Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Religious Origins of the Artistic Order

I am presently reading Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus (H.T. Lowe-Porter, tr.). It is, of course, fantastic. It is the story, as told by a friend, of a composer of genius who purposefully contracts syphilis. The composer, whose name is Adrian Leverkuhn, first went to college to study theology, then changed over to music. As the narrator studies philology, the two end up having philosophical discussions about the nature of art. Of particular interest for those interested in spontaneous orders is pg. 59, where the narrator paraphrases Adrian's idea that

the separation of art from the liturgical whole, its liberation and elevation into the individual and culturally self-purposive, had laden it with an irrelevant solemnity, an absolute seriousness, a pathos of suffering, . . . which did not need to be its abiding destiny, its permanent intellectual constitution.
Of particular note here is the observation that there was a "separation of art from the liturgical whole" that resulted in "its liberation and elevation into the individual and culturally self-purposive." The separation out of the various social spontaneous orders from "the liturgical whole" that constituted life in Europe through the Middle Ages, beginning in the Renaissance, gave us the Modern Era. The Church had been the center of political power, economic power, artistic inspiration and support, law, morality, etc. After the Renaissance, we saw these things separated out from the Church -- including its monopoly on religion so that in some places, like England and the U.S., there are examples of religion as a spontaneous order -- such that we had/have/could have what F. A. Hayek termed the Great Society, which constitutes that society which has each of these realms separated out as much as possible into their own spontaneous orders.

Art in particular was inseparable from religion until the Renaissance. There were period when this was, perhaps, not the case, such as in Roman times, but certainly in ancient Greece and Medieval Europe -- and in most cultures -- the arts are inseparable from religion. What happens if and when it does separate itself out, become its own spontaneous order? As Mann observes through Adrian, it becomes individualistic and "culturally self-purposive." It becomes increasingly subjective (which Adrian later equates with freedom (190)) and self-referential. Mann, through Adrian, argues that the religious origins of the arts were or are still affecting the content of the arts, which is hardly necessary for it if it is in fact liberated from religion (this hearkens back and is not unrelated to Nietzsche's observations that most atheists were in fact still Christians insofar as they continued to abide by Christian morality even as they gave up on believing in the actual existence of God -- that if they were true unbelievers, they would jettison the whole deal and engage in a revaluation of all values).

It may still be the case that the arts are not entirely liberated from their origins in religion. But is it possible for them to be? Is it possible for the different spontaneous orders to ever be completely separated out from each other? To what degrees must they necessarily hearken back to their foundations? Or intermingle with each other?

For myself, I am finding much liberation in producing plays that abide by strict form and bring religion back into the content, structure, and world view. But that observation is fertile grounds for another posting at a later date on the dialectic of freedom.

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