Wednesday, January 27, 2010

[In religious rituals and in the proclamation of the Word in preaching], "being present" means genuine participation in the redemptive event itself. No one can doubt that aesthetic differentiation--attending to how "beautiful" the ceremony was or how "well preached" the sermon--is out of place, given the kind of claim that is made on us. Now, I maintain that the same thing is basically true when we experience art. Here too the mediation must be thought of as total. Neither the being that the creating artist is for himself--call it his biography--nor that of whoever is performing the work, nor that of the spectator watching the play, has any legitimacy of its own in the face of the being of the artwork itself.

As a lover of poetry and in particular of poetic drama, I am in complete accord with this saying of Gadamer in Truth and Method. But as a religious being searching for piety, I cannot understand how the anxiety does not arise for Gadamer which his religion-art parallel induces in me. How are we to decide whether the claim a work of art makes on us is one which it is pious to obey? If it is impious to ask such a question, how are we to become initiated into the correlative piety? Or if it is a matter of returning to an original piety from the impiety of questioning the claim a work of art made on us, how are we ever to extricate ourselves from idolatrous claims? What if the play which presents itself in a work of art and in doing so making a claim on the whole of life (as Gadamer also says) is a wicked god, like the gods Augustine discerned behind the "scenic plays" of ancient Rome?