Monday, January 14, 2019

More thoughts

In delving into literature, the arts, any field of study, we can always find a way to focus on that which brings us closer to God, or that which reveals how far afield we can fall.  In scholarship and study, it is a tricky dance, to introduce materials which have edges and wounds and propose ideas which might shock or disturb.  The teacher must offer the student the opportunity to explore the world a thought they might not otherwise have entertained, with all the freewill that engages. 

Ergo, for some, comics and manga might be a gateway to more graphic depictions of violence and sex, and for others, they're just a fun way to read stories about super-heroes and villains, about adolescence, adulthood, and all the trials that come with the mere process of growing up. 

It can be Harry Potter, it can be Percy Jackson, it can be the Kingdom, Plato, O'Connor, Balzac or Rabalais.  It can be the Alchemist, Lolita, Madame Bovary, The Adventures of Hucklebury Finn, 1984, anything.  Some see the beauty that can be mined, another sees evil being condoned, sin being celebrated.  The question is, as with most things, how are these tools being used, not the tools themselves.   What one teaches is a component, how and why are more critical. 

I've been thinking about what's been written, and I think the grave error that many who embrace CM's thinking have about schools, is the desire to somehow have a safe place. It's a bit like the overreach my own county has done at times in the name of safety.   At one point at a local recreational spot, they removed all the swings from the park. The result? Almost no one went to the parks. The concern of safety had removed most of the fun. 

People protested, common sense prevailed and the returned swings felt like a momentary triumph over the gathering gloom.   Guess what?  Skinned knees returned to the park too.  The reality is some in this world try to eliminate the possibility of skinned knees (whether physical or mental) without recognizing such a move also eliminates the discovery of flying through the air, of touching the sky, of racing your brother and fantasizing about going all the way around.

Things can be fantastical and not within the confines of the teaching of the Church and yet reveal Truth.  All of Creation sings of the Glory of God, and Saint Paul could see the longing of those who did not know Christ, for a relationship with the Divine. 

Imagination is one of God's cleverer ways of evangelizing His people, because the acts of creating in the mind is an imitation of the Creator.  What we will into being by our efforts as art, is static, in that it will only be what we will it to be, in terms of its nuts and bolts and physical reality.  It didn't exist for the world before we rendered it, but it reveals something of how our minds are like that of the mind that imagined us into being. 

There is not pure wheat in art or literature, the wheat and chaff grow up together.  Sacred art of the Vatican exists because those who created it studied the sacred and secular art that came before them. If we can only examine that which echoes our sensibilities, we will eventually learn nothing for fear of having our own spiritual bubble pierced. 

Looking at the Saints' sensibilities, we ought not feel afraid.  The Catholic imagination and mind understands beauty, truth, kindness and love, service and humility, these are universal calls of the heart.  As such, the saints who are known both as scholars and artists would tend to indicate, when we enter into the world of arts and letters, our understanding of what is good, true and beautiful, is expanded, not contracted, whether by contrast, or by discovery.   There are parts of the Canterbury tales I don't love, and Shakespeare plays I don't enjoy, yet I can see the good of knowing both.   I don't need blinders placed on my mind to understand some of it is great, and some of it, less so, nor is my soul threatened by the reality of imperfect or non Sacred art. 

To those who wring their hands at the choices of books, who think somehow, if we pull at this and tweak at that and cut this out, we'll create a safe spot, where no one will be injured, this is a lie. I suspect many who get snared, are trying (albeit in a blind manner) to bind the world so that nothing will ever happen. They're like Marlin at the beginning of the movie, not letting Nemo experience life for fear life will hurt. The tragedy for each of them, for all of them will be 1) if they succeed, and 2) if they don't but spend their lives trying to.
Prayers and reparations for their and our foolishness, for injuries to the Church done in her defense, and those done in response to her failures to lead, educate, catechize and evangelize, and for those seduced by the psuedo strength of a life lived without skinned knees and strengthened souls.  We cannot become gold tested in fire without being pounded, heated and shaped, without being forced to grow beyond what we think is needed.   

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I do not think this is so much a question of censorship, but rather one of good sense. Not everything needs or deserves to be taught. Your playground analogy is a good one, but if explored further, one might see why some things should, for lack of a better term, be banned, depending on the circumstances. We can all agree that some risk needs to be allowed for growth and fun, swings should be at a playground. That does not mean that all risks need to be taken, or that all risks should be presented, a playground should not be at the edge of a cliff, even if the view is interesting. In other words, lines should be drawn, between what is appropriate, what may be appropriate for some but not others depending on the context, and what is never appropriate to teach or explore at all. I do not know if the novel at issue, when taught to higher level students falls on one side of the line or the other, which is the job of the university to determine. It is conceivable, however that some "art" should never be displayed or taught about, even if it is as a foil, simply because it is too potentially damaging to some persons, and because, even if taught only as a foil, there is a risk, too great a risk, that some will not see it as such, and embrace it. There may be an art to the blasphemous, the false, and the ugly, and, teaching about them might help illustrate the contours of the good, the true, and the beautiful, but that does not mean that all of the insulting, the trivial, the sensational or the pornographic, needs to be displayed or even acknowledged. Rather, some things need never be displayed or taught, but, in fairness and with no apologies, belong squarely in the trash. From the excerpts I have seen, I am not sure for certain where this novel lies, but I can see why one might have concerns about ever teaching it, and cannot say that the outrage it has provoked us entirely unwarranted, or that it shouldn't be banned from a Catholic institution as merely trash. M.A.A.

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