((released 2007-12-01) (handle mh-88-m) (supplement true))
Guests on Volume 88: Michael J. Lewis, on Body Worlds, human nature and Western Art; Diana Pavlac Glyer, on the influence of the Inklings on each others’ writings; Steve Talbott, on how the aims of education are distracted by technology; Darryl Tippens, on why we sing; Everett Ferguson, on the place of music in the Early Church; Alexander Lingas, on the tradition of music in the Eastern churches; and Calvin Stapert, on the nature of meaning in music.
“What we know about Tolkien is that, without the Inklings, probably we wouldn’t have any finished work at all. It was unusual for Tolkien to finish anything: he was a great beginner, but not a good ender.”
—Diana Pavlac Glyer
The Inklings were “brutally frank” in their critique of one another’s work. Yet many critics say these regular encounters did not have much influence on these authors’ work. Diana Pavlac Glyer disagrees, in spite of the fact that the Inklings themselves mostly claimed to not have an influence on each other. Glyer explains that in imitation of style, there were many acknowledged differences: yet there was a great impact as the Inklings worked together. She explains this as a subtle difference between coaching and mere imitation: coaches tend to get us to do what we do best, and the result can be quite different in style from the coach’s own work. Glyer looked closely at letters, diaries and rough drafts as well as revised versions of their work to see what kind of changes were made. She concludes that even in major literary choices (such as Lewis’s ultimate decision to write fiction rather than poetry) the Inklings had a tremendous influence on each other.
“Every product is immaculate. Dust has settled on nothing. And this is what made it palatable to people who otherwise would feel an instinctive dread. The sheer intensity of the candy, neon colors, is part of the shininess of advertising, which does a tremendous job of causing our instincts to snooze when they should be at their most alert.”
—Michael J. Lewis
Michael J. Lewis examines what, besides basic anatomy, is being taught at the Body Worlds art exhibit using the technique of plastination by Gunther von Hagens. Lewis insists that our moral imagination is being shaped by a disturbing tendency of our time: the treatment of the human body as a mechanical contrivance with no higher meaning. The highly antiseptic, immaculate appearance of the exhibit makes it palatable to people who would otherwise feel a natural dread, citing the tendency of children to find the exhibit hilarious. From the perspective of the history of art, Lewis makes insightful comments regarding the historic treatment of the human body. He insists that there is an essential moral component to reverencing human bodies while alive which carry over into the complex rituals which attend the treatment of the body in death. Lewis explains that historically in the use of a human body for the purposes of science, there have always been strict ethical protocols regarding how the body could be used. He contrasts this with the Body Worlds exhibit’s undeniable orientation toward entertainment.
“The distancing of ourselves, and particularly of our children, from reality — if you can just stop for a minute, step back and look at it — is absolutely horrifying. You wonder, where will the grounding for these children come from when they have no grounding in reality?”
Steve Talbott argues for an education that introduces young people to a wise and intelligent encounter with reality. In relating a story of a father who takes his son on a hike in the woods (observing a rattlesnake in its natural habitat along the way), Talbott explains what he means by an embodied and interactional means of education. The father in his story is a mentor for the boy, showing him how to appreciate the beauty of the snake in ways a nature video never could. Talbott argues that education involves a genuine embodied interaction with reality: the role of the mentor is crucial in teaching how reality should be interacted with in a moral way. All too often, education is viewed as merely the assembling of information, but Talbott concludes that the forms through which knowledge is conveyed is directly related to the meaning of what is learned.
“There’s something innate about human nature that requires music. . . . I would argue the law of singing is the law of belief.”
The unlikeliness of men and women singing together in today’s world is an example of the fragmenting nature of modernity. Darryl Tippens is an organizer of a music festival at Pepperdine University for acapella sacred music called “The Ascending Voice.” Tippens reminds us of Scriptural texts in which a person is moving closer to God when music breaks out (such as Mary’s Magnificat.) He discusses the history of music in the church, and hopes we can turn around the current view of singing within the church.
“Simple singing awakens the soul to a fervent desire for that which is described in the songs. It quiets the passions which arise from the flesh. It removes the evil thoughts that are implanted in us by invisible foes. It waters the soul to make it fruitful in the good things of God. It makes the soldiers of piety strong to endure hardships. It becomes for the pious medicine to cure all the pains of life.”
—Theodorate (Bishop of Syria; church father), cited by Everett Ferguson
Everett Ferguson contrasts “living instruments” (human beings) with “dead instruments” (which by nature all instruments are). He relates the uniting effect music was always understood to have on a congregation: how can one speak evil of another with whom they’ve united their voice in spiritual song? Ferguson relates Augustine’s comment on seeing the church in Milan, portraying a fear of the power of beauty to beguile the listener. Ferguson encourages Christian musicians to struggle with the tension between the melody and harmony adding to versus distracting from the power of the words.
“It was really singing services day in and day out which made those fine distinctions between the different types of scales possible for me.”
Choral conductor Alexander Lingas relates his background and upbringing in Western music, learning chant from that perspective and then continuing his journey into a more thoroughly Eastern tradition. He describes the surprising continuity in music during the Ottoman period when the Turks ruled Eastern Europe. Western music changed more during this period, whereas Middle East monophonic singing is closer in some ways to the original Gregorian chant.
“Wherever we have record of civilization and their music, people have thought that music matters and it matters greatly.”
Musicologist Calvin Stapert introduces John Calvin’s teachings on music’s power and the importance of care in dealing with that power. The idea that music could have a “pernicious” effect, as Calvin thought, is completely incomprehensible to most people today — whether or not they are Christian. Composers often say that the meaning of their music is “up to the listener,” and Calvin Stapert admits that the whole question of musical meaning is a difficult one. Yet he encourages a consideration of music which lies within a definable sphere of meaning. He argues that the relativism of our age has influenced us so deeply that we are fearful of something that gives us pleasure being criticized in any way.
“Well, if you asked [Lewis and Barfield], they’d say they disagreed on everything.”
—Diana Pavlac Glyer
In this bonus track, Diana Pavlac Glyer describes Owen Barfield’s work, which is largely unknown since his writing tends to be technical and philosophical. Lewis and Barfield were exact contemporaries at Oxford, and became close friends very early in their careers. One central idea of Barfield’s that Glyer claims influenced the other Inklings such as Tolkien and Lewis was the importance of the relationship between language and perception. Barfield also encouraged Lewis to avoid “chronological snobbery,” whereby the present moment is assumed to be better than other times. She comments on how Tolkien’s creative process unusually started with language, which is also a Barfieldian idea.
“It is sometimes thought by secularists that when the Renaissance broke in Italy in the fifteenth century, that was the end of religious faith. And you couldn’t be further from the truth. Michelangelo was as deep a believer as any artist ever was.”
—Michael J. Lewis
In this bonus track, Michael J. Lewis comments on the changing view of the human body present in the history of art. For instance, he contrasts the way hands and eyes were emphasized in Western Medieval art compared with the inner-looking eyes of Eastern statuary. For a discussion of the application of Christian belief applied to the body of pagan antiquity, Lewis recommends Kenneth Clark’s book on the history of the body in art. The fatalism and pessimism that clings to all classical art is very different, he says, from the optimistic, forward-looking Christian representations in art. Christians see the body as image of God: the site of suffering, but redeemable. The beauty of the suffering body, such as the body of Christ, is uniquely Christian, whereas there was no compassion for the suffering or for the deformed in Roman culture.