 

 

 

The Poetic Shape of the Doctrine of Recapitulation

Christianity, when viewed in terms of its form or shape, is essentially made up of lines and circles. On the one hand, it includes narrative, a kind of intra-historical line from Abraham to slightly after Christ. Genealogical lines are drawn, geographical lines from point A to point B can be mapped and are considered religiously significant. Jurgen Moltmann argues that Judaism was the first historical religion in that it is based on events in space and time rather than cosmological cycles. David Abram argues something similar on account of the Hebrew development of non-pictographic writing, which lends itself to a linear way of thinking. For Moltmann this is a virtue, for Abram it is not, but both think that this linear, historical impulse became as much a part of Christianity as Judaism.

On the other hand, Christianity also includes a significant circular dimension that is often overlooked in attempts to identify Judeo-Christian distinctiveness as a virtue or an ill. The historical lines are almost never significant as lines, but only gain their significance by being bent into circles. Perhaps the most fundamental of such circles is Irenaeus of Lyon’s doctrine of recapitulation. Continue reading “The Poetic Shape of the Doctrine of Recapitulation”

Windows and Wormholes: A Theological Assessment of the Images Used to Talk about Religious Art

This past week, I was honored to participate in a panel responding to an exhibition at IWU that paired the traditional icons by the local icon writer Brian Matthew Whirledge with contemporary installation work by Jer Nelsen. Both think of their work as inviting viewers into an encounter with or contemplation of a reality beyond the physical, using the metaphors “windows” and “wormholes” to express this relationship. I here give my theological response to these descriptions: Continue reading “Windows and Wormholes: A Theological Assessment of the Images Used to Talk about Religious Art”

The Mystery of Erich Przywara’s use of Rhythm: Further Thoughts to the Syndicate Symposium

I have been pretty quiet over here for the past month or so because I have been engaged in a symposium over at Syndicate Theology on Erich Przywara’s Analogia Entis. Przywara is a twentieth-century German Jesuit theologian who is, up until now at least, rarely engaged by the English-speaking theology world for a constellation of reasons. One of those reasons is that he had simply never been translated into English until David Bentley Hart and John Betz took on the task of doing so and completed their translation in 2014.

But the reasons why he had not been translated until now are various. For one thing, Przywara was Karl Barth’s primary Catholic interlocutor and Barth employed some dismissive rhetoric against him. His famous statement, that the analogia entis is the invention of the anti-Christ, for example, was in large part a response to dialogues with Przywara on the subject. Since Barth’s posthumous reputation grew so disproportionately to that of German Catholic theologians the English-speaking world, his invective may have closed the matter in the mind of Anglo-theology and made Przywara seem an unnecessary figure for the English world to engage.

Part of the reason, however, may also be Przywara himself. His style is very dense, assumes a certain familiarity with fields and figures that the reader may not share, and is not always very linear or systematic. The connections between points can sometimes be difficult to simply read off the face of the text. This sort of prose is sometimes held against thinkers (Kant seems to be a perennial example) but it seems to me that it is often the case that difficult text involves an attempt to think new possibilities for which there may not yet be adequate language and it is for this reason that sitting with these difficult texts can be immensely rewarding in opening up new possibilities. As such, after theology had sat with Przywara for a while, the English-speaking world finally started to take notice, particularly first with a collection of essays entitled Analogy of Being: Invention of the Antichrist or Wisdom of God? in 2010 which engaged Przywara significantly, and, it seems to me, all but called out for a translation.

Regardless, Przywara is especially dear to me since, before I even got involved in the conversation surrounding the analogy of being (and I am in a very curious position in this respect as a Protestant who defends Przywara’s analogy of being, though not necessarily all instantiations of the doctrine), he manifested to me as one of the few theologians who fairly consistently uses the category of rhythm. Continue reading “The Mystery of Erich Przywara’s use of Rhythm: Further Thoughts to the Syndicate Symposium”

Arrival, Advent, and Nietzsche

In his book, The Gay Science, Nietzsche presents us with the following scenario:

What if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it…Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus?… Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?[1]

This is what happens to Dr. Louise Banks, the linguist invited to decode the language of mysterious visiting aliens in the just-released, 2016 film Arrival. In her loneliness, these aliens (which some in the film certainly perceive to be demons of sorts) give her the gift of a language that enables her to experience her future as though it is also already her past. This reality, however, is not presented to us as nightmarish but as desirable, almost eschatological. Continue reading “Arrival, Advent, and Nietzsche”

Four Methodological Contributions of my Research on Rhythm

It’s job application season and as a postdoc who is nearing the end of her post, this is currently taking up large amounts of my time. I’ve never resented the job-application process, though. I find the exercises involved – trying to make sense of what one is about, trying to effectively and concisely communicate the significance of one’s research – to be a fantastic opportunity to zoom out and look at the whole forest, to remember why I do what I do.

This time around, I am noticing the many different points-of-view from which one could understand my research, each one emphasizing something slightly different. These are some of the different fields, topics and insights pertaining thereto that have come out of my research on rhythm: Continue reading “Four Methodological Contributions of my Research on Rhythm”

Theology and Non-Representational Theory

As I mentioned in my previous post, my current research on the role of rhythm in the doctrine of creation has taken me to thinking about the relationship between human culture and the natural world and to some of the research that happens at this intersection, in particular human or cultural geography. My introduction to human geography has come in the form of Nigel Thrift’s book, Non-Representational Theory: Nigel Thrift. Non-Representational Theory: Space, Politics, Affect. Abingdon: Routledge, 2008. Continue reading “Theology and Non-Representational Theory”

The Problem with Narrative Theology

Don’t get me wrong. I am not against narrative. I can definitely see the value of highlighting the narrative form as significant for theology. It is an essential corrective to theology that relies too heavily on proposition as its primary form and on biblical interpretation that attempts to extract such propositions and discard the story. Continue reading “The Problem with Narrative Theology”

7 appearances of rhythm in Genesis 1

In the pockets of research time that I have left this summer, I am working on the role of rhythm in the doctrine of creation. This is an interesting doctrine to work with because in one sense it’s obvious that rhythm is a dimension of creation. It is everywhere in nature. But what is less clear is what difference this makes for how we conceptualize the doctrine itself. Rhythm is part of creation. So what? This is what no one has yet shown, and what I am working to figure out.

One interesting line of investigation that I have been following is simply noticing how many different ways rhythm is implied in the creation account in Genesis 1. Here is a partial list: Continue reading “7 appearances of rhythm in Genesis 1”