Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Readings: Staunchly Equivocal

At the conclusion of this post, I wrote:

“I am hopeful that Murdoch, herself being the author of some really kick-ass novels, will pull art's fat out of Plato's fire by the end of the essay.”

I have since gone on to other essays, and other books, without ever tying up that loose thread. To do so, it would seem to be sufficient to merely let Murdoch put the matter to rest with the closing paragraph of the essay in question, “The Fire and the Sun”:

Plato feared the consolations of art. He did not offer a consoling theology. His psychological realism depicted God as subjecting mankind to a judgment as relentless as that of the old Zeus, although more just. A finely meshed moral causality determines the fate of the soul. That the movement of the saving of Eros is toward an impersonal pictureless void is one of the paradoxes of a complete religion. To present the idea of God at all, even as myth, is a consolation, since it is impossible to defend this image against the prettifying attentions of art. Art will mediate and adorn, and develop magical structures to conceal the absence of God or his distance. We live now amid the collapse of many such structures, and as religion and metaphysics in the West withdraw from the embraces of art, we are it might seem being forced to become mystics through the lack of any imagery which could satisfy the mind. Sophistry and magic break down at intervals, but they never go away and there is no end to their collusion with art and to the consolations which, perhaps fortunately for the human race, they can provide; and art, like writing and like Eros, goes on existing for better and for worse.

Murdoch kind of fudges it in the end, don’t you think? She seems to be saying, You can have art, but be aware, at the same time, that all art is essentially an idolatry, the aesthetic consolations of which are a stumbling block to the pilgrim on the way to perfection. Art is for individuals who are willing to make compromises with Existence and to settle for second best; it is not for aspiring saints.

Art: Murdoch voted for it before she voted against it.