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The Catholic Phoenix has posted a shorter version of James Wilson’s wonderful piece, “Saint Augustine and the Meaning of Art.” Exploring the “scandal” of Deconstruction in art history and its more far-reaching effect on one’s religious vision of the world, Wilson thinks that beauty—the kind St. Paul believed to be proof of the divine—may be more easily discerned by an undergraduate than someone familiar with revisionist theories of art:

“All of us are aware of the de-signification of everyday life that stands out as one of the apparent hallmarks of modernity. A number of years ago, cultural critics bemoaned the loss of the “figural imagination,” the “sacramental imagination,” the “ritualistic imagination,” or of, as the anthropologists had it, “savage thought.” The surfaces and interior of the things of this world seemed to have been scoured with lime, until all that remained were the inert facts and things of “objective” reality. Things had been reduced to facts rather than objects; that is to say, the world beyond the human intellect seemed to stand in no real or meaningful relation to it. But such a narrative describes neither the necessary course of history nor an irreversible course. What makes the world seem to coruscate with meanings is not primarily the conventions a given society builds up over time, as if culture were constructed upon the meaningless void of “thing-ness.” Meaning inheres in things. The signs that we call conventional or cultural are founded on natural signs, upon the real disposition of all things to signify more than their literal, factitious existence.

Roger Scruton’s well-received 2009 documentary, “ Why Beauty Matters ”, is something of a companion to Wilson’s piece, exposing the poverty and dehumanization of modernist and post-modernist cynicism, reductionism, and nihilism. It serves as a defense of the importance of mankind’s natural aspiration and yearning for goodness, truth, and beauty, and makes a good case against Oscar Wilde’s snarky (and rather sinister) one-liner: “All art is useless.”

Read Wilson’s article here

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