Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

God's Glory Appears: Beauty as Address

THERE IS A TENDENCY IN MODERNS to view the artist as one who is expressive of self. This, of course, is part and parcel of modernity's rejection of objective values and emphasis on individualism and subjectivity. To grasp von Balthasar's aesthetic theory, however, we must shed ourselves of these views. For von Balthasar, art is a means of communication, and he focuses not only upon the artist, but also upon the viewer. Von Balthasar therefore places great importance on the objectivity of art. "By restoring the expressiveness of the objection, his aesthetics indicates dimensions of human agency that would otherwise be lost to view." Steck, 20. 

Accordingly, "the paradigm of human action [in aesthetics] has little to do with an individualistic or aggressive pursuit of self-fashioned goals."  Steck, 20.  Von Balthasar's aesthetics has more to do with the active reception of the object, and one's proper response to the other's address through the object (the subject-response).  Art (including the divine "art" of Creation and the even greater "art" of the God-Man Jesus) is less something of self-expression, and more something of communication.  That's why von Balthasar can seize on the human perception of, and response to, beauty as something analogous to moral action.  For von Balthasar, it takes at least two to have an aesthetics.  A solipsistic aesthetics is a surd.

Aesthetics is not merely about self-expression

Self-expression is an oxymoron.  Expression is always to an other.  The former is unreal.  The latter is real.  Communico ergo sum.   "Only through expressing oneself to the other does the person exist.  Sheer inwardness in itself--that is, the person apart from self-expression within relationships--achieves no form."  Steck, 21.

(This principle, that "sheer inwardness in itself--that is, the person apart from self-expression without relationships--achieves no form.  Such an individual would be existence without essence, freedom without determination," has significant ramifications for our notion of God.  If God is "sheer inwardness in itself" as in Allah, he is lonely; he is "existence without essence," pure will.  If God, on the other hand, is not "sheer inwardness in itself," then there must be some sort of relational life within God, i.e., God would seem to be trinitarian.)

This relational reality is at the core of von Balthasar's aesthetic theory.  He sees it as something that arises from our very nature, a nature that shares the trinitarian image of the God who made him.

We are directed towards others, and this directionality is fundamental to our sense of self; our identities are constructed through relationships with others. The ultimate ground for this self-expressive relationality is the Trinity: "The finite person bears the stamp of the imago trinitatis, which means that it can only be and become a person by relating to the other persons it encounters on its way through life.

Steck, 21 (quoting from TD5.302)

This relational nature allows us naturally to want to relate to the other, and the other discloses itself to us.  This requires us to be an active recipient of the other's "word."  In a real sense, we have to allow ourselves to be claimed by the object and receive its gift of self-expression.  We must allow ourselves, "freely, actively," to enter into the other's "spell and radiant space."  Steck, 22.

Clearly, von Balthsar's focus is on the receiving agent.  "This idea of active receptivity is key to von Balthasar's understanding of human agency."  "[I]n receiving, and thus also responding to the other (the two moments cannot be separated from one another), express ourselves and thereby achieve our own identities."  Steck, 22.

Worlds apart are we from aesthetics as self-expression.  Aesthetics is other-expressing-to-other, the artist expressing to recipient and eliciting a response.  The focus is on the receiver and on the response.  Beauty, then, is a form of communication, a relational concept, and it is this relationship aspect that is at the core of von Balthasar's theory of aesthetics and his theology of glory.

No comments:

Post a Comment