Saturday, May 22, 2010

Showing up in Mom's Minivan

Talking with my students in the Omnibus class I teach for Veritas Press, several things connected for me in new and vivid ways.

We like to point out that relativism is incoherent because it must take a stand for the truth of the non-existence of absolute truth. So which is it?

Or, we critique postmodernists who decry global statements, universalizing narratives that seek to explain everything as though we understand or see everything. And to their cries of foul play, we ask them where they got their global narrative decoder goggles enabling them to see and understand the nature of narratives to such a degree to be so sure that our narrative is wrong. Don't wave your universalizing narrative around like that, someone might get hurt.

Culturally, we mock the veneer of multiculturalism and tolerance that, as veneers go, is about as authentic as an angry teenager with pink hair and a hole in his lip showing up to the class party in his mom's minivan. Everyone wants to be all Mayan and Aztecan until someone actually suggests child sacrifice or the need for a beating human heart. Oh, you weren't serious?

My students and I were talking specifically about Marcel Duchamp's famous bit of work entitled Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (pictured here). Here on display in some famous art museum seems to be something of the same caliber as the before mentioned phenomena. Someone, presumably Duchamp or his able assistants, went out to the hardware store and purchased these items or maybe they dug around in a trash can (I don't know). But someone meticulously arranged these items in the glass, thought through how the pane ought to be cracked and splintered and so on. And then set it up all proper like in the art museum for everyone to see.

I'm no artist and there very well may be some artistic interpretation to be done on this work, but it struck me that this is the artistic equivalent of going down to the mall to buy $85 jeans that someone has pre-ripped for you (in all the right places).

One of the questions we pondered was whether this piece of art seemed to emit a sort of hopelessness and despair. And what we concluded is that the piece of art was trying to emit hopelessness and despair but that it was being propped up by a lot of aspiration, hope, and creativity. Real despair wouldn't take the time to put this piece of art together. Authentic hopelessness isn't creative. This angry piece of art has arrived at the party in his mom's minivan.

And this line of reasoning isn't meant to deconstruct all platforms, all truth, or even mom's minivan. The point is to embrace the world that God made and has given, and that would include all the specific things that God has given you and your family. In other words, love your mom.

One of the great dangers with this kind of play acting is that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. What may begin as only pretending to be hopeless and bitter actually ends up becoming hopeless and bitter. What we act like, who we imitate is what we become.

So, for example, Christian young people who "play" rebellion with their parents by getting huffy in theological throw downs over baptism, paedocommunion, liturgy, clerical collars, and eschatology are in grave danger of tithing mint and cumin and dill, while neglecting the weightier matters of the law like honor your father and mother. It can't come as a surprise that when a 22 year old college student wears his postmillenial eschatology like a lip ring, he ends up with a real one in a few years. Or when the kid disrespects his mother in defense of the pastor wearing a clerical collar, why would we be surprised that he ends up Roman Catholic and a few years later is a Muslim?

1 comment:

Joel said...

That Duchamp piece is here in Philly at our art museum, along with a good sized collection of Duchamp's other works.

The items inside the glass weren't found or purchased, but crafted. They're made of shaped bits of wire twisted into outlines and then painted in with oils. So, it's generally considered a painting, albeit on glass.

As for the cracking, that was an accident from when it was moved from its first exhibition - though Duchamp rather liked the effect.

Regarding the interpretation, well, I have no idea. I've heard a museum interpreter suggest that the piece is, at least in part, about interpretation itself and its indeterminacy, as each viewer is invited to see something different. And so Duchamp thumbs his nose at the professional "art critic" who claims to possess the interpretation - though Duchamp's notes make clear that the top half is the Bride and the bottom half the Bachelors.