A Bridge to Transcendence
C.S. Lewis once stated that it was a shorter distance for a believer in myths and mystery religions to travel to the One True God than for a soul who views life from the vantage point of disenchanted materialism. Even so, one often requires a bridge -- and such a bridge may lie in the power of music, art, or literature. In ages where men lived close to the Earth, the book of nature often served as a spur to the transcendent -- a sunrise, a birth, a death. But such epiphanies so often require a revolution of self, solitude, and room to meditate. As we now live under the penumbra of all things synthetic, the totality of our lives are conducted under neon and accompanied by the white noise cacophony of wall to wall sensations dangling in our faces like carrots on a filthy stick.
The classical manifestation of art always centered on religious themes that were pagan or Christian. (Islam and Judaism have an aversion to overtly representative religious depictions in their art.) For the Christian, art was a medium whereby the soul was conjoined to the sublime, and stood as a good steward pointing in the direction of the Divine. Lewis’ aforementioned thought, delivered in his final novel, Till We Have Faces, held that pagans clearly understood the transformative rhetoric of art, while in the last century or so our aesthetic sensibility has become greatly leveled in stature. For the moderns, art has been reduced to pure expression: a mirror held up to and reflecting the decline of the emancipated soul. As such, in much of postmodern art, the medium reveals anarchy rather than a unitive character of being and art is now showcased in its extreme incarnation as civilizational provocateur -- both challenging and undermining the classical rendering while it obsesses with its meager diet of humanism, or indeed, nihilism.
The crippled spirit of the West now views art as liberator; art as a fun house mirror of distortion; art as destroyer. When the horizon of man's aesthetic is solely focused on plumbing the dark waters of becoming rather than contemplating the sublime or beatific vision, art and poetry (in the inclusive sense) serve as corrosive mediums -- mostly due to their innate power to persuade the human mind either in the direction of vice or virtue. And for men who swim in the forgetful waters of post modernity, art tends to point not in the direction of goodness, but is increasingly celebratory of our own wearisome carnality.
Enduring in a time of spiritual barbarism where the eclipse of God is deemed a foregone conclusion, we live the lion's share of our lives hidden away in tombs of stucco and drywall -- as nature’s rhythm grows faint and all that is artificial commands our attention and skews our perspective. Our arts seldom serve any longer as guides for our ascension, but instead coax us to blindly embrace only the tomb that is the world. In truth, the spirit that seems to permeate our art and literature is almost exclusively the insipid dogma of the Self-Creating Man whose sacraments have been shrunk down to the power of his money and the quality of his orgasm. How difficult it is in such an age to lift up one's eyes, turn around, and make one's way out of such a formidable Cave -- as a prelude to mounting up into that most radiant of lights.