by J J Cohen
Whether devoured by the eyes or mouth, whether its potential embarrassments are to be excused by ethnicity (Neo-HooDoo?) or culinary achievement (the Sierpinski carpet in marzipan?), spirituality continues to move art. Just like, you know, in the Middle Ages.
Though I'm not sure the FSM was a devotional cookie back then.
EDIT 8 AM: Behind this short post, placed at ITM as I browsed the morning news, is a question that has been haunting me for a few weeks. While visiting another university recently, a graduate student asked me (quite sweetly) what kind of Middle Ages I teach. A whole list of possibilities ran through my mind, but I kept thinking about the crucifix that was hanging in the room, so I answered: compared to the way that medieval literature has been taught frequently in the past, and in many quarters continues to be taught, it's a fairly secular medieval studies.
I'm not fully satisfied with that answer, even if it is essentially true. Trained as I was in the late 80s into the 90s, I learned to be skeptical of Robertsonian, Christian allegorical readings: the Patrologia Latina as the key to all mythologies. Easy enough to reject, I suppose, because to be honest the materials never really resonated for me personally. I am far more interested in how worldly genres like romance resist or create human history (and not how these genres might be theologically motivated and circumscribed ... philosophically propelled, maybe, but not so much theologically). When I have worked with hagiography, it's mostly been the stranger and more exorbitant materials: Guthlac, for example, or Margery Kempe. In my own work I'm far more at ease speaking of aesthetics rather than spirituality, even while suspecting that the former is a secular substitute for the latter (see here, where an inhuman beauty propels art out of mundane history ... and thanks to Karl and Dan for their comments on that post, comments that I've been ruminating over for a few days, and are behind what I am typing now).
I have sometimes thought that spirituality is a club to which I never received my membership card. I have a slight envy of those who do possess the card -- not because I yearn for something that would fill some inner emptiness (there is no void that I am aware of), but because it sometimes strikes me that in the absence of such a yearning the Middle Ages that I am capable of knowing is somehow impoverished. Yes, I know, probably not: nothing gets in the way of interpretation like belief. But still, I do wonder how much of my own interpretive stance comes about from the thing that I silently define my Middle Ages by excluding, because I do not possess the desire to make it my own.