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#121 Holy Moly!

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Posted 06 January 2011 - 05:45 PM

desacralized worldview



I feel the need to stress once again how offensive the use of this phrase is.

(I'm not saying you can't say it; I'm just saying that when you use it, it makes you sound like a big ol' bully who feels capable of making determinations about other people's worldviews without, say, investigating how their understanding of the sacred might differ from yours but no less a powerful force in their lives. If you don't have a problem with being perceived as a bully, by all means, keep it up!)



#122 mrmando

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Posted 06 January 2011 - 06:04 PM

When I asked you to articulate your view of the sacred, you declined, and referred me instead to chapter 3 of David Dark's book.

It's worth noting that Steven has provided page upon page of insight as to why a crucifix crawling with ants might be offensive, but you seem to think you're entitled to claim that "desacralized worldview" (there, I put it in quotes) is offensive without explaining why.

The term "desacralized" doesn't describe a person who thinks nothing is sacred; rather, it describes a person whose view of the sacred operates within certain limits. Most Protestants don't hold with the notion of venerating relics or other sacred objects; therefore, from a Catholic perspective, those Protestants have a "desacralized worldview." Catholics admit an additional dimension of sacredness that Protestants don't. Someone who thinks all of creation is, literally, sacred might opine that from her perspective, Catholics have a "desacralized worldview" because they think that some physical objects are sacred and others aren't — or, if you prefer, that some objects are more sacred than other objects.

If you search long and hard enough, you might find an A&F thread where Steven took me to task for having a "desacralized worldview" in a debate over relics and such. The term is not an insult; rather, it is a way of distinguishing among various opinions about the nature of sacredness and how it permeates the world (or doesn't).

Edited by mrmando, 06 January 2011 - 07:19 PM.


#123 SDG

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Posted 06 January 2011 - 06:23 PM

Holy Moly: You take offense at the suggestion that your approach to this subject is reflective of desacrilized modernity. And yet, pages and pages ago, you wrote:

As someone who has had a Salvadoran cross hanging at the threshold of my tiny dorm rooms and apartments ever since I moved out of my parents' house, none of that is new to me. This gives me no clues, though, as to what logic that informs the suppression of other representations.

Which seems to me pretty strong prima facie evidence of a desacrilized worldview. The sacredness of an image gives you no clues as to what logic informs the suppression of other representations? A notion of the sacred that informs no conception of profanation, desecration, sacrilege or the unacceptability thereof? No such thing, mate.

Edited by SDG, 07 January 2011 - 06:24 AM.


#124 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 06 January 2011 - 07:36 PM

Buckley was a good writer, but he certainly had some hangups with bigotry himself. As the Washington Post noted:

"in 1986 Buckley wrote, "Everyone detected with AIDS should be tattooed in the upper forearm, to protect common-needle users, and on the buttocks, to prevent the victimization of other homosexuals." It was a chilling and apparently intentional reference to Nazi treatment of the Jews, and it was entirely within the mainstream for public commentary on the disease the year before Wojnarowicz found out he was HIV-positive."

That's Philip Kennicott you're referring to, who makes quite a number of strange and misleading claims in that essay.

Off topic,
that one line from Buckley on the proposed tattoo, if read in context along with his further writing on the subect, has absolutely nothing to do with the Nazi treatment of the Jews. Buckley was discussing the little discussed fact that a considerably large number of AIDS victims were given the disease by sharing needles or sex with other people who knew they had AIDS. He later quoted a gay rights activist who argued that [a] knowing you have AIDS, commencing to have sex or share a needle with someone else, was [c] essentially an act of murder. That tattoo suggestion was not about branding homosexuals, it was about trying to figure out how to protect them and save lives (particularly their own lives). Buckley admitted later that he took a large amount of criticism for offering that suggestion, and said that his response when criticized about it was to ask "whether it was a Gay civil right not to be infected by someone already infected?" and then "if so, how the government should effectively protect that right?" Perhaps not the most sensitive suggestion when discussing the question of how to stop people with AIDS from knowingly infecting other people (many of whom are gay), but hardly bigotry.

On topic,
Buckley's main point in the original column, is that it seems strange when an artistic institution is criticized for exhibiting the work of artists, that instead of defending the artistic value of those works, it defends the political free speech of the artists. In this case, the National Portrait Gallery and the "bunch of politicians" are being accused of censorship and trampling upon free speech.

The implication is that, instead of a political discussion (on whether eliminating an art work from a public forum is censorship), the discussion everyone should be having is whether [a] it can be classified as "art" in the first place (although refusing to classify anything at all as art these days seems to be looked upon with knitted eyebrows), and [b] it is "good art" worthy of display and admiration, OR "bad art" of little value and worthy of objection. That is an aesthetic conversation, not a political one. Much of the discussion on this thread has been on whether Wojnarowicz's treatment of the crucifix was sacrilegious, and therefore "bad art." From what I've read, this is not the discussion most people defending Wojnarowicz's work are having.

Edited by Persiflage, 06 January 2011 - 07:37 PM.


#125 mrmando

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Posted 06 January 2011 - 08:21 PM

(although refusing to classify anything at all as art these days seems to be looked upon with knitted eyebrows)

;) Allow me to reassure you that dismissing any of the works in question as non-art is perfectly reasonable. The world will end the day we all agree on the meaning of "art."

#126 SDG

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Posted 07 January 2011 - 09:28 AM

at least, I hope I may presume that the professor interpreted the work this way, because he hung a large print of it on his office door.

If I worked or went to school somewhere, Christian or otherwise, where such an image was displayed in common space, including the outside of someone's office door, things would get ... confrontational.

Even on the inside of someone's office door, if I were in the office and the door were closed, I would have something to say about it.

Edited by SDG, 07 January 2011 - 09:30 AM.


#127 SDG

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Posted 07 January 2011 - 11:45 AM

The term "desacralized" doesn't describe a person who thinks nothing is sacred; rather, it describes a person whose view of the sacred operates within certain limits. Most Protestants don't hold with the notion of venerating relics or other sacred objects; therefore, from a Catholic perspective, those Protestants have a "desacralized worldview." Catholics admit an additional dimension of sacredness that Protestants don't. Someone who thinks all of creation is, literally, sacred might opine that from her perspective, Catholics have a "desacralized worldview" because they think that some physical objects are sacred and others aren't — or, if you prefer, that some objects are more sacred than other objects.

If you search long and hard enough, you might find an A&F thread where Steven took me to task for having a "desacralized worldview" in a debate over relics and such. The term is not an insult; rather, it is a way of distinguishing among various opinions about the nature of sacredness and how it permeates the world (or doesn't).

To further clarify my own use of this term: Desacrilized modernity is characterized by an atrophied sense of sacredness, if not a total lack. In that sense it is a relative judgment, but it is fair to say that compared to previous ages modernity has a much eroded sense of the sacred.

How far the concept to the sacred has eroded may be judged by the parallel erosion of the concept of sacrilege. Sacredness may be, if not defined, at least usefully described and identified precisely by the limits it imposes on our behavior -- lines we may not cross, protocols that must be followed.

What does sacredness look like? I will tell you: It looks like the Italian Fascist firing squad in Rome Open City opening fire on the condemned priest and every bullet missing, because none of them will kill a priest. It looks like Actaeon turned into a stag for the offense of witnessing Diana naked. It looks like Moses putting off the sandals from his feet before the burning bush. It looks like cows wandering the streets of Delhi. It looks like King Saul sleeping unmolested and unwitting at David's feet, because David will not harm the Lord's anointed. It looks like Mecca and Medina where a non-Muslim may not set foot. It looks like the Holy of Holies into which only the high priest may enter, only once a year, having carefully observed the proper rules. It looks like a man going in to a woman behind closed doors or drawn veils where others may not enter. It looks like Saturday afternoon at the kosher deli, dark and vacant behind a grille while the rest of the supermarket is buzzing. It looks like Henry Jones slapping Indiana for profaning the name of Jesus Christ. It looks like Uzzah struck dead for having put forth his hand to steady the ark. It looks like a man taking off his hat as he enters a church, or donning a yarmulke as he enters a synagogue. It looks like many in Corinth growing sick and dying for having received the Eucharist unworthily.

The sacred is precisely the realm in which we are not free to act any way we want. A culture in which nothing is taboo is a culture in which nothing is sacred. Likewise, an object that we are free to treat in any manner whatsoever is an object to which we attach no sacredness, except perhaps a vestigial trace acknowledged solely for the sake of profaning it.

Edited by SDG, 07 January 2011 - 03:00 PM.


#128 techne

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Posted 10 January 2011 - 10:24 AM

huffington post has an article relevant to the discussion here. maybe. the 2 points that stood out for me were 1. religion's importance (even if sometimes ignored) as a subject and/or context for contemporary art and artists, and 2. the concluding paragraph:

At the end of the day, the silliest part of the passing kerfuffle is that it betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of Christianity. The cross, at least according to St. Paul (1 Corinthians 1:23), is already an intentional offense, and nothing done to it by artists can make it any more horrifying than it already, quite intentionally, is: The most hideous of spectacles, a hole impossibly black, absorbing every awful deed committed and every good one left undone. Just what is a crucifix? It's impossible to say: "As the depths of the sea cannot be fathomed by any human gaze," wrote Gregory of Nyssa, "so too the secret of Hell is impenetrable to all human knowledge." But such was the cost of redemption. Compared to the bracing reality of the gospel itself, urine and ants are as offensive as Champagne and butterflies.



#129 SDG

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Posted 10 January 2011 - 11:30 AM

At the end of the day, the silliest part of the passing kerfuffle is that it betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of Christianity. The cross, at least according to St. Paul (1 Corinthians 1:23), is already an intentional offense, and nothing done to it by artists can make it any more horrifying than it already, quite intentionally, is: The most hideous of spectacles, a hole impossibly black, absorbing every awful deed committed and every good one left undone. Just what is a crucifix? It's impossible to say: "As the depths of the sea cannot be fathomed by any human gaze," wrote Gregory of Nyssa, "so too the secret of Hell is impenetrable to all human knowledge." But such was the cost of redemption. Compared to the bracing reality of the gospel itself, urine and ants are as offensive as Champagne and butterflies.

QED. I could not have called a more perfect witness to prove my point.

It is infinitely telling that the writer deflects the whole question of offense, desecration and sacrilege precisely by emphasizing only the infinite horror and monstrosity of the crucifixion while passing over in silence what is equally important, its infinite beauty and glory. Nothing can be offensive -- all is "kerfuffle" -- because nothing is sacred, the cross least of all. Thus we must remember (what is perfectly true) that the cross is "the most hideous of spectacles, a hole impossibly black," but not what is equally important, that it is also the climax of divine revelation, the supreme sacrament of divine love, the climax of redemption, the glorious exaltation of the Son of God.

The crucifix, by definition, is inseparable from Jesus himself. It is not suffering and death and horror abstracted from the Beloved of our souls, our Lord and God. The cross is God's love letter to the world, with His own true face afflixed to it. The proper attitude before the crucifix is not scorn and contempt, but adoration, awe, love, worship.

Even the sufferings of Christ are beautiful to Catholics. Each of Christ's wounds, to us, is a mouth through which God says "I love you." The very wood of the cross, penetrated by Christ's blood and even his flesh, is holy and beautiful to us. Every evening I kiss the crucifix on my rosary. Every Good Friday Catholics line up to kiss the holy cross.

Serrano did not urinate on horror in the abstract (or immerse horror in urine). In that cup of piss is Jesus himself, the love of God, the mystery of redemption, the ultimate act of divine disclosure. Does this add to the horror of the Passion? Of course not. No more do the Eucharistic profanations of PZ Myers, ACT UP demonstrators and others. Are these acts unspeakable profanations of God's ultimate act of redemptive self-disclosure? How could they not be?

A culture that cannot understand this is a desacrilized culture, a culture that is beneath a sense of sacrilege because it has lost the sense of the sacred. We hear no dissonance because we are tone-deaf. We feel no pain because we are numb. We are not grieved because we do not love.

Edited by SDG, 10 January 2011 - 11:32 AM.


#130 SDG

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Posted 10 January 2011 - 03:30 PM

Let me put the point as provocatively as I can.

Let's embrace the horror of the cross, and see what happens. And let's defamiliarize the issue: Suppose you have been unfortunate enough to have had a beloved father or mother, husband or wife, son or daughter viciously murdered by a terrorist group -- tortured, mutilated and finally beheaded -- and that you have a photograph of the gruesome results, courtesy of the terrorists.

Now, few of us, I imagine, would want to look at a picture of our mutilated, broken loved one very often. Here, though, I think of the Muslim student at Boston College who berated the Catholic students and faculty over the removal of crucifixes from the classrooms in the 1960s: "We Muslims do not have images of that man," he pointed out, "but if we did, we would never let you take them down!"

Why am I thinking this? Well, I, myself, can't think that I would want to put a photo of my mutilated loved one on my wall, or wear it in a locket around my neck, or kiss it every day. But if I did -- if I defied my loved one's killers by fiercely embracing that image as an icon of my loved one, if I loved that photograph -- I would never let you plop it in a jar of piss, if it were in my power to stop you.

And if you did, I damn well would not take it kindly, nor hang your own photo of the results on my office door, nor take it kindly that anyone else should do so.

Edited by SDG, 10 January 2011 - 04:03 PM.


#131 Holy Moly!

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Posted 11 January 2011 - 04:18 AM

A culture that cannot understand this is a desacrilized culture, a culture that is beneath a sense of sacrilege because it has lost the sense of the sacred. We hear no dissonance because we are tone-deaf. We feel no pain because we are numb. We are not grieved because we do not love.


This all sounds simultaneously melodramatic and not a little bit smug and self-satisfied. In all your insistence that "the culture" has lost its sense of the sacred, you miss the simple fact that others' understanding of the sacred is different from your own but no less an important part of their lives.

#132 SDG

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Posted 11 January 2011 - 06:14 AM

A culture that cannot understand this is a desacrilized culture, a culture that is beneath a sense of sacrilege because it has lost the sense of the sacred. We hear no dissonance because we are tone-deaf. We feel no pain because we are numb. We are not grieved because we do not love.

This all sounds simultaneously melodramatic and not a little bit smug and self-satisfied. In all your insistence that "the culture" has lost its sense of the sacred, you miss the simple fact that others' understanding of the sacred is different from your own but no less an important part of their lives.

It was meant to sound a bit poetic (like the long paragraph in the previous post), with a touch of prophetic elegy, but you are welcome to your own interpretation.

What exactly do you feel I am missing about "others' understanding of the sacred"? I'm certainly not missing the fact that different things are sacred to different people, with different implications (hats off in a church, yarmulkes on in a synagogue, no non-Muslims in Mecca and Medina, leave the cows alone in Delhi, sacrifice the cows in ancient Israel, etc.). I pointed that out pretty clearly. So what am I missing? Is it anything you can put into words?

Perhaps you mean to challenge my basic anthropological premise that sacredness "may be, if not defined, at least usefully described and identified precisely by the limits it imposes on our behavior -- lines we may not cross, protocols that must be followed"; that "a culture in which nothing is taboo is a culture in which nothing is sacred"; that "an object that we are free to treat in any manner whatsoever is an object to which we attach no sacredness, except perhaps a vestigial trace acknowledged solely for the sake of profaning it"; etc.

Perhaps you mean to imply a conception of sacredness with no corresponding theory of sacrilege or profanation -- a theory in which an object is somehow sacred and yet at the same time may freely be treated in any way whatsoever without grieving or giving offense. Is that it?

If so, I'm sure Eliade and Otto would be fascinated by this new theory. Can you think of any cultural example or precedent illustrating, anticipating or otherwise supporting it? Or, at least, can you offer any hint what "sacredness" in this new sense would mean or would consist of, how we might recognize it, or what implications it might have? Can you say anything about it?

Or did you mean something else entirely?

Do you disagree with the conclusion of my thought experiment about the photograph of the mutilated family member? Please feel free to offer your own thoughts.

Edited by SDG, 11 January 2011 - 06:21 AM.


#133 Holy Moly!

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Posted 11 January 2011 - 06:42 AM

Perhaps you mean to imply a conception of sacredness with no corresponding theory of sacrilege or profanation -- a theory in which an object is somehow sacred and yet at the same time may freely be treated in any way whatsoever without grieving or giving offense. Is that it?


No. The work in question in this thread displays a theory of sacrilege/profanation.


I'd say the mistreatment of AIDS patients in the 80s, for example, in the name of Christianity is sacrilegious, a denial of the image of God, a failure to live up to the standard of Matthew 25.

When someone violates or recasts a symbol the meaning of this recasting is contextually dependent. They could be attacking a symbol, or they can be symbolically illustrating the violation of the symbol's referent.

The familiar story of "killing the buddha" is a helpful enough illustration of my notion of the sacred. To venerate the symbol above the thing the symbol represents does not honor the sacred.


Do you disagree with the conclusion of my thought experiment about the photograph of the mutilated family member? Please feel free to offer your own thoughts.


to begin with, Jesus ain't your family member. Jesus belongs to me just as much as he belongs to you. Jesus belongs to Wojnarowicz just as much as you. You have no special claim to Jesus.




#134 SDG

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Posted 11 January 2011 - 08:24 AM

Holy smokes, the A&F edit window just ate my post. I have any earlier version I will try to restore it from.

No. The work in question in this thread displays a theory of sacrilege/profanation.

By actually committing sacrilege, by profaning the sacred? Or by doing something else?

I'd say the mistreatment of AIDS patients in the 80s, for example, in the name of Christianity is sacrilegious, a denial of the image of God, a failure to live up to the standard of Matthew 25.

"The mistreatment of AIDS patients in the 80s in the name of Christianity" sounds like a remarkable subject, especially with no active agent. I visited people with HIV/AIDS in the hospital in the 80s. There was a Christian group called Love and Action that organized visits to patients with HIV/AIDS; my then-fiancee Suz belonged to a Washington, DC chapter in the 80s. We were not allowed to tell the people we visited that we knew they had HIV/AIDS. I remember one of them saying with tears that we wouldn't have come if we knew, and Suz answering that Jesus would come no matter what. Is this relevant to the artwork in question, or are you simply illustrating the principle of sacrilege?

When someone violates or recasts a symbol the meaning of this recasting is contextually dependent. They could be attacking a symbol, or they can be symbolically illustrating the violation of the symbol's referent.

This is a major step forward. I agree that recasting a symbol in a shocking way may actually be an act of critique-from-within illustrating or highlighting an ongoing crisis within a symbolic world, rather than an act of attack-from-without (or repudiation-on-the-way-out) rejecting that world.

A betrayed spouse might remove his or her wedding ring and throw it across the room, not to repudiate the marriage but to express outrage over its violation. A man ashamed of some atrocity pursued by his government might refuse to stand for the national anthem. A blasphemous priest might have his Roman collar ripped from his neck by an outraged parishioner.

Whether such an act expresses an attack upon or a deeper loyalty to the symbolic world in question depends on a number of factors, notably including [a.] the place and centrality of the symbol within its symbolic world, [b.] the violence of the attack upon it, and [c.] any relevant interpretive context.

Refusing to stand for the national anthem is one thing; burning the flag is another. The flag is such a central American symbol, with quasi-sacred protocols about how it is treated, and burning is such a radical, nihilistic act, that burning the flag is not easily interpreted as a mere expression of dissatisfaction with the current administration, especially in the absence of any context indicating ongoing loyalty to the country or its founding principles.

At the very least, activist flag-burning would seem to symbolize at least potential repudiation of loyalty to America in principle, a readiness to abandon one's country if it continues on a disastrous course. It would be absurd for an activist flag-burner to say casually while setting light to the flag, "Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm a patriotic American and I will always love my country no matter what. I wouldn't want to see my kids or grandkids raised anywhere else." If he felt that way, he would not burn the flag. Going a step further, if one were to burn not only the flag but also a facsimile of the Constitution and the Founding Fathers in effigy, that would be about as thorough a symbolic attack on the United States itself as could be imagined.

There is no loyal Christian way to desecrate the Eucharist. To desecrate the Eucharist is to repudiate both Christ and Christianity, period. Pissing on a crucifix is not as radical as desecrating the Eucharist, but it is virtually as unambiguous. [a.] The cross is the most universal of Christian symbols, the symbol which most effectively and universally represents the entire symbolic world of Christianity. Adding the corpus identifies it even more closely and directly with Jesus Himself. [b.] To urinate on something or someone is about as strong and clear a symbolic act of dishonor as one can commit without escalating to actual violence. To piss is to diss. Especially in the absence of [c.] interpretive context suggesting otherwise, even in terms of intent, it is practically impossible to see Piss Christ as anything other than a deliberate diss to the whole world of Christianity -- and, beyond the question of subjective intent, no one who actually adored Christ and embraced the meaning of the crucifix would ever do such a thing.

Can I imagine no exceptions? Well, perhaps I can. Perhaps I can conceive of some crazy, super-devout Saint Francis type, burning with zeal to belong down to his DNA and beyond to Christ alone, passionately loving the crucifix, but eventually consumed with hyper-scrupulous fear lest even the crucifix become an idol, in a fit of self-mortifying fervor forcing himself, against every instinct, to urinate on the crucifix as a way of affirming his absolute loyalty to Christ alone, not to any image.

That would be an extreme case, and would require ample context and personal credibility to convey the correct symbolic meaning. There is a Nixon/China dynamic here; refusing to stand for the national anthem looks like one thing when the person in question is wearing an Eagle Scout uniform, and another when he is wearing a Che T-shirt with his nose buried in a copy of The Communist Manifesto. Not-standing for the flag means one thing when it goes in the teeth of who you are and who you still want to be, when it comes with grief and shame, as critique-from-within, and another when it comes easily, eagerly and/or in a spirit of uncomplicated defiance or rebellion.

The familiar story of "killing the buddha" is a helpful enough illustration of my notion of the sacred.

"Killing the buddha" is an expression of iconoclastic zeal that appears to be very closely equivalent to "nothing is sacred." Certainly, "nothing is to be unquestioned, nothing is to be accepted absolutely." This is wholly antithetical to the essential meaning of the crucifix, which proclaims that unless you take up your cross and follow Jesus, you cannot be His disciple. Buddha himself said "Look not to me, look to my dharma." "Killing the buddha" is compatible with an iconoclastic form of Buddhism precisely because Buddhism doesn't depend on any buddha, even the Buddha, in the way that Christianity depends on Christ; which is why killing the Christ, or pissing on the Christ, is not compatible with Christianity.

As quoted on Wikipedia, Lin Chi's teaching is expressed in words like these:

Followers of the Way [of Chán], if you want to get the kind of understanding that accords with the Dharma, never be misled by others. Whether you're facing inward or facing outward, whatever you meet up with, just kill it! If you meet a buddha, kill the buddha. If you meet a patriarch, kill the patriarch. If you meet an arhat, kill the arhat. If you meet your parents, kill your parents. If you meet your kinfolk, kill your kinfolk. Then for the first time you will gain emancipation, will not be entangled with things, will pass freely anywhere you wish to go.

Jesus also calls followers to "hate" parents, kin and even their own self, as well as to take up their cross and follow Him. This, though, is from within the context of a symbolic world in which love and honor for parents is implicitly assumed and even explicitly affirmed by Jesus Himself. (The one example He gives of the Pharisees making void the word of God for the sake of their tradition is their failure to honor their parents in connection with the korban tradition.)

To borrow a page from C. S. Lewis, we are called to rise above love of parents, but there is a very real danger of sinking below it instead -- and supposing in so doing that the call to do the one justifies the other. Woe to those who find the call to "hate" father and mother an easy, comfortable thing. The exhortation is honored in spirit only when to do so is difficult and painful, when it goes against the honor that goes down to your DNA but no further, while Christ alone is love right through.

to begin with, Jesus ain't your family member. Jesus belongs to me just as much as he belongs to you. Jesus belongs to Wojnarowicz just as much as you. You have no special claim to Jesus.

Jesus is just as available to you and to Wojnarowicz as to me; it doesn't follow that Jesus belongs equally to all of us. Be that as it may, my thought experiment is a democratic one: Make it your own loved one, Serrano's loved one, and tell me what happens.

Edited by SDG, 11 January 2011 - 01:28 PM.


#135 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 11 January 2011 - 06:24 PM


A culture that cannot understand this is a desacrilized culture, a culture that is beneath a sense of sacrilege because it has lost the sense of the sacred. We hear no dissonance because we are tone-deaf. We feel no pain because we are numb. We are not grieved because we do not love.

This all sounds simultaneously melodramatic and not a little bit smug and self-satisfied. In all your insistence that "the culture" has lost its sense of the sacred, you miss the simple fact that others' understanding of the sacred is different from your own but no less an important part of their lives.

But our modern day culture, at least the majority of it, doesn't even believe in anything sacred in the Christian sense of the word. Sure, plenty of people can define "sacred" to mean whatever the heck they want it to mean, subjectively, for their own personal lives to go along nicely with their own collection of personal truths.

Christianity, on the other hand, teaches that there is an objective truth out there, which would also mean that there are some things out there that are really and truly "sacred" by the old-fashioned, and moral definition of the word. Someone can define the word "sacred" in his own personal life to apply to what is particularly special to him. I have some friends to whom their favorite NFL team is what they hold most sacred above all other things. But again, that's not the old meaning of "sacred" you'll find in the English dictionary.

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. But setting that aside:

Earlier I agreed to give Holy Moly a sample of the thought and studies of those who advocate that arts funding results in more jobs, higher quality art, more economic growth, and less political controversy if the arts are privately, rather than publicly funded. A few examples -

Taxpayer Funding for the Arts Corrupts the Arts - by Leigh Scott (with a quick little Milton Friedman clip that pretty much explains the main argument)

Art Lessons: Learning from the Rise and Fall of Public Arts Funding - by Alice Goldfarb Marquis

Ten Good Reasons to Eliminate Funding for the National Endowment for the Arts

Subsidies to the Arts: Cultivating Mediocrity - by Bill Kauffman

Is This What "Public Funding of the Arts" Means?

Brookyln Bums - argument against Public Aid to Art - by Thomas W. Hazlett

Admittedly, this could be an entirely separate thread by itself. But I do think the entire Wojnarowicz controversy would be a non-issue, if some of these politicians honed in on just eliminating public funding for the arts instead. This isn't to say I agree with every single paragraph in each of these articles, but regardless of the fact that many of them come from conservative organizations, they are well-reasoned and backed up with credible sources. Whatever side of the debate you fall on, I don't understand how you wouldn't say this point of view is a reasonable point of view that simply asks why we think the existence of art somehow needs the help of the government?

Edited by Persiflage, 11 January 2011 - 06:25 PM.


#136 Holy Moly!

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Posted 11 January 2011 - 09:14 PM

I'll just note that those links all contain philosophical arguments, but not a single one contains the hard data you promised exists about the idea that public money is less effective than private money at creating economic growth through the arts. (The fifth is full of blatant lies, as this thread details: http://artsandfaith....showtopic=23542 )

#137 Holy Moly!

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Posted 14 January 2011 - 01:51 AM

"The mistreatment of AIDS patients in the 80s in the name of Christianity" sounds like a remarkable subject, especially with no active agent. I visited people with HIV/AIDS in the hospital in the 80s. There was a Christian group called Love and Action that organized visits to patients with HIV/AIDS; my then-fiancee Suz belonged to a Washington, DC chapter in the 80s. We were not allowed to tell the people we visited that we knew they had HIV/AIDS. I remember one of them saying with tears that we wouldn't have come if we knew, and Suz answering that Jesus would come no matter what. Is this relevant to the artwork in question, or are you simply illustrating the principle of sacrilege?


Some of the active agents have already been named upthread. It is, of course relevant to the artwork in question. The work illustrates a world's indifference in the face of suffering, and aligns Christ with the suffering.

When someone violates or recasts a symbol the meaning of this recasting is contextually dependent. They could be attacking a symbol, or they can be symbolically illustrating the violation of the symbol's referent.

This is a major step forward. I agree that recasting a symbol in a shocking way may actually be an act of critique-from-within illustrating or highlighting an ongoing crisis within a symbolic world, rather than an act of attack-from-without (or repudiation-on-the-way-out) rejecting that world....

Whether such an act expresses an attack upon or a deeper loyalty to the symbolic world in question depends on a number of factors, notably including [a.] the place and centrality of the symbol within its symbolic world, [b.] the violence of the attack upon it, and [c.] any relevant interpretive context.


I agree with most of this, but I would add some nuance. Given the bare fact of Christianity's sheer historical power, questions of "insider" and "outsider" are not of primary importance, when most Americans hear songs about Jesus while still in their mothers wombs. Christ is a part of our shared culture, our shared symbolic vocabulary, whether we like it or not. When we ask ourselves "how shall we relate to Christianity" we are asking ourselves how we relate to the whole of Christian tradition, as it has been lived over the past 2 millenium. Answering that question means that we affirm some of it and reject some of it. Theology is one sphere where this process happens. Art is another.

I also want to affirm a kind of art-making that is investigative, rather than contenting itself with "attacking" or "expressing loyalty" to a symbolic tradition, both of which have their place, but don't always make for interesting or communicative art. Speaking as an artist, I think it's true that making art is a good way of figuring out how you feel about something. Using symbols and recasting them, recombinating them to ask questions of yourself and your audience without necessarily resolving these questions is an important thing that art has historically done. And indeed the use of a crucifix juxtaposed with indifferent ants its enduring can trigger revulsion, but revulsion can trigger REFLECTION. It prompts questions about theodicy. It only works BECAUSE the cross still has symbolic power.


It is practically impossible to see Piss Christ as anything other than a deliberate diss to the whole world of Christianity -- and, beyond the question of subjective intent, no one who actually adored Christ and embraced the meaning of the crucifix would ever do such a thing.


While i'm not particularly interested in defending Serrano, again, what you really are saying is "no one who actually adored Christ and embraced the particular meaning of the crucifix that I ascribe to" would ever do such a thing. Faithful Christians disagree about this. You may think that these Christians are committing theological errors. You are free to argue that Sister Wendy Beckett doesn't really love Jesus or understand the crucifix since she sees no big problem with that Serrano piece. Your esteem for your own opinion gives you no special right to speak on behalf of God or Catholics in the public square with any more authority than Sister Wendy.

I should point out too, there's a big difference between peeing on a crucifix and submerging a crucifix in urine. One is juvenile and obvious; the other is at least ambiguous. These are different gestures, and what is contemporary art if not a gestural medium?

"Killing the buddha" is an expression of iconoclastic zeal that appears to be very closely equivalent to "nothing is sacred."

No, quite the opposite--just a reminder that reification of the symbolic level (that we as humans are stuck interacting with) can get in the way of experiencing the sacred things that symbols are supposed to represent. The buddha that you meet in the road is not the real buddha.

Killing the Christ, or pissing on the Christ, is not compatible with Christianity.



Actually, killing the Christ is NECESSARY for Christianity. Without Good Friday there is no easter. Pissing on the Christ is bad manners, but I assure you, Jesus has seen worse treatment than that before, and come through it just fine.

Edited by Holy Moly!, 14 January 2011 - 02:15 AM.


#138 mrmando

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Posted 14 January 2011 - 04:00 AM

You are free to argue that Sister Wendy Beckett doesn't really love Jesus or understand the crucifix since she sees no big problem with that Serrano piece.

Someone who knows more about Sister Wendy than I do will have to take up that argument, but I do think her interpretation of Piss Christ is exceedingly generous. Not necessarily for a theological reason, but again because I'm convinced that the consistent character of Serrano's entire body of work is one of utter vapidity, and the fact that he happened to assemble one photograph (or, one series of them, since he made a number of prints of the cross in the piss-pot, from different angles) that could be construed to have meaning (whatever that might be) is little more than a happy accident. Or an unhappy one, if you prefer.

As for Wojnarowicz, it would seem, if it's OK to talk about "making points," that he was trying to make almost the same point about suffering that he said he intended to make with Untitled/Genet. The problem is, in order to accept the idea that ants on a crucifix = the world's indifference to suffering, we have to take a very filtered view of the crucifix's meaning, i.e., regard it as exclusively (or at least, primarily) a symbol of suffering and discard all the other things it symbolizes. When you use something as symbolically loaded as a crucifix or a picture of Jesus, you're almost guaranteed to get multiple interpretations of your work. It might even turn out that the meaning you didn't intend is more resonant than the one you did.

Pissing on the Christ is bad manners, but I assure you, Jesus has seen worse treatment than that before, and come through it just fine.

Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!

And yet... forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Edited by mrmando, 16 April 2012 - 05:03 AM.


#139 Holy Moly!

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Posted 14 January 2011 - 04:26 AM

It might even turn out that the meaning you didn't intend is more resonant than the one you did.



This too, is a natural and healthy part of the process of art-making. Very few symbols bear only a single meaning. (Part of what makes sacred symbols sacred is their capacity as containers for rich, varied meaning. In the cross we see strength and vulnerability united in a single gesture.) Many good artists report being surprised by their own work. This dovetails neatly with my point about art being an investigative practice.

This does not give audiences license to invent their own meanings without first carefully considering the work from the artist's perspective.

This is also why exceedingly literal art of the variety Persiflage posted does not hold my attention despite the evident technical skill.



#140 techne

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Posted 13 February 2011 - 09:48 PM

interestingly, wojnarowicz also tried removing one of his works himself from an exhibition: http://curating.info/