Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
Holy Moly!

David Wojnarowicz

147 posts in this topic

I missed the part where he was calling for an end to anti-Catholic craziness. It's a funny old way of pleading for respect while shaking the dust from your feet on other people's symbols and sacraments.

Well, what you seem to refuse to accept is the possibility that those symbols weren't "other people's"---that he engaged them from a perspective of sincere sympathy and interest.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Well, what you seem to refuse to accept is the possibility that those symbols weren't "other people's"---that he engaged them from a perspective of sincere sympathy and interest.

I think reasonable people reasonably familiar with Catholic sacramental sensibilities even from outside Catholicism, let alone inside it, should be capable of recognizing this usage as repugnant to the veneration due to the crucifix. At best it is not only tone-deaf but also utterly disconnected with previous discussion around other offensive art. More candidly, the piece seems pretty transparent in its hostility not just toward uncompassionate churchmen but toward Catholicism itself. It is an act of violence to the crucifix as a symbol of Catholicism. Maybe, theoretically, not to Jesus Himself -- maybe the point is that Catholicism is unworthy of Christ. But this is not a work of art in respectful dialogue with the point of view that homosexual orientation is gravely disordered and homosexual acts are gravely sinful. It is offensive to those who believe what the Church believes and revere the crucifix as the symbol of that faith, and it is meant to be.

Edited by SDG

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
utterly disconnected with previous discussion around other offensive art. <br>
<br><br>...like what?<div><br></div> Edited by Holy Moly!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
It is an act of violence to the crucifix as a symbol of Catholicism.

Again, it documents violence. It doesn't inflict violence. Unless you think Wojnarowicz was lying when he described his sincerity in using images of Christ. It's a shame we can't ask him.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A fine example too, because there's a long of Jewish comedy devoted to mockery of the Hebrew (and Yiddish) languages, Jewish religious customs, stories, holidays, etc.

On the other hand, if I as a Gentile were to start mocking Jews, you'd blow a gasket.

I think reasonable people reasonably familiar with Catholic sacramental sensibilities even from outside Catholicism, let alone inside it, should be capable of recognizing this usage as repugnant to the veneration due to the crucifix.

So this is a request for basic civility? I mean that in all honesty. It is pretty much this hermeneutical question about symbols that tilted me back to Protestantism. I am completely unconvinced that any symbol is due anything. Symbols were made for man, not man for symbols.

Edited by M. Leary

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Again, it documents violence. It doesn't inflict violence.

Eh? He just found a crucifix lying on the ground, bleeding of its own accord, with ants crawling on it ... and he just happened to have his video camera handy?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

One also wonders what the goal of seeking the video's removal is. That poor plastic jesus has probably been seen exponentially more times than it otherwise would. It's image is being broadcast on countless news and comedy shows, all over the blogosphere, racking up tens of thousands of youtube hits. And Bill Donahue counts his money.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
And Bill Donahue counts his money.

He really needn't bother ... he's got you to count it for him.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

utterly disconnected with previous discussion around other offensive art.

...like what?

"Piss Christ," dung/porn Madonna, crucified frog, "Corpus Christi" (the play), "The Misadventures of the Romantic Cannibals," etc.

Again, it documents violence. It doesn't inflict violence. Unless you think Wojnarowicz was lying when he described his sincerity in using images of Christ. It's a shame we can't ask him.

"Sincerity in using images of Christ" is worth squat. Everyone loves "Christ" because "Christ" is whoever or whatever you want Him to be (see above-mentioned works). At issue is not whether the art is "sincere" toward "Christ," but whether it is anti-Christian and specifically anti-Catholic. There's no reason in the world it can't be all three.

So this is a request for basic civility? I mean that in all honesty.

For me it is, yes. Of course in the public sphere incivil acts are often met with equally incivil responses ranging from spit in the eye to blowing up churches. But I am sincere in objecting to works like this as offenses against basic civility.

It is pretty much this hermeneutical question about symbols that tilted me back to Protestantism. I am completely unconvinced that any symbol is due anything. Symbols were made for man, not man for symbols.

True, but that doesn't mean we can manipulate symbols however we like. Jesus might heal on the Sabbath, but we don't hear of him getting in trouble in Nazareth for running his carpentry business on the Sabbath, presumably because He rested on the Sabbath. Jesus certainly took the symbol of the Temple seriously. St. Paul insists that the Eucharistic symbols require worthy reception. Countless early martyrs went to their deaths rather than toss a pinch of incense on Caesar's altar.

One faithful Catholic who's not offended by the video.

Are you sure? I think it's often hard to know what Colbert really thinks. :)

One also wonders what the goal of seeking the video's removal is. That poor plastic jesus has probably been seen exponentially more times than it otherwise would. It's image is being broadcast on countless news and comedy shows, all over the blogosphere, racking up tens of thousands of youtube hits.

I'm not sure I wouldn't rather have it seen by millions and be problematized and known to have been found unacceptable than seen by thousands and be considered legitimate and respectable, something that the Christian world couldn't be bothered to effectively protest.

Edited by SDG

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"Piss Christ," dung/porn Madonna, crucified frog, "Corpus Christi" (the play), "The Misadventures of the Romantic Cannibals," etc.

As I mentioned before, the Wojnarowicz work predates every one of these controversies. This doesn't mean he wouldn't know that his work would be considered provocative, but still: facts matter.

Hey, what about very traditional protestants who find ANY representation of Christ to be offensive, and would prefer that ALL images of Jesus be taken down? Granted they're not as politically powerful a force as the Catholic League, but why should that be a consideration?

David Dark reminds us as well that the earliest known pictorial representation of Jesus on the cross was an offensive cartoon.

Under the jurisdiction of the roman empire where it was often blieved that might alone made right, Alexamenos' purported conviction was (note my use of this phrase) objectionable subject matter, which is to say subject matter able to be objected to. Peculiar convictions like those of Alexamenos are like that. They're vulnerable, of human interest, and open for debate, ridicule and adoption. This is how people get freed up, converted, disabused, and discipled. Things get talked about. The anonymous graffiti artist voiced his objection by implying that Alexamenos's adoration of Jesus was tantamount to worshipping a dying donkey. He might have hoped to cajole him toward a more sensible, less offensive worldview, something more decent and in line with the right thinking of people who knew what was what. Perhaps Alexamenos found this objection objectionable. Maybe it hurt his feelings.

But it probably would have been out of keeping with the presumed ethos of the Jesus who Alexamenos dared to admire to angrily condemn the ridicule as unacceptable (with a hint of violent reprisal). If the sermon on the mount is any indication, Jesus taught his followers that public denunciation is part of the deal. Proclaiming the kingdom of god does not include shouting down anyone who finds your proclamation unconvincing.

Edited by Holy Moly!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
this is not a work of art in respectful dialogue with the point of view that homosexual orientation is gravely disordered and homosexual acts are gravely sinful.

Considering that this work makes no case for the morality of homosexual orientation, this sentence as an explanation of how the work is "anti-Catholic" is both puzzling and enlightening. Why on earth would an artist be obligated to make work in respectful dialogue with that view? Why on earth would a museum be obligated to show work in respectful dialogue with that view?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
As I mentioned before, the Wojnarowicz work predates every one of these controversies. This doesn't mean he wouldn't know that his work would be considered provocative, but still: facts matter.

They do indeed; thanks for clarifying again, I missed that. Off the top of my head I can't cite any earlier precedent, although I wouldn't be surprised if there were earlier works in the same vein. The rest of my comments still seem applicable, at any rate, and certainly the Smithsonian was aware of those earlier controversies when it added the piece to the exhibit in question.

Hey, what about very traditional protestants who find ANY representation of Christ to be offensive, and would prefer that ALL images of Jesus be taken down? Granted they're not as politically powerful a force as the Catholic League, but why should that be a consideration?

Good question. As I mentioned earlier, there are limits to what we can reasonably ask of one another in the name of civility. It's one thing for a group to ask others for reasonable deference to its own symbols, and another to ask a group to suppress its own symbols. I'm not saying that the latter cannot be done, but to do so amounts to a civil indictment of the symbolic world in question; it implies that in the realm of civil discourse the world of the symbol is so drastically compromised that merely proclaiming allegiance to that symbolic world is itself an uncivil act. For example, to call for suppression of the swastika or the Confederate flag is to indict Nazism or the Confederacy.

The crucifix is an ancient symbol firmly identified with Christianity and particularly with Catholicism, predating any Protestant group that should object to it and probably predating the iconoclast controversy itself. No one can claim the crucifix as his own symbol separate from or independent of the symbol's Catholic meaning.

The acceptability of such images within the symbolic world of Christianity was an intranecine issue in the first millennium that was decisively resolved in the affirmative. Others are of course free to disagree as a matter of personal conviction, but this is without obliging warrant on others in the realm of civil discourse. Any attempt to indict Catholicism per se or allegiance thereto as incivil would be outrageous, at least running the risk of incivility in itself.

Even with respect to other people's symbols, free speech is not without rights in the realm of civil discourse. Muslims, Christians, Jews and atheists should be allowed to disagree frankly and openly about Jesus, Muhammad, God, actions or inactions or policies of religious leaders, etc. Disagreement, criticism and expression of controversial views are all within the bounds of civil discourse, though society can and should set boundaries on what points of view are socially acceptable (note: socially acceptable; I'm not talking about state intervention, although in principle I don't necessarily exclude it either).

Obviously there are a lot of greys here. Consider depictions of Muhammad, which some though not all Muslims object to. To insist in the name of civility on an absolute ban of all images of Muhammad in all societies lest some Muslims be offended would be, I think, too much of a check on free speech. I think that depictions of Muhammad should be respectful and deliberate, and should not be provocative and outrageous merely to tweak/punish Muslims who violently object. A political cartoon with Muhammad's head as a terrorist bomb: probably not warranted. You could make the same point with an imam's head and not give unnecessary offense.

Edited by SDG

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As I mentioned before, the Wojnarowicz work predates every one of these controversies.

But it doesn't predate Untitled/Genet.

Hey, what about very traditional protestants who find ANY representation of Christ to be offensive, and would prefer that ALL images of Jesus be taken down?

I am sure that they are free to complain to their senators whenever they wish. Or they could just let atheists do the complaining for them. However, the image in question here is specifically a Catholic one, presented in a way that specifically offends Catholics.

David Dark reminds us as well that the earliest known pictorial representation of Jesus on the cross was an offensive cartoon.

Well, THAT predates the Wojnarowicz video by a considerable margin!

If the sermon on the mount is any indication, Jesus taught his followers that public denunciation is part of the deal.

Perhaps it is, even in a society that professes to be tolerant and respectful of everyone. But at least the public denunciations needn't be paid for with tax money.

Obviously there are a lot of greys here. Consider depictions of Muhammad, which some though not all Muslims object to.

Wow, I never hear anything about the ones who don't object.

To insist in the name of civility on an absolute ban of all images of Muhammad in all societies lest some Muslims be offended would be, I think, too much of a check on free speech.

At present it's a matter more of self-preservation than of civility. Don't the recent cases (Danish newspaper, "Draw Muhammad Day" on Facebook, South Park) have a chilling effect?

I agree that an outright ban on images of Muhammad shouldn't have the force of law in a free and pluralistic society. But at the same time, if you're going to make an image of Muhammad for public display, you'd better have a damn good reason and a top-notch home security system.

Edited by mrmando

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
this is not a work of art in respectful dialogue with the point of view that homosexual orientation is gravely disordered and homosexual acts are gravely sinful.

Considering that this work makes no case for the morality of homosexual orientation, this sentence as an explanation of how the work is "anti-Catholic" is both puzzling and enlightening. Why on earth would an artist be obligated to make work in respectful dialogue with that view? Why on earth would a museum be obligated to show work in respectful dialogue with that view?

The show stakes out a homosexual milieu and profanes Catholic symbols in a way that is obviously critical and offensive to Catholics. It doesn't need to "make a case for the morality of homosexual orientation" to be pro-gay, and it doesn't need to "make a case" against Catholicism in order to be anti-Catholic. That's not how art works.

David Dark reminds us as well that the earliest known pictorial representation of Jesus on the cross was an offensive cartoon.

Well, THAT predates the Wojnarowicz video by a considerable margin!

Yes indeed. At a time when Catholics were a state-persecuted minority. Even in the New Testament the cross was a symbol both of shame and of honor. For that matter, the word "Christian" was probably originally derisive in nature.

As Peter has pointed out (and I questioned the relevance of it at the time, but perhaps he was prescient), symbols do shift over time. We live and move and have our being within the symbolic worlds we actually inhabit, not those long gone or yet to come.

If the sermon on the mount is any indication, Jesus taught his followers that public denunciation is part of the deal.

And if St. Paul is any indication, Christians can and should have recourse to their legal rights.

Wow, I never hear anything about the ones who don't object.

It is a matter of disagreement among Muslims.

At present it's a matter more of self-preservation than of civility. Don't the recent cases (Danish newspaper, "Draw Muhammad Day" on Facebook, South Park) have a chilling effect?

Certainly, but my topic today is civility.

Edited by SDG

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The debate about public funding for art is probably a large part of what secretly animates this discussion (along with Bill Donahue's need to manufacture scandals to line his pockets when end of year fundraising time comes around--that's how he makes his $400,000 annual salary). Arts funding in the US is of course, miniscule, about at the level of Canada's arts funding, even though they have 1/10th of the population, despite countless studies that have shown that public funding of arts generates economic growth far beyond the cost of the initial investment. Arts investment = arts economies = jobs jobs jobs.

I'd suspect that whatever "countless studies" you are referring to were actually conducted [a] by the government, in order to justify it's expenditure, or by artists, who desire more expenditure. But I'd bet that for every paper you could show me on how government funding generates economic growth, I could show you 2 papers demonstrating that private funding generates more economic growth. The problem is simply that the government is less likely to be informed on the demand of the private art consumer than, oh say, the private art consumer.

But setting that aside: Who decides what art is good, and what art is offensive? Because frankly, the hyperrealistic pictures of soda cans you've linked to strike me as profoundly, offensively bad art, on par with dogs playing poker. Who decides what "common decency" is?

The "well, who decides?" question is commonly resorted to in any serious discussion concerning the setting of limits or boundaries. But it's more easily answered than people think. Who decides what art is good, and what art is offensive? The answer most people prefer is [a] the private art collectors/consumers who are actually paying for it, and history. The problem again is when the government decides that it should be the one to decide what art is good or offensive, thus referring the decisions to bureaucrats with less than perfect knowledge, who decide how to spend the dollars taxed from the private consumer. Who decides what "common decency" is? The majority of American taxpayers for one. But decency also implies a moral element. Just like everyone has a sense of right and wrong, and what is fair, we all also already have a common sense of what is decent. While it may not be against the law to create offensive images, it is certainly bad form, in poor taste, and uncivilized.

The hyper-realists are just one example of "modern art" that I do believe to be of value. If you don't like Pedro Campos, try Bert Monroy or Alyssa Monks.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The acceptability of such images within the symbolic world of Christianity was an intranecine issue in the first millennium that was decisively resolved in the affirmative. Others are of course free to disagree as a matter of personal conviction, but this is without obliging warrant on others in the realm of civil discourse. Any attempt to indict Catholicism per se or allegiance thereto as incivil would be outrageous, at least running the risk of incivility in itself.

This all seems like a tidy way of basically saying "I get to decide what's appropriate, what symbols belong to who, who has claim over them and it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks." This based on your arbitrary reading of religious history as "decisive" and therefore, binding on everyone else. This is essentially the creation of a privileged class that gets to exempt themselves from being subject to symbolic criticism. What you are asking for is basically, license to be a bully.

This is what Umberto Eco is talking about with "selective populism."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It is pretty much this hermeneutical question about symbols that tilted me back to Protestantism. I am completely unconvinced that any symbol is due anything. Symbols were made for man, not man for symbols.

I'm not Catholic either, but I can understand that symbols are valuable. A symbol represents an idea. Therefore, the use of a symbol conveys particular ideas. Some ideas are worth opposing.

Turning this whole thing backwards, would you object to your local city council deciding to display a swastika on the front of the Council Chambers building? Or, for that matter, wouldn't everyone here object to a exhibit at the National Portrait gallery of 100 swastikas beautifully and artistically rendered? I see no difference, philosophically, in objecting to the postive use one symbol (the swastika) in art and objecting to the negative use of another symbol (the cross) in art. I have zero interest in the taxpayer supported National Portrait Gallery exhibiting beautified swastikas any more than I want them to exhibit decaying crucifixes. Neither seem to be of any value whatsoever. And they'd be taking up space in the Portrait Gallery that could be used for real talented artists who aren't trying to call their works of political propaganda "art" in the first place.

Edited by Persiflage

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is essentially the creation of a privileged class that gets to exempt themselves from being subject to symbolic criticism.

Pot, kettle. The past forty years of gay activism can be seen in part as a class attempting (with some stunning successes) to establish a very similar privilege for itself.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Who decides what art is good, and what art is offensive? The answer most people prefer is [a] the private art collectors/consumers who are actually paying for it, and history.

In this case true, as the Hide/Seek exhibition was paid for by private donors.

While it may not be against the law to create offensive images, it is certainly bad form, in poor taste, and uncivilized.

Yeah, that's what people said about Guernica too.

The hyper-realists are just one example of "modern art" that I do believe to be of value. If you don't like Pedro Campos, try Bert Monroy or Alyssa Monks.

Well, this is art that offends in its banal inoffensiveness!

Edited by Holy Moly!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The acceptability of such images within the symbolic world of Christianity was an intranecine issue in the first millennium that was decisively resolved in the affirmative. Others are of course free to disagree as a matter of personal conviction, but this is without obliging warrant on others in the realm of civil discourse. Any attempt to indict Catholicism per se or allegiance thereto as incivil would be outrageous, at least running the risk of incivility in itself.

This all seems like a tidy way of basically saying "I get to decide what's appropriate, what symbols belong to who, who has claim over them and it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks." This based on your arbitrary reading of religious history as "decisive" and therefore, binding on everyone else. This is essentially the creation of a privileged class that gets to exempt themselves from being subject to symbolic criticism. What you are asking for is basically, license to be a bully.

This is what Umberto Eco is talking about with "selective populism."

This all seems to me like something not even remotely in the neighborhood of what I said.

It also ignores everything else I said.

Edited by SDG

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is essentially the creation of a privileged class that gets to exempt themselves from being subject to symbolic criticism.

Pot, kettle. The past forty years of gay activism can be seen in part as a class attempting (with some stunning successes) to establish a very similar privilege for itself.

And here's the real root of it all--an anxiety about lost privilege.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

And here's the real root of it all--an anxiety about lost privilege.

I note that you don't deny my assertion.

Part of the message of "Fire in My Belly" is that its creator's rights and privileges have been violated by the Catholic church, among others. It is therefore wholly appropriate to consider in what ways the work itself might violate the rights and privileges of Catholics.

And, is privilege necessarily a zero-sum game? For one group to gain privilege, must another group lose it?

If we all practiced tolerance as much as we like to preach it, we just might find that we have the capability to extend equal privileges to each other.

Yeah, that's what people said about Guernica too.

To borrow from Steven's comments in the hip-hop thread, Guernica presents its offensive subject matter in a clear moral light. And I'm not aware that Guernica profanes any Catholic symbols.

Edited by mrmando

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I note that you don't deny my assertion.

That's because to deny your (plainly false) assertion is to engage in a genre of discussion that I'm profoundly weary of. As someone who made it through high school because I had an amazing supportive faith community, I know I'm one of the lucky few, but as much time as i spend trying to convince my peers that Christians aren't monolithically clueless, I truly would rather not have to explain why basic rights are not "special rights". Try telling some 14 year old gay kid in oklahoma he's part of a privileged class now that we've won hospital visitation rights and decriminalized consensual gay sex between adults, etc.

Edited by Holy Moly!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It is pretty much this hermeneutical question about symbols that tilted me back to Protestantism. I am completely unconvinced that any symbol is due anything. Symbols were made for man, not man for symbols.

I'm not Catholic either, but I can understand that symbols are valuable. A symbol represents an idea. Therefore, the use of a symbol conveys particular ideas. Some ideas are worth opposing.

I was not responding to SDG's insistence that religious symbols are meaningful, simply to the particular aura of authority he ascribes to specific symbols that was indicated by the use of words like due. To me, that word connotes an authoritarianism that does not permit the corrupted use of specific symbols in public discourse, which is a notion I would want to push back against.

I don't think the same authority that governs the ritual use of a symbol in its religious/mythical context obtains in alternative public contexts. Or at least, the authority plays a different role.

Edited by M. Leary

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0