Saturday, November 03, 2007

It's Been a While But We're Back in Style...

We apologize for our extended absence. We’ve been very busy over the past few months: some of us have expanded their family and taken the LSATs, while others have relocated to a secure location deep in the mountains. All the while we’ve been hoarding material and subject matter to post. For example…

The Spring/Summer issue of Arion has a fairly surprising piece by Camille Paglia arguing for the central role of religion in a revitalization of arts in America. Paglia reminds us that she’s “a professed atheist and a pro-choice libertarian Democrat”; nonetheless, she contends that “a renaissance of the American fine arts lies through religion.” In either a totally deft or tone-deaf rhetorical move, she targets both the left and the right for the divorce of art and faith:

For the fine arts to revive, they must recover their spiritual center. Profaning the iconography of other people's faiths is boring and adolescent….To fully appreciate world art, one must learn how to respond to religious expression in all its forms. Art began as religion in prehistory. It does not require belief to be moved by a sacred shrine, icon, or scripture. Hence art lovers, even when as citizens they stoutly defend democratic institutions against religious intrusion, should always speak with respect of religion. Conservatives, on the other hand, need to expand their parched and narrow view of culture. Every vibrant civilization welcomes and nurtures the arts.
Progressives must start recognizing the spiritual poverty of contemporary secular humanism and reexamine the way that liberalism too often now automatically defines human aspiration and human happiness in reductively economic terms. If conservatives are serious about educational standards, they must support the teaching of art history in primary school—which means conservatives have to get over their phobia about the nude, which has been a symbol of Western art and Western individualism and freedom since the Greeks invented democracy. Without compromise, we are heading for a soulless future. But when set against the vast historical panorama, religion and art—whether in marriage or divorce—can reinvigorate American culture.

Though we here at Mahwah obviously agree with her general argument, we find it a bit condescending. Her tone is a sort of pat on the back, reassuring religion that even though it’s wrong, it sure is a nice, “complex symbol system,” and darn it, people like it! That said, we much prefer this approach to the alternative offered by evangelical atheists like Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, et al.

What makes it hardest to stand by her argument is this embarrassing mischaracterization of world music:
In popular music, the spasmodic undulations and ecstatic cries of camp-meeting worshippers were borrowed by performers like Little Richard, Elvis Presley, and the late, great James Brown, whose career began in gospel and who became the “godfather of soul” as well as of funk, reggae, and rap. Gospel music, passionate and histrionic, with its electrifying dynamics, is America 's grand opera. The omnipresence of gospel here partly explains the weakness of rock music composed in other nations—except where there has been direct influence by American rhythm and blues, as in Great Britain and Australia.
Umm, Ms. Paglia—haven’t you ever heard of Sweden? You know, the nation that gave us ABBA? The Cardigans? Roxette? Ace of Base? The Hives? Scorpions?

1 comment:

Adele said...
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