26 April 2010

Making Modern Memorials

Sociologist Nathan Glazer explains in an essay about the National Mall in Washington, D.C., titled "Monuments, Modernism, and the Mall", what the deal is with toilets, giant clothespins, and wasted heaps of metal. Presented here is a section of that essay, taken from an anthology, The National Mall: Rethinking Washington's Monumental Core, edited by Mr. Glazer himself and Cynthia R. Fields. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008.

There are many traditional forms and emblems that are not yet, I would think, exhausted and do serve to communicate something to people. In any case, the new forms of modern art and modernism either have their own kitschy meaning, like flat roofs or metal beams agonizing with each other, or mean nothing at all. Perhaps the sophisticates can distinguish one construction of beans from another, one set of whorled metal sheets from another, so that one might mean triumph and another defeat, but most of us can't and are left to say, "Huh?"
    I find an exquisite summary of the dilemma of modernism and memorials in a 1992 book by Harriet Senie, Contemporary Public Sculpture: Tradition, Transformation, and Controversy. In the two first sentences, she writes: "The problems endemic to public art in a democracy begin with its definition. How can something be public (democratic) and art (elitist)?" The implicit and taken-for-granted assumption is that art must be elitist and therefore will be incomprehensible to a democratic public. What a strange, what a modern, assumption! Would Michaelangelo or Bernini or Lutyens have ever had such a thought? They would not have contemplated such a thought not because their publics were better educated than we are today (they might have been) but because they took it for granted that they were distinguished from their fellows by their skill and genius, not by their assumptions and values and ideals.
    One way the contemporary artist overcomes the problem is by turning his or her art into a joke. So on the dust jacket of the book Contemporary Public Sculpture, one will see an enormous clothespin erected in front of the huge Philadelphia City hall, which was built in Second Empire style. The sculpture is by Claes Oldenburg, who has proposed many such modern monuments and built a few. Alexander Calder's mobiles and stabiles are gentler jokes. One can see one on the west side of the National Museum of American History, a homage to Gwendolyn Cafritz, a benefactor of Washington art. This will work to some extent; it will not work, however, for a serious monument or memorial to note events or people that we do not consider matters for amusement.

19 April 2010

Michael Tymn

Michael Tymn's blog location has changed after Gaia shut down. He is now writing on the White Crow Books site. I have updated the links section accordingly.

04 April 2010

The Resurrection

Today is Easter, the day commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the demonstration of his conquest of death. How exactly did this event occur? What led to the rolling away of the stone and the discovery of the empty tomb? Where did the body of Jesus go? There are a few ideas people have put out over the years. I present a few that I know of below with my commentary.

1. Jesus didn't really die, he was given a drug that put him into a comatose state and was later revived by his disciples inside the tomb and the whole story of the resurrection was a hoax. This is the so called "swoon" theory, which is the absolute least likely of them all. It is truly laughable. Anyone who knows anything about the Romans knows that they, perhaps more than any other culture in history, were experts at killint people. Killing people was what they did better than anyone else. If the Romans said Jesus was dead on the cross, he was dead, period. There is no way someone can survive a Roman scourging (120 individual lashes counted on the Shroud of Turin from a flagrum, when some people have been reported having died after five or ten lashes from a normal whip during modern attempts at capital punishment), carrying a heavy cross, being crucified, and then pierced in the heart with a spear. No drug can save someone from all that, and I defy anyone to reproduce the passion and survive as per the "swoon" theory.

2. Jesus really died, but the disciples stole the body then made up the story of the resurrection. This doesn't account for how they got passed the guards stationed at the tomb or how hundreds of people witnessed the risen Christ who were not among the disciples. Besides, where would the put the body and why would the disciples, who all turned away from Jesus when he was being captured, interrogated, and crucified, suddenly decide to preach the resurrection of their teacher at the expense of their own lives (all but one was killed for evangelizing)?

3. Jesus' soul temporarily left his body then returned to it while it lay in the tomb. He would still have to dematerialize his body to get out of the shroud, which was tightly wrapped around his body. This dematerialization might have created the image on the shroud, as speculated by a documentary I saw a few days ago The Real Face of Jesus. I was greatly surprised by this documentary and would classify it as one of the few "documentaries that don't dissapoint on every page." It presented a genuine scientific investigation of the Shroud of Turin that included no snarky quips from debunkers, treated Christianity and belief in the resurrection with respect, and concluded with a computer reconstruction of Jesus' face from the image on the shroud. It is suggested that the dematerialization of Jesus' body may have produced the image in some way; an image that contains no paint, pigment, burn marks, chemicals, or any indication that human hands produced it at all. The shroud is not a photograph, painting, or artwork of any kind. The scientists who worked on it, and were interviewed for the program, made very clear that they did not discover how the image was created, but were able to rule out any conventional or nonconventional means (such as photography being used 400 years before it was invented).

4. Jesus returned to his disciples as a form of after-death communication. Frequently people will report a full-body apparition of a newly deceased loved one that appears for a brief time to let them know that they are alright. Some have suggested that Jesus did not have a bodily resurrection but a spiritual resurrection. This still doesn't explain where the body went.

5. Jesus materialized a new body for himself using ectoplasm like the materialization mediums of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I just thought this one up a few days ago, but it seems less likely now. I thought that if mediums could materialize spirits using ectoplasm, a substance created in part from the medium's own body (which is why mediums' weights decreased greatly while they materialized spirits and why if something went wrong with the ectoplasmic form the medium could be greatly hurt), then why couldn't a sufficiently advanced spirit create their own solid form out of ectoplasm? The obvious problem is, where will the spirit get the material needed to create the ectoplasmic form if most of it comes from the medium's own body? In the case of Jesus he could have used material from his own, dead, body. This would explain the empty tomb and all the other features of his new body, such as its ability to appear and disappear and yet seem solid to anyone who would touch it (Thomas, who wasn't satisfied just looking at his teacher; though I suspect if I encountered a materialized loved one I would have to touch them too, for my own human frailty). Of course, if Jesus could create a new ectoplasmic body out of the material from his old body then wouldn't it be assuming less to just say that he dematerialized his old body and rematerialized it as in case three? It is kind of a meaningless exercise to argue whether Jesus could dematerialize his old body and rematerialize it or whether he made an ectoplasmic body out of the material from his old body. There really seems no difference.

All that said, I do not know how the resurrection was accomplished, only that I am glad that it did occur. Contemplation on the mystery of the resurrection seemed to be an appropriate usage of time for Easter, after all. Enjoy the rest of the day while it's still here.