The Religion of Reality
inquiry into the self, art, and transcendence
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: The Catholic University of America Press
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It is largely assumed that the intellect became modern when it replaced scriptural truths and revelation with the guidance of reason, science, and empirical knowledge. On this account the modern age is said have “disenchanted” the world, according to Max Weber’s famous phrase, ...
Part I. The Cult of Self
2. Seeds of Emancipation
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The life of the mind became modern on the day these questions began to be asked, first, in the first-person singular and, second, outside self-validating religious dogma. This, however, means that the modern intellect came to life circa 400 B.C. in Athens. ...
3. Severing the Ties That Bind
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Purity is the spirit of the Cartesian method. Certainty is the goal. From birth onward, man is thrown in a welter of facts, forces, impressions. If he is to get a foothold in this world, he must find some stability. But since he cannot be sure of anything outside himself, since worldly things always seem to veer out of his control, ...
4. The Romantic Solipsist
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The social fabric had to undergo some loosening before the Cartesian ego could leave the province of philosophical theorems and enter social life. So long as the guiding spirit of society remained hierarchical and coercive, the early Enlightenment disengagement of the self remained only a hypothesis ...
5. A Church of One
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Religion is compatible with nearly every philosophic disposition except solipsism. For the essence of religious belief is the insight that an order of reality outside the mind absolutely exists. God, Brahman, Tao, the Universal Being, the Oversoul, Truth, Love: whichever the object of worship, religion entails a deeply felt conviction that reality exists in its own right; ...
6. “And Zarathustra saw that he was alone”
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Kierkegaard’s Abraham has only inner passion to justify him. The strength of his devotion answers for its validity. His chief virtue is sincerity— he heeds an inner calling no one understands and everyone frowns upon, yet he is true to himself. ...
7. Longing for the World
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In the intellectual history of subjectivity, Nietzsche is both a high watermark and a hint of a tidal change. In him we find the brashest exaltation of self; in him also glows the desire to tear down the idol. Zarathustra is both Dionysus and Apollo, the god of dissolution and the god of affirmation. ...
8. The Idol Fallen and Resurrected
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Let us now briefly survey the twentieth-century philosophic critique of autonomous subjectivity. Twentieth-century philosophy set out to melt down the golden calf of subjectivism, but new idols seeped out of the crucible: Language, History, Discourse, Culture, Text—all various ways of enshrining human agency without naming its tabooed source, that is, man. ...
9. The Prison
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To summarize, the Enlightenment enthroned autonomous subjectivity; of a more sensual turn of mind, romanticism exalted the concrete feeling individual; and modernism, in reaction to this sensuality, turned subjectivity into an abstract world-making power. All three stages vary in style but not in gist. ...
Part II. The Religion of Reality
10. The Sense of Reality
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The chain of social and intellectual upheavals that broke our age from the classical and medieval era and that gave our period its modern stamp, when reduced to its bare principle, consists in this: to guide society, customs, learning, science, the law, the arts, indeed even religion, from a human standpoint. ...
11. How Reality Was Lost
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This statement is heresy to our intellectual sensibility, to the philosophy that, from Hegel to Sartre, has taught us to regard consciousness as the spirit of freedom itself, as the escape from the drearily empirical, as the creator of the future and the conditional. In fact, however, thought alone cannot move very far. ...
12. The Battle over Reality
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It seems to shore, rather than mend, the ontological gulf carved up by the Critique of Pure Reason. Indeed, how does desisting from possession help our feeling of being in exile from things-in-themselves? In appearance, the Critique of Judgment asks us to assent to our exile from things, and in this assent find the piteous joy of resignation. ...
13. On Representation
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The idea that art reality has been hugely depressed by our modern fixation on representation wherever and whenever art is the object of serious discussion. The new weight of representation in art appreciation is a byproduct of the subjectivist ethos. And it eclipses an aspect of artworks that is indifferent to merely representing. ...
14. On Love, Beauty, and Evil
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To further this plea for reality, let us return to the defining moment in our modern way of picturing reality. Kant, we recall, sent the mind into exile from the world. From his three Critiques came a new feeling of subjective separation and ineffable longing that drove romanticism, German idealism, American transcendentalism, ...
15. Art and Experience
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It is commonplace to suggest that art became something of a religion in modern culture—that its votaries regarded themselves as the priests of a truer, more refined experience of life. Bereft of the consolations of church and faith, heartbroken by the matter-of-factness of nineteenth-century science and industry, the sensitive soul clutched at art for salvation. ...
16. The Will to Weakness
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Perhaps the foregoing is a roundabout way to say that the old hokey “religion of art” had got one thing right about wedding art to religion. The two are expressions of a wish to give up our subjective monopoly over “the ten thousand things” of life. Art suspends the will to cut the world down to our measure. ...
17. Art and Imagination
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Making sense of this paradox requires a look deeper at imagination. Imagination is the mind’s ability to reach beyond perception and cognition. “Imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown,” Shakespeare says. It is extension beyond the boundary of what is perceived and known. ...
18. Art and Nature
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Let us imagine if we can—we cannot—a world seen from no particular viewpoint, with no particular affect or feeling or care to guide our attention, and no thought or concept to identify the trees in the valley, the nameless fish in the sea, the stars in the sky. ...
19. Submission, Necessity, Death
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Modern romantic sensitivity is bound to bristle at these terms. How can we possibly parallel the artwork, an offspring of imaginative freedom, with a work of necessity, such as a mathematical formula? What, after all, is art if not an invitation to break the yoke and set fancy free? ...
20. Art and Sacrifice
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Like any human work, art is an investment of personality; unlike common work, however, art sieves personality out of the finished product. There is a sort of dedication to the making of art that verges on sacrifice. This of course is a commonplace of long standing (dedication to the muse, the cult of avocation, the religious ecstasy of art, divine possession, etc.). ...
21. Art and Work
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If art making were really so simple as expressing oneself, then to be an artist would only require having an exceptional personality. But this is not how it is. Artists are outstanding personalities only when seen from afar, in the limelight of fame. ...
22. The Comedy of Art
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Nature shows no vanity, no pride. It does not angle for exception or permanence. Nature is serenely untragic. Tragedy arises whenever there is resistance, indignation, pride, stateliness, a cling to permanence. Tragedy is self-regard writ large. Comedy by contrast happily tosses out self-concern. ...
23. The Religion in Art
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There are thus various ways in which art nears nature—none of which are emphatically imitative. These are, to sum up: love of perception, love of necessity, love of work, the love of comedy, and renunciation of technique or, to the same effect, all-out embrace of technique. ...
24. Art and Love
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What, after all, is art if not personalities expressing themselves and imparting human design upon matter? Monet may have wanted to paint merely what the retina mirrored; still, in the end, he painted like no other before him, and an undeniable infusion of the Monet personality pervades his canvases. ...
25. Postscript on Art and Religion
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To show that art partakes of the religious does not suggest that art encompasses religion, or can substitute for it. To the extent that art resembles religion, it is also distinct from it. The failure of the nineteenth-century religion of art (of the aestheticism that tried to raise art to a devotional cult) is often attributed to the decay of religiousness in modern society. ...
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Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2011