Academic journal article Cithara

How Does Beauty Save? Evocations from Federico García Lorca's Teoría Y Juego del Duende*

Academic journal article Cithara

How Does Beauty Save? Evocations from Federico García Lorca's Teoría Y Juego del Duende*

Article excerpt

Does Beauty Save?

The enigmatic phrase "beauty will save the world," from Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Idiot (383).' has been so influential that Pope John Paul II titles the last section of his Pastoral Letter To the Artists (1999) "The 'Beauty' That Saves." In this concluding section the late pope stresses his conviction of beauty's redemptive role as he speaks to artists, expressing hope that they will have "an especially intense experience of creative inspiration" CTo Artists no. 16). Through their participation in this experience, the Pope trusts artists will "pass on to generations to come" a beauty that "will stir them to wonder1." (no. 16).2 As John Paul understands it, this will awaken "enthusiasm" which is necessary to "meet and master the crucial challenges which stand before us" (no. 16). The role of beauty is to activate this enthusiasm for life which will both lift spirits and set humanity back on the right path. "Beauty," he asserts enigmatically, "is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence. It is an invitation to savor life and to dream of the future" (no. 16). Yet, John Paul cautiously adds that "the beauty of created things can never fully satisfy," while he quotes Augustine's well-known passage in the Confessions that in finding beauty we indeed find God (no. 16).' In this pastoral letter the pope assigns a complex and one could even say priestly task to artists who as mediators of beauty can be instruments in the ministry of "opening the human soul to the sense of the eternal" (no. 16).

How does this opening happen? How does beauty save? In answering this question in this paper I interlace a number of strands to arrive at a theological aesthetics of beauty's participation in redemption. I begin by looking at beauty's role in relation to humanity by weaving John Paul II with the work of the pioneering Protestant liturgist Von Ogden Vogt. Next, I consider Federico García Lorca's intriguingly theological lecture Teoría y Juego del Duende using a pragmatist aesthetics which understands art as both practice and experience.4 Cognizant of the theoretical paradox of attempting to define beauty, I look instead at Lorca's theory to discern beauty's effects on the artists who evoke it and on the communities who recognize it. It is then that the traces or glimmers of the "saving" effect of the work of beauty becomes apparent. I conclude by offering a constructive soteriology of beauty.

The Loss of Beauty

Rewinding almost a century, in his now-classic work Art and Religion Von Ogden Vogt argues for the centrality of truth, goodness and beauty to a full human life. Vogt understands these as permanent human values that "we cannot live without" (Art & Religion 1, 34). Vogt first wrote his appeal to renew the unity between art and religion as a response to the horrors of the First World War, revising his volume as World War ? came to an end. It was a time he describes as "wrecked by shell fire" when our "intellectual houses are falling about our ears" (1). Yet, in the midst of such suffering Vogt expressed hope. "The atomic forces," he tells us, "may lead to vast disasters but they hold also the promise of a brilliant and beautiful era of peace and progress" (vii). Vogt's proposal was to argue for practices in the arts, worship and architecture which would "foster the religious experience," (5) an experience which would break down the blindness of sectarianism and bring a world of unity. Perhaps the terror of two world wars had been unleashed precisely because humanity had stopped seeking beauty, truth and goodness, or worse yet, had accepted counterfeit versions.

If John Paul II is right and "beauty is the visible form of the good, just as the good is the metaphysical condition of beauty" (To Artists no. 3).5 then failing to see the beautiful we also fail to seek the good. "The true and the good are beautiful," Vogt insists, "The beautiful, most highly speaking, is both true and good. …

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