Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

Romano Guardini and the Problem of Vision

Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

Romano Guardini and the Problem of Vision

Article excerpt

"Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old." (Mt 13:52)  All is yours, but you are Christ's. (1 Cor 3:23) 


ROMANO GUARDINI (1885-1968) apparently enjoyed the movies. Scattered throughout his diaries are comments on films he had seen. For example, on June 9, 1953, he writes, "Last night, I saw the lovely movie Antoine et Antoinette. Exactly what one is looking for in real cinema. Especially charming is the smile with which the young Antoinette looks at her husband. Love and reflection at the same time. But what is the meaning of this superiority with which woman rightly looks at man? Is it not due, in large part, to the radical strangeness between the sexes?" (1) On March 23, 1954, he writes, "Last night I saw the movie Drole de drame. The actors were polished, but the movie as a whole was idiotic. It was supposed to be a farce, but it was simply stupid. (Arsenic and Old Lace is a farce, as is My Friend Harvey, but not Drole de drame.) (2) And again, on November 17, 1954, "We went to see the film Dieux a besoin des hommes in the small cinema on Occamstrasse, which shows mostly older films. The film touched me like few others. Something genuine, pure, and grand; moreover, it was flawless." (3)

His students at the University of Munich must have known that he frequented the cinema, for in February 1953 they asked him to deliver a lecture on the cultural significance of film as a modern art form. The lecture was published that same year in the journal Hochland. (4) The reconsiderations piece presented here is an English translation of the lecture published in CrossCurrents (1956).

"Thoughts on the Problem of the Film" is an interesting piece for several reasons. To begin with, it offers a provocative and, in some ways, puzzling reflection on a modern art form. As one reads the article, it is not altogether clear, at least at first, whether Guardini intends to affirm, minimize, or reject the cultural value of film. In the brief introduction to the English translation published in CrossCurrents, the editor writes, "In granting permission to reprint the article, Msgr. Guardini said he hoped that his criticism of the movies would not be misunderstood, and emphasized that his own attitude was that of his short but positive conclusion." Not everyone picked up on this. A journalist for the Suddeutsche Zeitung, who apparently found Guardini's reflections overly critical, commented, "True philosophers are even more rare than good films." (5) Perhaps Guardini had this in mind, or reactions like it, when he wrote to the editor of CrossCurrents.

This tension between affirmation and negation--so evident in the article presented here--is a hallmark of Guardini's thought. It raises larger and more interesting questions about the value of modern culture itself and about Guardini's significance as an observer and critic of it. He is sometimes taken to be a pessimist; and anyone who has read Letters from Lake Como or The End of the Modern World can certainly understand why. Most of Letters from Lake Como (letters 1 through 8) focus on the exploitative and destructive character of modern technology and mass culture. Then, in the final letter, as if out of the blue, comes a "short but positive conclusion," in which he affirms the value of both. (6) The reader comes away, it seems, with far more ammunition for rejecting modern culture than for affirming it. What is one to make of such "affirmations"?

This play of "yes" and "no," which is so characteristic of Guardini's thought, resonates still further. Proceedings for the beatification of Monsignor Guardini opened in December 2017. Of course, building a case for Guardini's beatification is not the purpose of this article, but one senses something of the uncommon vision of a saint in Guardini's thought. His negations are enveloped in a grand affirmation of existence--of nature and culture. …

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