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Barth had always been piqued by the Catholicism of Mozart, and by Mozart’s rejection of Protestantism. For Mozart said that “Protestantism was all in the head” and that “Protestants did not know the meaning of the Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi.” Barth, in his dream, was appointed to examine Mozart in theology. He wanted to make the examination as favorable as possible, and in his questions he alluded pointedly to Mozart’s masses. But Mozart did not answer a word.1 THOMAS MERTON It was once said of that other Swiss giant of modern theology, the ‘Catholic Barth’ Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) that he wrote more books than most people have read. This may not quite apply to one of his foremost British admirers, Archbishop Rowan Williams, but it might well have been had he not been given the daunting (and currently somewhat thankless) task of guiding the world-wide Anglican communion. Given the undisputed intellectual substance, range and spiritual depth of his writing, the appearance of a relatively short but denselypacked volume of his ‘Reflections on Art and Love’ in 2005 was a major event.2 Grace and Necessity traces the influence on artists of the neo-scholastic thought of French philosopher Jacques Maritain (1882-1973), focusing on the Anglo-Welsh visual artist and poet David Jones (1895-1974) and the American writer Mary Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964). The book’s final section draws powerful artistic and theological conclusions from all three figures, promoting “art which is intensely serious, unconsoling, and unafraid of the complexity of a world that the secularist too can recognize.”3 That Grace and Necessity perhaps raises more questions than it answers would seem fully deliberate. Recurrent in much of Rowan Williams’s writing is a concern for “what resists the urge of religious language to claim a total perspective,”4 the suspicion of all discourses of closure as idolatrous. I wish to address three such questions: i) why has the Archbishop turned to the aesthetic theory of an unfashionable philosopher whose output had fallen into relative oblivion? ii) why is music omnipresent as a metaphor both in Grace and Necessity and its Maritainian sources but conspicuously absent as a specific topic, especially when Maritain’s ideas were clearly appropriated by Igor Stravinsky in his Poetics of Music? iii) what might the Archbishop’s analysis imply for contemporary sacred composition?
Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a guilty bystander (Garden City, NY: Doubleday,1966), 11. There have of course been other stimulating recent treatments of Christian aesthetics (beginning with Balthasar’s monumental Theo-Aesthetik) by philosophers and theologians including Nicholas Wolterstorff, Richard Viladesau, Jeremy Begbie and David Bentley Hart, but Rowan Williams’ dual perspective as a thinker and churchman merits particular interest. 3 Rowan Williams, Grace and Necessity: Reflections on Art and Love (London: Continuum, 2005, hereafter GN), 170. 4 Rowan Williams, Theological Integrity in On Christian Theology, (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), 13.
Jacques Maritain’s name may be unfamiliar today, but in the mid-twentieth century he was extremely influential, not only as a leading Catholic philosopher but also the French ambassador to the Vatican (1944-1948) and a prime mover behind the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). His impact on Pope Paul VI was such that he considered making Maritain a cardinal despite his being unordained. The post-Vatican II years however proved unfavourable to the intellectual current known as neo-Thomism – the affirmation of the contemporary relevance of St Thomas Aquinas – associated with Maritain, while his “Christian humanism” was judged insufficiently progressive by the Catholic left, particularly compared to emerging liberation theology. This begs the question of what prompted Rowan Williams to turn to Maritain’s aesthetics, particularly his Art and scholasticism and Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry. An overall reading of Grace and Necessity suggests several junctions between the writings on art of Maritain (or rather Jacques and his wife Raïssa Maritain, whose import as a thinker and poet should not be neglected) and Rowan Williams’s broader theological project. The most general would seem to concern faith’s relationship to culture. Both Maritain and Williams attempt to reconcile the spiritual, intellectual and artistic heritage of Christianity with critical openness to the modern world, envisaging its transformation through the Gospel.5 The French renouveau catholique of the early twentieth century, extended by Rowan Williams to the English-speaking world in his artistic case studies, provides a possible blueprint for the instantiation of Christianity’s generative power in the stimulation of artistic production. Maritain’s proximity to what Archbishop Williams terms the ‘heartlands of European artistic modernism’6 is borne out by the remarkable constellation of artists of the first rank, including such unlikely figures as Jean Cocteau, in his inter-war Paris circle. Williams is drawn in Maritain’s aesthetic7 to his “sustained theoretical reflection on what the process of artistic composition entails and what it assumes”8. Significant here is the harmonization of practical aspects of artistry as human labour with the roles of intellect (intuitive as well as logical reason) and the senses. Secondly, Maritain seeks equidistance from the denial of human context implicit in ‘art for art’s sake’ and its subjugation to expediency. He defines art’s value for humanity in its character as gratuitous activity, its apparent uselessness resisting the dehumanizing forces of the “two unnatural principles of the fecundity of money and the finality of the useful”9. A third issue concerns the poetic intimation (poetry being for Maritain a word linked to the impulse behind all art rather than tied to a strictly delimited art-form) of a “depth in the observable world beyond what is at any moment observable”10 , the visible’s connection to the invisible, a recognition that perceived objects are “not exhausted by what could be said about them in descriptive, rational and pragmatic terms.”11 A refrain throughout
The degree of commonality with the cultural agenda of the current movement spearheaded by John Milbank known as ‘Radical Orthodoxy’ is no coincidence, given his attention to twentieth-century French philosophy / theology and his training under Rowan Williams. Milbank’s close but critical reading of Maritain is in evidence in his substantial and philosophically dense review of Grace and Necessity entitled Scholasticism, Modernism and Modernity (Modern Theology 22:4, October 2006, 651-671). 6 GN, ix. 7 Summarized neatly on pages 36-38 of Grace and Necessity. 8 GN, p. 3. 9 Jacques Maritain, Art and Scholasticism and the Frontiers of Poetry, translated by Joseph W. Evans (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1974, hereafter AS), 36. 10 GN, 154. 11 Ibid., x.
Grace and Necessity which puts this succinctly and suggestively is Maritain’s dictum that “things are not only what they are”12. A final area of literally crucial (in the sense of being linked to Williams’ own theologia crucis) interest for the Archbishop is the definition of the truth of artistic creation as indissociable from the artist’s disinterested relation to the work, allowing it to develop according to its own internal dynamic – the ‘necessity’ of the title – rather than imposing external conditions upon it. This applies even to the search for the beautiful, where Williams stresses that as “Maritain insisted, beauty sought for itself will always elude – or else it will seduce the artist into one or another sort of falsity.” Beauty rather “occurs” given integrity of artistic vision when the work is “released from the artist”.13 Rowan Williams’s central argument is that this by analogy reveals something of God’s unconditional love for the world of God’s making; divine creation “bestows life unreservedly on what is other, but the life it bestows is a real selfhood, a solid reality. It is not the exercise of an arbitrary will, one subject seeking to control another.”14 Williams discusses visual art, poetry and fiction; naturally when reading Grace and Necessity, the question of a possible musical application arises. I would suggest that this is problematic for several reasons which, when investigated, are rich in implications. Maritain’s view of the artist as a maker, homo faber, raises immediate questions regarding music by virtue of the ambiguity of music's 'material' which arguably exceeds that even of poetry. What, for the composer (restricting the present discussion to the Western art-music tradition), is the raw material? Pure sound? Patterns of sound mediated by tradition? Written notation? Is the relationship to the listener intrinsic or extrinsic to that material? Maritain devotes lengthy discussion in Creative Intuition to the relationship between artworks and their external referents; if this is ambiguous even for the visual arts, as his treatment of modern painting’s relationship to mimesis demonstrates, at least the discussion’s starting-point is relatively clear, a starting-point which in music’s case is lacking. There has been long-standing critical controversy as to whether music has an external referent or not; latterly Daniel Chua in his absorbing Absolute Music and the Construction of Meaning (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) has justifiably exposed the myth-making behind the tradition of ‘pure’ music, yet music’s claim to the absolute in the last two centuries remains a cultural phenomenon worth examining in relation to modern art’s striving for ‘purity’. In The Frontiers of Poetry Maritain lays bare the metaphysical pretension behind “the search for pure music, pure painting, pure theatre, pure poetry” (which he specifically identifies with French culture since Mallarmé): To command our art to be art in the pure state, by freeing itself in effect from all its conditions of existence in the human subject, is to wish it to usurp for itself the aseity of God.15 He insists that creation ex nihilo, presupposing “independence with regard to things”16 belongs to God alone. However, his reference to the irreducibility of art’s “conditions of existence in
12 GN, 26. The discussion of the theological implications of a sense of ‘excess’ in artistic perception suggests common ground between Rowan Williams and the ‘saturated phenomena’ tellingly analyzed by Jean-Luc Marion (an author surprisingly absent from Grace and Necessity’s list of references) in works such as De Surcroît. 13 GN, 168-69. 14 Ibid., 164-65. 15 AS, 122.
the human subject” does not merely denote external context. The Mellon Lectures strongly emphasize inspiration’s reliance on the inner life of what Maritain, correcting Freud, interestingly terms the “spiritual unconscious”. Here his metaphors are pre-eminently musical. He equates poetry, “the secret life of all the arts”, with Plato’s term mousikè17, regarding music as “perhaps the most significant of all18” art forms and speaking of the deepest, most primal poetic impulse behind all art as a “musical stir”: The very first effect, and sign, of poetic knowledge and poetic intuition, as soon as they exist in the soul - and even before the start of any operative exercise - is a kind of musical stir produced in the depths of the living springs in which they are born. It is of the utmost importance, I believe, to distinguish between the musicality of the words (even inner words not yet externally uttered) - and that musical stir, linked with poetic intuition itself.19 Maritain associates this ‘stir’, admittedly somewhat loosely, with melody: Poetic experience is still freer, still more immersed in the internal recesses of subjectivity, still closer to the need and longing of the spirit for utterance, in the composer than in the poet - "where the word stops, there starts the song, exultation of the mind bursting forth into the voice," as St. Thomas puts it.20 But it is not as attainable and expressible through introspection, it is as enveloped in the musicality of creative imagination and the birth of melody that such experience emerges into the consciousness of the composer.21 Maritain however makes it clear that when he speaks of ‘primeval melody’, he does so “in a merely analogical sense, having in no way to do with sounds, but only with inaudible psychic charges of images and emotion”,22 equating melody with “wordless meaning”.23
Ibid., 121. Jacques Maritain, Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry (New York: Pantheon Books, 1953, hereafter CI), 3. 18 Ibid., 4. 19 CI, 300. 20 Aquinas, prologue to Comment. in Psalm. 21 CI, 250. Although the element of schematization of Maritain's representation of the poetic process may raise suspicions, he is careful not to be dogmatic in suggesting a fixed chronological progression in the developmental phases of the art-work. In distinguishing a "first stage, merely imaginal and emotional, in the expression of poetic experience", he admits that this "may now and then take place at the same time as the outpouring of words and their "arrangement on the paper" (or the arrangement of colored spots on the canvas, or the arrangement of sounds on the score), which is the second and final stage." (CI, 304). He does not suggest that the working of poetic intuition stops where that of ordering begins. 22 Ibid., 302. 23 Ibid., 306. As for melody as a musical phenomenon, Maritain uses comments by Arthur Lourié (taken from “De la Mélodie", La Vie Intellectuelle, Dec 25, 1936, 491-99) to explicate his terms of reference:
"Melody is, as it were, an instant where the conditions of time and space are brought to naught, and the musical being is perceived as free from them. Melody gives the illusion of being a stopped instant, and so gives the impression of belonging to the category of the eternal. . . . It is a good through itself, being an expression of the truth of the one who produces it. It appears as a purification by confession, from the fact that it reveals the nondisfigured essence of that which is, and not any lie imagined by its author." Maritain comments approvingly that “What is told us here is indeed that melody is the pure and direct expression of poetic experience in the composer.” (CI, 253)
This description of the creative process is as evocative as it is elusive (Rowan Williams’ reading of Maritain on this point24 is equally tantalizing and inconclusive).. Although it is perhaps music’s very resistance to his conceptual discourse which attracts him, Maritain's own writing on musical topics is somewhat problematic. He openly acknowledges that composers are not generally given to self-reflection on the creative act, a state of affairs resulting in the lack of a readily usable framework for philosophical consideration: composers and painters, because they do not deal with language and the natural instruments of thought, are less interested than poets in reflectively scrutinizing and putting into words their inner experience. This experience remains for them, to a large extent, hidden in the preconscious.25 Compounding the innate difficulty for any philosopher of discussing the non-verbal adequately in words, commentators26 have questioned Maritain's musical competence, pointing principally to the inflated importance he accorded to the "ontological music"27 of the Russian émigré composer Arthur Lourié (seemingly based on the latter’s cogency as a theoretician rather than on intrinsic musical merit28). Maritain’s impact on eminent musicians was however far from negligible. Honegger and Auric formed part of Jacques and Raïssa Maritain’s circle, while Erik Satie’s deathbed conversion to Catholicism (1925) is widely attributed to them. As for Maritain’s close friend Lourié, he had an extremely significant role in the years 1924 to 1931 as the public spokesman of Igor Stravinsky, who first encountered Maritain in his company in 1926 and subsequently developed a personal friendship with the philosopher. Discussing his own religious trajectory with Robert Craft in later life, Stravinsky both admitted and qualified the philosopher’s impact on him in the 1920s: Jacques Maritain may have exercised an influence on me at this time, though not directly, and, certainly, he had no role in my ‘conversion’29; until just before the latter event I knew him only through his books; we became personal friends in 1929.30 As Robert Fallon has suggested, a case can be made for seeing a commonality of approach between Art and scholasticism and the Symphony of Psalms,31 while Stravinsky's later borrowings
GN, 27-29. CI, 250. 26 Such as Robert Fallon (Composing Subjectivity: Maritain's Poetic Knowledge in Stravinsky and Messiaen in Jacques Maritain and the Many Ways of Knowing, (ed. Douglas A. Ollivant) Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2002, 284-302) or Louis Andriessen / Elmer Schönberger ( Apollonian Clockwork: On Stravinsky, trans. Jeff Hamburg, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2006). 27 In the article Sur la musique d’Arthur Lourié published in La Revue Musicale, 17e année, n° 165 (avril 1936), 266-271 and reprinted in Jacques et Raïssa Maritain, Oeuvres Complètes Vol. VI, 1935-1938 (Fribourg / Paris: Editions Universitaires Fribourg, Editions Saint-Paul, 1984), 1061-66. 28 Comments on Maritain’s questionable assessment of the value of Lourié’s music do not however necessarily render his quotation of the latter’s aesthetic views illegitimate. A rhetorical question in the footnotes to Art and scholasticism is apposite in this context: “what is the music Nietzsche wrote, in comparison with his views on music” (AS, 203, n.137) 29 This statement should of course not ncecessarily be taken at face value – in a diary entry from1949 commenting on a dinner party with Evelyn Waugh, Robert Craft remarks that “I would guess that the novelist supposes the composer to be a Jew converted by Maritain, which is the common and, so far as the Maritain influence is concerned, partly truthful supposition.” (Dialogues and a Diary (Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1963), 152) 30 Igor Stravinsky / Robert Craft, Expositions and Developments, (Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1962),76.
from Maritain in his Norton Lectures (Poetics of Music) given at Harvard in 1939-40 are so wellattested that it might seem puzzling that Grace and Necessity does not investigate the relationship between the philosopher and a compositional colossus. Stravinsky (aided significantly by his ghost-writers Alexis Roland-Manuel and Pierre Souvtchinsky32) cites Maritain directly in lecture 3, stating that he reminds us that in the mighty structure of medieval civilization, the artist held only the rank of an artisan. And his individualism was forbidden any sort of anarchic development, because a natural social discipline imposed certain limititave conditions upon him from without. It was the Renaissance that invented the artist, distinguished him from the artisan and began to exalt the former at the expense of the latter.33 This direct quotation certainly reflects Art and Scholasticism’s central concern with art as the crafting of a work34. Stravinsky's subsequent comments on the indissociability of freedom and
31 Especially if the argument is taken seriously that Lourié’s Sonata Litugica of 1928 and the Concerto Spirituale for chorus, piano and orchestra of 1929 served as its precursors. 32 The complex interactions between the three figures have made the Poetics of Music something of a cause célèbre. In a recent study of the book’s sketch material (Revue de Musicologie, 2003), Valérie Dufour has made out a coherent case for arguing that even the 1500 words of notes in Stravinsky’s hand which Robert Craft (Perspectives of New Music, 1982-83) saw as sole identifiable contribution to the lectures largely originate with the Russian philosopher Pierre Souvtchinsky. She points especially to the concentration on musical ‘speculation’ and ‘creative monism’ as prominent themes in his writing of the 1930s (there is however no reference to Maritain in Souvtchinsky’s Thèses pour une explication de musique en 8 leçons apart from the intriguing words “snobisme et scolastique”). Nonetheless, there is no doubt that Stravinsky assumed full intellectual responsibility for th content of the Poetics in the very act of delivering the Harvard lectures. 33 Poetics of Music, in the form of six lessons, preface by Darius Milhaud, translated by Arthur Knodel & Ingolf Dahl (New York: Vintage Books, 1947), 52. 34 The emphasis on craftsmanship in opposition to the expressionism of Schoenberg is a theme taken up intriguingly by Louis Andriessen with reference to Pierre Boulez :
In the best French tradition, he’s an artisanat composer. He would not have read Maritain much, but on the philosophical level he’s much more a Stravinskian than a Schoenbergian. (The Cambridge Companion to Stravinsky, ed. Jonathan Cross (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 253) It is interesting to note that Robert Craft regards Lourié as anticipating the underlying polarity at work in Adorno’s famous polemics in the Philosophy of New Music: Perhaps Lourié did more than any other critic before Theodor W. Adorno to establish the notion of Schoenberg and Stravinsky as thesis and antithesis, and Lourié’s Neogothic and Neoclassic (Modern Music, March-April, 1928) was profoundly influential in this regard. (Vera Stravinsky / Robert Craft, Stravinsky in Pictures and Documents (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978), 221) The polemical bent of this polarization is clear from Lourié’s tone both in the article cited by Craft and one published in Russian in Pierre Souvtchinsky’s journal Vyorsti; proximity to Art and Scholasticim is evident in Lourié’s attack on art as a substitute religion, but his views lack the subtlety of the 1927 edition of the book with its more ambivalent appreciation of artistic modernism in The Frontiers of Poetry: Among those who create the living experience of our day, a pathos of feeling is clearly giving way to a pathos of consciousness. In the collision of these two forces a new style is being born. On the one hand, neo-Gothic: by which I do not at all mean anything medieval, but a striving for expressiveness, as an ens in se, emerging in individualism, subjectivism, chance and the exceptional . . . On the other hand, geometric (purely musical) thinking, the true expression of which is plastic realism. To be precise: the neoromantic (that is, revolutionary) Sensation is over come by the classical or religious consciousness. (Muzika Stravinskovo, 120, quoted in Walsh, Stravinsky: A Creative Spring: Russia and France 1882-1934 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 460.)
constraint employ a passage from Baudelaire also quoted by Maritain in the footnotes to Art and Scholasticism's Chapter 6, The Rules of Art: rhetorics and prosodies are not arbitrarily invented tyrannies, but a collection of rules demanded by the very organization of the spiritual being, and never have prosodies and rhetorics kept originality from fully manifesting itself. The contrary, that is to say, that they have aided the flowering of originality, would be infinitely more true.35 However, the composer and philosopher contextualize these words in subtly but significantly different ways. Stravinsky provides a provocatively authoritarian introductory salvo: "we shall conclude the necessity of dogmatizing on pain of missing our goal. If these words annoy us and seem harsh, we can abstain from pronouncing them. For all that, they nonetheless contain the secret of salvation."36 Maritain's tone when dealing with artistic 'rules' is far more nuanced: we may call Technique the ensemble of these rules, but on condition of extending and elevating considerably the ordinary meaning of the word "technique". For it is a question not only of material processes, but also, and above all, of the means and ways of operation of the intellectual sphere which the artist uses to attain the end of this art. These ways are determined, like paths traced out in advance through a tangled thicket. But they have to be discovered. And the most elevated of them, those most closely related to the individuality of the work spiritually conceived by the artist, are strictly adapted to the latter and are discernible to one individual only.37 Stravinsky defines real tradition as "a living force that animates and informs the present",38 rather than the "relic of a past irretrievably gone", echoing Maritain's vision of enduring values capable of stimulating genuinely new works as opposed to mere pastiche.39 This distinction is evident in The Frontiers of Poetry; doubtless aware of the charge of reaction to which Art and Scholasticism’s historical allusions had exposed him, Maritain was careful to hone his expression of admiration for the medieval period: There are many references in Art and Scholasticism to the Middle Ages. This is legitimate, because the Middle Ages are relatively the most spiritual period to be found in history, and thus offer us an example very nearly realized – I do not say without vices and defects – of the principles which I hold to be true. But time is irreversible, and in this example I wish to seek only an analogy. It is under a mode entirely new, and difficult to
Schönberg may be considered the Thesis and Stravinsky the Antithesis. Schönberg’s thesis is an egocentric conception dominated by personal and esthetic elements which assume the significance of a fetich. Here esthetic experience takes the place of the religious, art takes the place of the religious, art becomes a kind of substitute for religion. Stravinsky’s whole aim, on the other hand, is to overcome the temptations of fetichism in art, as well as the individualistic conception of a self-imposed estheetic principle. (Neogothic and Neoclassic, 6, quoted in Walsh, 461) Poetics, 67-68 , AS, 176. Poetics, 67. 37 AS, 176. 38 Poetics, 58. 39 Indeed, in his Reflections on Sacred Music, Maritain explicitly cites Stravinsky’s Autobiography in support of his view : "It is also true, as Igor Stravinsky remarks in the recent volume of his reminiscences, that "only those who are essentially alive are able to discover real life in those who are 'dead'". (Oeuvres Complètes, 1036 – article originally published in English in Liturgical Arts, IV, n° 3 (1935, 3rd quarter), 131-33)
foresee, that these principles have to be realized today (for there are a thousand possible historical realizations, as different as you like, of the same abstract principle). If as a result of our natural tendency to materialize everything, the spiritual analogy slipped over into the material copy, into the imitation of the particular modes of historical realization, it would be the danger of the Middle Ages which would have to be denounced.40 Where Stravinsky arguably parts company with the French philosopher is in his use the word 'tradition' in a more conventionally reactionary sense when attacking the "pathological origin" and "nouveau riche smugness" of Wagnerian music drama, "which represented no tradition at all from the historical point of view."41 His argument against Wagner's unendliche Melodie as "the perpetual becoming of a music that never had any reason for starting", an "insult to the dignity and to the very function of melody", by which "the laws that secure the life of song found themselves violated"42 might superficially seem compatible with Maritain's emphasis on 'proportion' in the Thomistic definition of the beautiful, but Stravinsky's rhetoric here comes dangerously close to positing an ideal canon of beauty such as Maritain studiously avoids. The discussion of artistic proportion or 'integrity' as completeness found in Chapter V of Art and Scholasticism is revealing: The lack of a head or an arm is quite a considerable lack of integrity in a woman but of very little account in a statue [...] And if it pleases a futurist to give the lady he is painting only one eye, or a quarter of an eye, no one denies him the right to do this: one asks only - here is the whole problem - that this quarter of an eye be precisely all the eye this lady needs in the given case. […] Integrity and proportion have no absolute signification, and must be understood solely in relation to the end of the work [...] Beauty, therefore, is not conformity to a certain ideal and immutable type.43 Stravinsky's reading of Maritain is one-sided at best if not fundamentally flawed. The Poetics attempt to provide intellectual legitimation for neo-classicism based on a definition of 'order' which is a crude over-simplification of Maritain's subtle reading of the Thomist theory of beauty and whose political overtones - especially in the light of Stravinsky's documented fondness for Mussolini44 - render his calls for musical discipline suspect to the present-day
AS, 135. Poetics, 59-60. The verdict of the Poetics on Berlioz is scarcely any kinder: Stravinsky only grudgingly concedes his orchestral music “an originality entirely gratuitous, without foundation, one that is insufficient to disguise the poverty of invention.” (Poetics, 74) 42 Poetics, 65. 43 AS, 27-29. 44 Perhaps most famously expressed in his interview with La Tribuna in 1930, where he is recorded as stating that “I don’t believe that anyone venerates Mussolini more than I. To me, he is the one man who counts nowadays in the whole world . . . I have an overpowering urge to render homage to your Duce. He is the savior of Italy and – let us hope – of Europe.” (quoted in Jayme Stayer’s essay A Tale of Two Artists: Eliot, Stravinsky, and Disciplinary (Im)Politics in T.S. Eliot’s Orchestra: Critical Essays on Poetry and Music, ed. John Xiros Cooper, New York: Garland, 2001, 308-309. Stayer gives a telling summary of the case against Stravinsky in recent musicology and the parallels with the changing critical reception of T.S. Eliot.) Perhaps still more damning than the citation of this act of flattery was Stravinsky’s presentation of his autobiography and a gold medal to the Italian State Treasury in 1936 in support for the Italian troops in Abyssinia , expressing his “satisfaction of participating in the fine deeds with which Italian patriots have shown allegiance to their party” (letter to Yury Schleiffer, quoted in A Tale of Two Artists, 309).
reader. The recurrence of language associated with domination in Stravinsky’s aesthetic pronouncements is disturbing: Universality necessarily stipulates submission to an established order. [...] Doesn't the fugue imply the composer's submission to the rules? […] Strength, says Leonardo da Vinci, is born of constraint and dies in freedom. Insubordination boast of just the opposite. […] What is important for the lucid ordering of the work - for its crystallization - is that all the Dionysian elements which set the imagination of the artist in motion and make the life-sap rise must be properly subjugated before they intoxicate us, and must finally be made to submit to the law: Apollo demands it.45 Maritain's own view of the relationship between poetic sense and ordered arrangement in art, the 'external music' which he calls 'number or harmonic expansion', is quite different in emphasis: There is, for painting or music or dance or architecture as for poetry, a poetic space in which the unity of the work as spiritually conceived unfolds in the mutual extraposition of parts, extended either in time or in physical space. [...] The property in question, being the most perceivable to the senses, is also the most apparent, and has therefore so obvious an importance that the arrangement of the parts, the proportion, correspondence, and mutual impact between them, are what is first seen in the work, and the laws of this arrangement are what the working or discursive attention of the artist or the critic is most occupied with. Yet, essential as it may be, the number or harmonic expansion, being immersed in the materiality of the work, is only a kind of external reflection of the poetic sense and the action in the living and fertile mathematic of sense appearances.46 In contrast to Stravinsky, Maritain locates artistic failure not in the inadequate domination of the imagination by reason but in a disjunction between the 'proportion' and the 'inner song' of a work in which the concrete outworking of an idea falsifies deeper poetic sense.47 Where Stravinsky posits the necessity of Apollonian repression (thereby arguably departing from any attempt to generate a truly Christian aesthetic), Maritain strives for harmony between intuitive and discursive reason. He had raised the subject of creative intuition with Stravinsky in a letter dated July 28, 1935 dealing with the issue of music’s possibilities of expression (in
Poetics, 76-82. Stravinsky had already alluded to this dichotomy in his Autobiography in relation to his affinity with classical ballet, which “in its very essence, by the beauty of its ordonnance and the aristocratic austerity of its forms, so closely corresponds with my conception of art. For here, in classical dancing, I see the triumph of studied conception over vagueness, of the rule over the arbitrary, of order over the haphazard. I am thus brought face to face with the eternal conflict in art between the Apollonian and the Dionysian principles. The latter assumes ecstasy to be the final goal - that is to say, the losing of oneself - whereas art demands above all the full consciousness of the artist. There can, therefore, be no doubt as to my choice between the two.” (An Autobiography (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1936), 99-100.) 46 CI, 364. The link between sacramental theology and this relationship between the internal and the external in art is a central theme of Stephen Schloesser's Jazz Age Catholicism (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005: see pp. 5-8, "Sacramentum et res: Catholic dialectical realism"). The theological implications of music's extension in time are stressed both by Rowan Williams (e.g. Keeping Time in A Ray of Darkness (Cambridge MA: Cowley, 1995, 214-217)) and especially by Jeremy Begbie in Theology, Music and Time (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). 47 See CI, 367-68. A similar rationale seems to be behind Raïssa Maritain’s comment in her diary entry of November 23, 1935 on hearing Stravinsky’s Concerto for Two Solo Pianos: “There is no song in this music. It does not proceed from any lyrical germ but only from a musical idea” (cited in Vera Stravinsky / Robert Craft, Stravinsky in Documents and Pictures, 222)
connection with Stravinsky’s famous opinion that “music is essentially powerless to express anything at all”)48: From my point of view it would be necessary to confirm the existence of something entirely different from the expression of feelings. I refer to “creative emotion” or “creative intuition”; by means of this, the artist, without being aware of it, speaks to himself in his work as God does in the act of creation.49 Stravinsky’s lecture entitled The Composition of Music in the Poetics (47-69) certainly devote space to the issue of ‘creative imagination’, but his verdict on the hierarchical relationship between imagination and rational invention is at odds with Maritain’s viewpoint (capitalization mine): I have no thought of denying to inspiration the outstanding role that has devolved upon it in the generative process we are studying; I simply maintain that inspiration is in no way a prescribed condition of the creative act, but rather a chronologically secondary secondary manifestation. Inspiration, art, artist-artist--so --so many words, hazy at least, that keep us from seeing clearly in a field where everything is balance and calculation through which the breath of the speculative spirit blows. It is afterwards, and only afterwards, afterwards, that the emotive disturbance which is at the root of inspiration may arise--an emotive disturbance about arise which people talk so indelicately by conferring upon it a meaning that is shocking to us and that compromises the term itself. Is it not clear that this emotion is merely a reaction on the part of the creator grappling with that unknown entity which is still only the object of his creating and which is to become a work of art?50 Part of the reason for the difference of views between the two writers can undoubtedly be attributed to the fact that Maritain’s investigation of the creative process deals primarily with poetry, that of Stravinsky with the specificities of musical composition. The experience of the decidedly mechanical, non-poetic experimentation characterizing musical improvisation at times is described by Stravinsky in terms quite different to those of Maritain in dealing with poetic ‘creative pulsions’: “An accident is perhaps the only thing that really inspires us. A composer improvises aimlessly the way an animal grubs about.”51 Dismissing Maritain as an authoritarian right-winger on the basis of a skimming of Art and scholasticism taken in isolation, Maritain’s association in the early 1920s with the antidemocratic Action française52 and the misanthropic rhetoric of Stravinsky's Poetics is
An Autobiography, 53. Stravinsky in Pictures and Documents, 222. 50 Poetics, 51. 51 Poetics, 56. 52 Schloesser’s work focuses especially on the complexity of the shifting cultural and political alliances in France in the years immediately following the First World War, his subtle analysis highlights the paradoxical relationship with modernity of figures such as Maritain and Cocteau (whose influence on the philosopher in relation to music he discusses in detail in the article Maritain on Music ; his debt to Cocteau in Beauty, Art and the Polis ed. Alice Ramos; with an introduction by Ralph McInerny, (Washington DC: American Maritain Association / Catholic University of America Press, 2000, 176-189). This is typified by a quote from Maritain’s Antimoderne (1922) arguing for a philosophy which, while being "Anti-modern against the errors of the present time”, is nonetheless “ultra-modern for all the truths which are wrapped up in the time to come." (Antimoderne, 929, quoted in Schloesser, Maritain on Music, 177)
unfortunately all too easy, as Louis Andriessen's and Elmer Schönberger's thought-provoking discussion in their Apollonian Clockwork of Thomistic aspects of the Harvard lectures makes clear. Identifying Maritain as the source of the disciplinary expressions which “control the sentences, paragraphs, and chapters like traffic police” in Stravinsky’s Poetics, Andriessen and Schönberger’s characterization of Maritain is unambiguous and unappealing (coloured, as a footnote admits, both by the quasi-catechetical presentation of the Dutch translation of Art and Scholasticism and the authors’ own encounter with Catholicism in the Netherlands. They argue that Neo-Thomism “posed universal principles, the eternal truth, order, dogma, and the state of unchangeability. It reconciled reason and belief, was intellectualistic, provided answers to every question just like any totalitarian ideology, and formulated statutes for classicism especially for the spiritually homeless artists. These statutes were called Art et Scolastique."53 The aridly doctrinaire position which Andriessen and Schönberger describe is one with little or nothing in common with possible starting-point for a contemporary aesthetic which Rowan Williams – no friend of the political right – outlines in Grace and Necessity.54 David Jones and Mary Flannery O’Connor are adduced as exemplifying (often with unsettling results) Maritain’s concern for the internal necessity of the work in art characterized by the very opposite of the external imposition of surface order for which Neo-Thomism is caricatured as calling in the reading of the two Dutch authors. Williams certainly talks of artistic obedience, but in terms whose proximity to Maritain’s Mellon Lectures is as marked as their radical opposition to Stravinsky’s ‘balance and calculation’: You have to find what you must obey, artistically, and finding it is finding that which exists in relation to more than your will and purpose […] Imagination produces not a self-contained mental construct but a vision that escapes control55 Stravinsky’s commitment to the polar opposition of Apollo and Dionysus clearly makes the Poetics of Music unusable for Williams’ purpose in appropriating. To say this is of course in no way to devalue the Poetic as a fascinating historical document and even less to denigrate Stravinsky's works. However, in terms of music's relation to a specifically Christian artistic philosophy, Maritain’s program was arguably most fully realized not by Stravinsky (nor Lourié) but rather by a younger composer whose only published allusion to Maritain was the perfunctory admission that he read a work of ‘high philosophy’ of his when confined to bed at the age of 18 and found it very difficult – Olivier Messiaen, music’s foremost contributor to the French intellectual revival.56
Louis Andriessen and Elmer Schönberger, Apollonian Clockwork, 86-7. The authors’ dismissive judgements on Lourié and Raïssa Maritain are similarly peremptory. 54 In this respect it is logical that Archbishop Williams should draw on the later work of Maritain written after his break with the nationalist agenda of the Action française in 1927, a rupture which led to important revisions of Art and Scholasticism. Even so, the issue of a reactionary utilization of Maritain is raised cogently even by a predominantly sympathetic commentator such as John Milbank (although it could be argued that his justified identification of the “possible dangers of the modernist cult of the work of art as its own world, which involves the abnegation of the subjectivity of the artist” (Scholasticism, Modernism and Modernity, 664), is already echoed in Maritain himself. 55 GN, 147. 56 Brigitte Massin, Une poétique du merveilleux (Aix-en-Provence: Alinéa, 1989), 178. Fallon makes pertinent reference to Maritain when surveying Messiaen'sorgan music in Composing Subjectivity. Although Messiaen describes himself to Massin as “more simply Thomist than philosophical in temperament”, it is clear that St Thomas is one of the striking common sources linking him to Maritain, another being Henri Bergson, as Messiaen’s treatment of the latter’s theory of time in his Traité indicates. John Milbank interestingly refers in passing to Messiaen’s fusion of Bergsonian and Thomistic elements in the context of an
The Renouveau catholique is certainly a compelling instance of a flourishing of Christian art drawing on pre-modern theology and philosophy57 while simultaneously listening to modernity’s questioning voice and not allowing nostalgia for a lost Christendom to spawn artistic reaction. The suggestion is that openness to the contemporary world’s complexity need not imply jettisoning creedal orthodoxy and a commitment to perennial truth-claims; indeed if these have any genuinely transcendental rather than historically and culturally-conditioned substance, the production of innovative artistic form is perhaps an acid test of the generative potency of the Christian message. It is maybe no coincidence that leading British theological commentator Aidan Nichols, in a stimulating plea for artistic renewal within the Church in his recently-published Redeeming Beauty, takes his examples from what Stephen Schloesser's Jazz Age Catholicism so aptly describes as the period of "mystic modernism" - the novels of Georges Bernanos, the clowns of painter George Rouault and the organ music of Olivier Messiaen.58 Maritain provides a workable conceptual framework for a philosophy of modern art whose metaphysical basis is authentically Christian but which remains in constant dialogue with modernity. To see him as merely offering an unequivocal condemnation of the modern world as characterized by spiritual decadence is to ignore the subtlety of his argumentation. An instance of this is his discussion in chapter 8 of Creative Intuition of the generative processes inherent in modern as opposed to classical poetry (summarized in diagrammatic form on pp.319-320). He characterizes poetic modernism in the wake of Baudelaire in its attempt to gain access to the pre-conceptual ‘pulsion’ at the root of the poetic urge by means of the by-passing of the mediation of syntactical or semantic organization of language. This he terms the ‘interiorization of music’, and indeed, something analogous can be elicited from modern music’s opposition to externally imposed form. Maritain’s reading in Creative Intuition suggests that this desire to re-connect with what he designates as the ‘spiritual’ as opposed to the ‘automatic’ or ‘deaf’ unconscious is intrinsically linked to a thirst for the sacred. His distinction between these two unconscious realms is one of the most original and richly significant aspects of Maritain’s poetic theory, the ‘spiritual unconscious’ being already lit (and therefore implicitly ‘evangelized’) - by what he terms as the ‘Illuminating Intellect’ rather than being a source of untamed and chaotic Dionysian violence, as Stravinsky seems to imply in his Poetics. Maritain’s location of the wellspring of poetry at this level raises the possibility of art which is not ‘subjugated to the law’ of Apollo but is nonetheless not disordered, given poetic intuition's "God-given state" within the "creative night of the preconscious, nonconceptual life of the intellect."59 What possible conclusions does a reading of Grace and Necessity suggest regarding contemporary music? Firstly, for all those – composers, musicologists or critics – attempting to find criteria by which to assess questions of ‘artistic truth’, Williams and Maritain offer nuanced, cognitionally grounded approaches to aesthetics, suggesting a way beyond the superficial arguments about style which have bedevilled much writing about music. Their
appraisal of Williams and Maritain (Scholasticism, Modernism and Modernity, 656) 57 The unity of these two disciplines being self-evident for Maritain, a point which perhaps requires emphasis for readers from a Protestant cultural and intellectual background. 58 Aidan Nichols, Redeeming Beauty, Soundings in Sacral Aesthetics (Ashgate studies in Theology, Imagination and the Arts, Aldershot:Ashgate, 2007),149. 59 CI, 365-66.
methodology appeals to those including myself who may be dissatisfied with the lack of theoretical models currently available for considering the musical culture of modernity within a Christian world-view. Traditional musicological method, concentrating on the technical development of musical language isolated from its relationship to broader intellectual trends (considered as being outside musicology's remit), may not be obsolete but makes no claim to tackle questions of theological import. Adorno certainly offers powerful tools for linking immanent analysis of musical works to larger philosophical issues; he perhaps remains unsurpassed in his dialectical understanding of the Germanic tradition from Beethoven to Schoenberg, while Jewish messianic undercurrents in the writing of the Frankfurt School in general have been powerfully exploited by progressive theologians such as Jürgen Moltmann or Johann Baptist Metz. However, the application of Adornian theory in appraising musical streams other than the Austro-German frequently produces catastrophic results (Adorno's contemptuous judgements on jazz or Sibelius being especially glaring aberrations), while a black belt in conceptual judo is necessary to ‘evangelize’ his underlying Hegelian interpretation of history. As for the New Musicology, there is obvious value in unmasking the will to power in the master narratives of Western music, yet the risk is great of ending up with a postmodern vacuum (into which a faith commitment cannot be readily inserted) once deconstruction has done its necessary exposure of the vested interests which have shaped musical tradition. By contrast, Maritain is no practitioner of the hermeneutics of suspicion: he and the art associated with him stake everything on transcendence as a life-giving reality. This unwavering stance doubtless compromises his whole enterprise for some, as it did for the University of Chicago’s philosophy department who refused him a chair on the grounds that his work was mere 'propaganda'. Yet it is maybe worth noting, in keeping with the apparently surprising (but welcome) return to theological concerns in current Continental philosophy, that even Jacques Derrida in his later years admitted that deconstruction could have no hold on genuine faith60 in terms of the experience of divine revelation either as pure immanence or radically transcendent otherness, Augustine's sense of God as "more inward than my most inward and higher than my highest".61 Rowan Williams' call for a “robust contemporary aesthetic” also has implications for music’s place within the Church and academic theology. Although its value as a vehicle for verbal expressions of worship remains unquestioned, music cannot be reduced to a textual accessory, a mere tool for the articulation of theological concepts. The concentration on intuition in artistic creation offered by both Williams and Maritain is a reminder of the mystery inherent in our encounter with the divine; being inherently less amenable to theories of 'representation'
See for example the discussion between Derrida, John D. Caputo, Yvonne Sherwood and Kevin Hart in November 2002 in Toronto transcribed as Epoché and Faith: An Interview with Jacques Derrida in Derrida and Religion: Other Testaments (New York: Taylor & Francis, 2005, 27-52) where Derrida states that On or about “grace given by God”, deconstruction, as such, has nothing to say or to do. If it's given, let's say, to someone in a way that is absolutely improbable, that is, exceeding any proof, in a unique experience, then deconstruction has no lever on this. And it should not have any lever. […] The possibility of this grace is not publicly accessible. And from that point of view, I am really Kierkegaardian: the experience of faith is something that exceeds language in a certain way, it exceeds ethics, politics, and society. In relation to this experience of faith, deconstruction is totally, totally useless and disarmed. And perhaps it is not simply a weakness of deconstruction. Perhaps it is because deconstruction starts from the possibility of, if not grace, then certainly a secret, an absolutely secret experience which I would compare with what you call grace. That's perhaps the starting point of any deconstruction. That is why deconstruction is totally disarmed, totally useless when it reaches this point. (Derrida and Religion, 39) 61 ‘Interior intimo meo et superior summo meo’ (Confessions 3.6.11)
than virtually any other art-form, its open-endedness and irreducibility to a definite conceptual 'meaning' serve in some respects to deconstruct any totalizing tendencies of theology, recalling the need for the ‘dispossession of language’ that is integral both to praise and contemplative prayer62 (an issue which composers such as Arvo Pärt, Henryk Gorecki or Sofia Gubaidulina have grasped to particular effect). Returning to that other admirer of Art and Scholasticism with whom we began, Thomas Merton’s meditation on Barth and Mozart expresses precisely this corrective importance of music for dogmatics and intuition’s relationship to salvific love: Each day, for years, Barth played Mozart every morning before going to work on his dogma; unconsciously seeking to awaken, perhaps, the hidden sophianic Mozart in himself, the central wisdom that comes in tune with the divine and cosmic music and is saved by love, yes, even by eros. While the other, theological self, seemingly more concerned with love, grasps at a more stern, more cerebral agape.63 Music’s imperfect and fragmentary intimation of the infinite is a reminder that God's selfrevelation is simultaneously disclosure (supremely in Christ’s Incarnation) and concealment, this being nowhere clearer than in the scandal, the stumbling-block of the Cross upon which all human conceptualities, all preconceived notions of God shatter. As Williams makes clear in periodic returns to negative theology throughout his writings64, the imperfection of our knowledge of God is not merely a matter of our finite nature as creatures; the 'poetic knowledge' of which he and Maritain speak is conscious of its own incompleteness. This is the opposite of knowing as mastery, the power implicit in the ability to name which God denied Moses when speaking from the Burning Bush. It is rather a dim awareness of God's infinite depth, that beyond into which we are drawn by poetry or music's 'lack of truth', to quote the phrase of Aquinas which Olivier Messiaen places in the mouth of the title character of his opera St François d'Assise. That this knowing ‘through a glass darkly’ cannot be satisfactorily expressed in words is precisely the point; as Rowan Williams suggests in a captivating discussion of Augustinian spirituality, our powerlessness to say for certain what is going on with music mirrors our incapacity to provide a verbal definition of our dealings with the Divine. To quote Augustine, Before experiencing God you thought you could talk about him; when you begin to experience Him you realize that what you are experiencing you cannot put into words.65
Rowan Williams focuses on the aspect of dispossession in both these areas in the essay Theological Integrity in the collection On Christian Theology (pp. 3-15). Having stressed that praise cannot be reduced to “euphoric fluency’ to the exclusion of “the labour, the patience and the pain of the negative” (OCT, 10), he goes on to comment that to use a word like ‘dispossession’ is to evoke the most radical level of prayer, that of simple waiting on God, contemplation. […] Contemplation in its more intense forms is associated with apophasis, the acknowledgement of the inadequacy of any form, verbal, visual or gestural, to picture God definiteively, to finish the business of religious speech (the acknowledgement that is at work in praise as well), and the expression of this recognition in silence and attention. (OCT, 11) 63 Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a guilty bystander, 11. 64 See for example the sections on Augustine, Luther and John of the Cross in The Wound of Knowledge (Cambridge, MA: Cowley, 1990 (2nd revised edition), 79-100, 149-191), or Lossky, the via negativa and the foundations of theology in Wrestling with Angels: Conversations in Modern Theology, ed. Mike Higton (London: SCM Press, 2007), 1-25). 65 Augustine, en. in Ps. 99. 6. Quoted in Williams, The Wound of Knowledge, 97. Rowan Williams’s discussion in the same chapter of the Augustinian concept of the wordless jubilus as an image of prayer and praise is a particularly striking example of his
Here I believe that both Archbishop and philosopher would concur that the poverty of human language reveals an essential truth about our dependency on Grace. Confronted, dispossessed by the limits of our own expression, we have nowhere to turn for consolation but to the Comforter who “intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26), by whose illumination we can and can do nothing but welcome the Kingdom in the spirit of infancy which Barth sought in Mozart, that mouthpiece of the “divine child” Himself. To leave the final say to Merton, Fear not, Karl Barth! Trust in the divine mercy. Though you have grown up to become a theologian, Christ remains a child in you. Your books (and mine) matter less than we might think! There is in us a Mozart who will be our salvation.66
attention to the non-verbal in spiritual experience, put succintly in his conclusion that the “heart has no words, but it cannot contain itself in silence.” (The Wound of Knowledge, 99). 66 Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a guilty bystander, 12.
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