November 23, 2009

my meat and drink

Trying to motivate myself to work on a paper: Robert Browning's "painter poems" and Victorian interpretation -and construction- of the "renaissance" as a defined historical period. The great critic John Ruskin, a friend of Browning's, is especially relevant although the two tend to diverge on their views of art and classicism. Ruskin's condemnation of the renaissance as a collapse into paganism seems odd, considering the pietistic Protestantism from which Ruskin develops his Christian aestheticism. Browning, who appears to be a more consistent Protestant, offers a more ambigious picture of this turn from Gothic, religiously explicit painting to realism - for he is, after all, the artist, not the critic. Perhaps the most celebrated of Browning's "painter poems" is his dramatic monologue, Fra Lippo Lippi, which sets up the painter against the church's authority (the established church, like the critic, approach the world with a taste for division and hierarchy):

....How much more,
If I drew higher things with the same truth!
That were to take the Prior's pulpit-place,
Interpret God to all of you! Oh, oh,
It makes me mad to see what men shall do
And we in our graves! This world's no blot for us,
Nor blank; it means intensely, and means good:
To find its meaning is my meat and drink.

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The Immanent Frame has just posted audio files of lectures from a discussion of religion in the pubic sphere entitled "Rethinking Secularism." Charles Taylor is joined by Jurgen Habermas, Cornel West, and Judith Butler (who gives her thoughts on Walter Benjamin, Zionism and Judaism!). What a treat.

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