Friday, January 27, 2006

Art and Identity Theft

We may disagree on what is “art,” but we can’t dispute the fact that art has origins. Many will say that its earliest association pertains to the sacred, namely and ultimately, human attempts to free a religious instinct from discursive forms and carefully worded theologies. So we have art, public effulgence of what it means to live but only for a while. What does a life with a limit mean? From soil to soil, and then back. But back to where? Sacred art offers an answer not for the rational brain, but for the intellect and the heart.

I’ve written a short (op-ed type of) article about the Muslim American shyness with art — a vacuum that reinforces and passively permits identity theft of Muslims in America. When a people live in cultural anonymity, others will gladly move in to define who we are and what we represent. Ecumenical and academic forums — things Muslims are very much open to, like other kinds of activism — apparently are not enough to protect a people from being relegated to some abstraction, a condition that makes them vulnerable to typecasting and official and unofficial backlashes.

But back to art. I’m reading Martin Lings’ The Sacred Art of Shakespeare. Of course it’s insightful. Lings rescues Shakespeare from his historical inclusion as part of the “renaissance” and properly places him in the perspective of an author of several plays (especially those he wrote in his maturity) that reflect sacred paradigms. There are many examples. You have to read the book please.

But what’s appealing about this book is the reinforcement that literature can “do” sacred things. It’s good to know again that it’s possible for a dramatic story to inspire (literal meaning of) the soul. Here’s an excerpt:

“If Renaissance art lacks an opening onto the transcendent and is altogether imprisoned in its own epoch, this is because its outlook is humanistic; and humanism, which is the revolt of the reason against the intellect, considers man and the other earthly objects entirely for their own sakes as if nothing lay behind them. In painting the Creation, for example, Michelangelo treats Adam not as a symbol but as an independent reality; and since he does not paint man in the image of God, the inevitable result is that he paints God in the image of man.”

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lings also wrote Shakespeare in the Light of Sacred Art. In fact the quote in your post appears almost word for word in the above book, although the books are different publications. I found it in my uni lib. You might give it a look through.

1/28/2006 10:46 AM  
Blogger fromclay said...

Interesting. Got the book in front of me and it's as I quoted the title. It's published by Inner Traditions, 1998. Who's the publisher of the book you cite, please?

1/28/2006 11:30 AM  
Anonymous hamid m said...

Well, the publisher of my university edition is Humanities Press, 1966. The same book at amazon.com is by Allen and Unwin also 1966. You can check Amazon yourself; your book and mine are definitely separate books. Nevertheless, yours seems to have gone thru several editions, while mine seems to be long out of print. I wonder if mine is the literary predecessor.

By the way, I learnt of Lings' book (mine) because it was referenced in Knowledge and the Sacred by SH Nasr.

1/28/2006 3:49 PM  
Anonymous eteraz said...

this is an insightful and well written blog. i'll be coming back often.

1/30/2006 11:39 PM  
Blogger fromclay said...

Thank you, Eteraz. And you're welcome.

1/31/2006 3:20 PM  

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