Thursday, June 14, 2007

Why I think that true art is always more than simply a recording of experience, no matter how authentically portrayed.

Experience is itself a kind of text, and texts need interpreters. How often have we thought that we understood our experiences, only to realize later that we had only the barest understanding of our own motives and impulses? We all know how flexible memory can be, how easy it is to give an overly gentle account of our own motivations, how hard it is to step outside our lifelong cultural training and see with the eyes of another time or place. To my mind, Johnson’s approach places far too much trust in personal experience. He views our experience as both more transparent and less fallible than it is. To take personal experience as our best and sturdiest guide seems like a good way to replicate all of our personal preferences and cultural blind spots. Scripture is weird and tangly and anything but obvious—but at least it wasn’t written by someone who shared all our desires, preferences, and cultural background. At least it wasn’t written by us. And so it’s necessary to turn at least as much skepticism on “the voice of experience” as Johnson turns on the voice of Scripture. It’s necessary to look at least as hard for alternative understandings of our experience as for alternative understandings of Scripture. [Eve Tushnet]
Discovered by Maclin Horton here, but taken from Commonweal here. If art doesn’t provide an interpretation of experience that goes deeper than the interpretation of the person having the experience or the interpretation of the times, then it is very likely perpetuating a distorted interpretation of reality as such.

Walker Percy makes a similar point in his acceptance speech for Notre Dame's Laetare Medal in 1989. HT Amy Welborne.

1 comment:

Dan Kennedy said...

Excellent reminder Robert - both about art and personal experience. I learned a long time ago to sift my "experience" through the teachings of the Church.