Mormon LitCrit: Brother, can you paradigm?

Here’ s what happens a lot: I’ll be in a discussion of the Gospel and the Arts, or Literature, or Music or Theatre or whatever, and the same binary comes up.  There are two kinds of art: ‘worldly’ art and ‘spiritual’ art.   We’re to avoid the one and embrace the other.  Art can invoke the Spirit, but art can also offend the Spirit.  Art can embrace darkness or light.  If we realize the movie we’re watching is ‘worldly’ (the word we mostly use is ‘inappropriate’), we should walk out of the theater, turn off the DVD player.  Walk out. Leave.  Erase that song from your I-Pod, turn that book back in to the library, leave the museum.  We’re in the world, but we’re not of the world.  We should follow a higher standard.  Those are the metaphors: light and dark, up and down.  We even have all those wacky object lessons we remember so fondly from Seminary or Sunday school.  My favorite is the dog poop brownie one.  A teacher brings in some brownies–ask the kids if they want one.  Mentions, oh so casually, that they’re really good brownies, except for just a little dog poop that got in the bowl.  Of course, nobody wants them then.  Well, isn’t that what we do when we see a movie, say, with just that one inappropriate scene.  Aren’t we polluting our minds and spirits, just like we’d be polluting our bodies if we ate those brownies? 

I’m mocking the binary here, and I shouldn’t.  It’s grounded in real concerns–about offending the Spirit, about keeping our kids safe, about not becoming desensitized to violence or the commodified sexism of way too much popular culture.

But I still don’t like it, and I wish we could come up with something better.  Here at BYU, we had planned to do a production of Troilus and Cressida. The powers-that-be said no.  It’s a play, they said, that just doesn’t have enough light in it, that partakes too much in darkness.  Not appropriate for BYU.  We’re doing Romeo and Juliet instead, because, you know, teen sex and suicide have a lot more, just, light goin’ on in ‘em. It’s easy to make the administrator who made this decision seem like an idiot, but I know who made it, and he’s not an idiot at all; he’s a bright guy and a good guy, responding to real pressures and concerns.  But still, the idea that one play has qualities inherent in the work itself that automatically renders it more welcoming to the Spirit, and that another play lacks such qualities, again inherent in the language and structure of the play itself; well, that’s a pretty silly and indefensible argument, especially for a live art form like theatre.

In fact, our experiences with the Spirit are subjective, individual, unique.  It’s entirely possible for me to feel the Spirit in a theater very powerfully, and for someone else to find the same work on the same night offensive and spiritually damaging.  The Lord works with each of us differently, according to our needs and difficulties and experiences.

I just reject it.  I don’t think there exists such a thing as worldly art.  I think there’s just art, and it speaks to some people and it doesn’t speak to other people.  I think the whole binary, in fact, encourages an entirely negative aesthetic, where we judge books or plays or music or movies on what they don’t have.  “That was a good movie. It had no nudity or violence, and just a little bad language.”  I think that’s an approach to art that reduces the Gospel to checklists and proscriptions. And at its worst, it promotes a very unhealthy power dynamic–it promotes unrighteous dominion.  I say Troilus and Cressida is inappropriate because I’m your boss, and that means my spirituality is the one that counts, that matters. In fact, there’s rather a famous talk on the Arts and the Spirit of the Lord that reduces to that argument, and to nothing else.

And as a teacher, I really really really hate the binary.  I’ve seen it damage too many kids’ lives.  Kids major in Theatre because they’ve fallen in love with an art form.  They come to us, and learn some skills and some craft, and then they graduate.  And they fall in love even more.  And then they see something, a play, a movie.  It’s wonderful.  They love it even more because they understand it better.  But it’s worldly.  It has some stuff–some language, some nudity maybe.  And they decide they have to choose, between the art form they love and this institution which declares (they think) that love invalid.  And where do they get the idea that the play or movie or book they love is ‘worldly?’  Well, from all those Sunday School lessons and sacrament meeting talks on the dangers of ‘worldliness.’  Their culture DOES suggest that they’re wrong for loving the art they love.  Because of that ‘worldly’ v. ‘spiritual’ binary.

I want a new paradigm.  I want us to get away from all that neo-Platonic dualism.  I want us to talk about the Spirit differently than we do, not interpolate one person’s subjective experience into a rule for how it functions.  I don’t know how to do it though.

So . . . any thoughts?  I have more questions than answers here.  But I do know I’m going to keep eating those brownies.  I don’t think there’s poop in ‘em, for me.

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28 Responses to Mormon LitCrit: Brother, can you paradigm?

  1. Moriah Jovan says:

    I’ve always rejected the binary. From the time I started reading THOSE books and learned history, vocabulary, and syntax from them (but, uh, the other…not so much–I was a bit lost), I couldn’t believe that anything I could learn "good" things from was inherently bad.

    For me, mediocre/childish writing passed off as "good" because it’s "clean" makes the binary even more dangerous, and so I reject the binary that says clean==good.

    I reject the binary for several reasons, but I’m always aware that the binary could turn around and reject me. It’s a risk I’m willing to take.

  2. austin smith says:

    It seems like we (Mormons) use a framework similar to what you’ve said about art when we read the Bible. We believe it to be the word of God… but with some good stuff taken out or bad stuff put in here and there. Isn’t that like having some poop in your brownie? Some philosophy of men mingled with scripture? We ("liberal" Mormons) could point out that maybe we should take the same approach to art–just because it has some nudity or bad words doesn’t mean that the whole can’t be positive and uplifting.

  3. Moriah Jovan says:

    @Austin Smith [b][i]We believe it to be the word of God… but with some good stuff taken out or bad stuff put in here and there. Isn’t that like having some poop in your brownie? Some philosophy of men mingled with scripture?[/b][/i]

    Note that a lot of that’s either skimmed over or skipped completely, as if it doesn’t exist. After all, "we" do not consider the Song of Solomon inspired–as scripture or otherwise.

    But we’re not alone in that. Southern Baptists and kissing-cousin evangelicals (Assembly of God and Church of Christ) do the same. I can’t speak for other sects, but definitely we aren’t the only ones.

  4. Mark Brown says:

    I really appreciate what you’ve expressed here, Eric. It reminds me of the spiritual experience I had reading Love and Rockets comics when I was in high school. They’re independently published black and white comics about bisexual latinas living in California. To me, they were so human and compelling, I felt a distinct increase in my compassion for people. I tried explaining it to my Bishop and he was horrified. How could I possibly feel the spirit from anything so deviant?

    I agree that spirit is more vast, more varied, more individual than only manifesting itself in books, movies, paintings, etc. that have been approved by a committee.

    Perfectly clean = spiritual, "questionable material" = evil is too simple, too pat, too easy, too dumb. It seems insulting to the complexity of people and to the complexity of the our Heavenly Father’s expectations for us.

  5. Melinda W. says:

    I use the "binary" when I’m looking for escapist entertainment. When I just want a movie that’s brainless fluff, I only want to know if it lacks sex, violence and bad language. I don’t care if it’s great art; I just want to not be disgusted with it when it’s over. Same thing for escapist books. Brain candy should be clean. I avoid brain candy with the "one bad thing" in it.

    But if we’re talking about art that is complex, that raises moral issues to ponder, and that is well-crafted, then I get away from the binary. I’ve learned good principles from reading books that I wouldn’t recommend to some of my friends who stick to the binary standard on everything. I value the hard questions raised by art.

    But I’ll still use the ‘binary’ standard when all I’m looking for is a way to distract myself for a few hours.

  6. Eric Samuelsen says:

    Well, I don’t know, I think a lot of pop art, a lot of popular culture can also invite the Spirit. I mean, I’ve seen plenty of movies that I thought were brainless fluff. Just recently, my wife and I rented Clash of the Titans. Brainless idiocy, stupid fluff. Kept thinking things like ‘dang, I hope Liam Neeson got a big ol’ check for doing this tripe.’ And ‘dang, Sam Worthington’s a rubbish actor.’
    And then I talked to a colleague, and he said he saw it with his family, and they had a great, bonding experience, and had a great discussion afterwards, even a theological discussion. Dumb as the film is, it does deal with questions of faith. They focused on that, and the film provided a wonderful family experience.
    So I’m not comfortable with the ‘pop’ vs. ‘literary’ binary either.

  7. Adam R Monteith says:

    [i]I’m going to keep eating those brownies. I don’t think there’s poop in ‘em, for me.[/i]


    As a performer who was reprimanded for profanity when I said the gospel "saves us from the fear of hell" at BYU, I’m agreeable to the idea that our cultural safeguards can sometimes go too far. But if it turns out that the great artists really did put some objectionable material into some of their works, refusing to acknowledge it isn’t any smarter than "throwing out the baby with the bathwater."

    If you think the material in your favorite plays and paintings isn’t as really as bad for you as you’ve been told, that’s a defensible position. There may be some kinds of performance or subject matter that are OK for adults but not for kids. Sometimes "for mature audiences only" really means what it says.

    Maybe what’s in the brownies is just some ingredient your kid has a bad reaction to—his/her digestive system is still developing, so s/he has to wait a while before it’s safe to take some things in. (I’m not sure digestive systems work that way, but I’m pretty sure brains do.) If that’s how you’re thinking about questionable material in art, you may have a point.

    But if you’re talking about excrement in food and saying "I don’t think it’s there [i]for me[/i]," you may not be viewing the issue [i]quite[/i] right.

  8. Katya says:

    Dog poop serves no culinary purpose in brownies. Sex, language, and violence, on the other hand, can serve a purpose in art and media, even in art and media with a very spiritual or moral message. (Try telling [i]Les Misérables[/i] without prostitution, [i]Little Miss Sunshine[/i] without Dwayne’s F-bomb, or [i]El laberinto del fauno[/i] without violence.)

    A better analogy might be fat or sugar, which serve a culinary purpose, but which are also unhealthy in excess. (And which may be especially bad for specific individuals, depending on their dietary needs and tolerances.)

  9. Moriah Jovan says:

    The fact is that the dog poop analogy is both simplistic and absolute, and our culture is rife with them. That it’s DOG POOP isn’t the point, and while the allergy/fat/sugar analogies are, in fact, better, they don’t serve the lowest common denominator.

    (After all, sugar is our only acceptable ingestable vice. Alcohol evil. Tobacco evil. Caffeine evil. Sugar? BRING IT ON!)

    After all, look at all the analogies we have for premarital sex: licked cupcake, chewed gum, and lingering sentiment that it would be better for a girl to die than to lose her virtue–including a book in which the heroine is noted as courageous for saving her virtue at the cost of her loved ones’ lives.

    The nuance and subtleties have been lost somewhere along the way. But, again, this isn’t just us. [b][i]Religion breeds fear through absolutes[/i][/b]. That our doctrine is, in fact PROACTIVE (i.e., we’re actually working toward [b][i]exaltation[/i][/b], not just [b][i]salvation[/i][/b]), and not REACTIVE (i.e., to escape a burning lake of fire) like other Protestant faiths, fear shouldn’t be part of our culture’s paradigm. But it is.

  10. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    A new paradigm would be wonderful, but still, probably wouldn’t stick. Remember, most people don’t want to use art to delve deeper into their own experience, much less the human experience. The binary Bro Eric speaks of supports the majority in their feeling and isn’t likely to disappear even though it is an affliction for folks like us. I’m afraid, unless we become the majority, we’re stuck with the binary–and (she says with a gleam in her eye) the responsibility to contradict it whenever we can. But that’s what we do well, isn’t it, my fellow narrators?

    Great post and comments. And Austin, you made me smile.

  11. Moriah Jovan says:

    Well, one can contradict/challenge, but that doesn’t mean anything will change or that one won’t be chastised/derided for doing so.

  12. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    Precisely right, Moriah. Perhaps I enjoy muck-raking more than others. Its a sport. Bring it on. I have a suspicion you might have a similar tendency?

    I just ask the chastisers and deriders what they thought of last night’s episode of CSI, full as it was of all they detest. :)

  13. Katya says:

    "Well, one can contradict/challenge, but that doesn’t mean anything will change or that one won’t be chastised/derided for doing so."

    I’m not interested in changing the minds of the people who actually like the dog poop analogy, but I have a small hope that I can point out the flaws in the analogy to someone whose heart is telling them that a work of art is virtuous or praiseworthy, while their dog poop detector is telling them that they have to throw the baby out with the bathwater to be a good person.

  14. Rosa Gardner says:

    Well said, Katya. I also love what you said about "imagine [i]Les Mis[/i] without prostitution"– I remember a discussion in one of Eric’s classes where we discussed Plato and his notion of Ideal Form, that plays should essentially portray perfect people acting perfectly, and that anything else would cause society to mimic the immoral behaviors and should therefore never be done. I can’t imagine learning anything from that.

  15. Moriah Jovan says:

    [b][i]I have a small hope that I can point out the flaws in the analogy to someone whose heart is telling them that a work of art is virtuous or praiseworthy, while their dog poop detector is telling them that they have to throw the baby out with the bathwater to be a good person.[/b][/i]

    Katya, yes, I understand and I agree! I think, in practice, that we can only do that when we encounter them, one by one. But they very rarely make themselves known for fear that others will throw the baby out for them.

    Not arguing. Just sometimes I wonder where they are.

    Lisa, I don’t rake muck for sport. I try to point out what I see as errors in logic, but very often my tone translates badly. Or else it made me mad and my tone translates perfectly correctly. :D

    Otherwise, my WORK probably won’t rake any muck the way Eugene’s book ( [b][i]Angel Falling Softly[/i][/b] ) did because a) I’m very upfront that my work has REALLY objectionable material in it and b) it’s not intended for an LDS audience, thus c) they probably won’t read it, and d) if they do make it all the way through and then take shots at me, I’ll just assume they liked it and are acting out in a fit of self-loathing.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is, I tell the stories I need to tell. I do it in a way that, on one hand, has brought a bit of us and our culture to a whole lot of people who don’t know anything about us, and on the other hand, has helped a few members feel not so alone.

    And then I find some of these people in my email inbox saying, "Thank you." So…maybe if we put it out there in the right place (i.e., not at BYU, not in the LDS niche, not where other audiences won’t see it), we’ll find some of those people who are trying to reconcile what they feel about a piece with what they think they should consider dog poop.

  16. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    BTW Eric, I love the title of this post. Cute.

  17. Great post, Eric.

    Aside from the question of whether dog poop is really dog poop or not: It seems to me that the dog poop analogy has embedded in it the notion that evil is inherently more powerful than good: that a little bit of negative material can somehow neutralize a great deal of good. While I agree that sometimes things operate that way, it also seems to me that at times the reverse is true.

    I find it problematic that our definition of good seems, functionally, to be the absence of evil, when we know that (a) God is exposed to all the evil and negativity in the universe, and (b) at some point we’re supposed to become like God. I’m all in favor of knowing our limits: for example, I know that I have to limit my own exposure to nature documentaries (of all things), because they leave me feeling really down about the human race. But acknowledging that at some point the goal is for us to be able to see all the evil and wrong in the universe and understand it within a context of truth and light might help us move toward a conceptualization of literature that helps us along that path.

    Great as it is to critique the entire notion of the binary, on a practical basis I think an important first step is to insist on the point Eric makes about the individuality of reaction to artistic works. This is a point that can often be made inoffensively in conversations and gospel doctrine classes, without taking on the entire mindset (and thus having people reject everything that one is saying), often by sharing personal experiences and examples. Once that point is accepted in theory, it provides a lot more conceptual space to work with.

    The flip side is that we have to then respect the reactions of individual readers as valid for themselves, even when they go against the value we see in a particular work. We need to accept that if reading George Orwell’s [i]1984[/i] gives them a bad feeling (as my first roommate at BYU informed me), maybe it’s right for them not to read it. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for trying to educate people in the value of works they might not initially like, but such efforts should be cautious and above all respectful.

  18. Katya says:

    Just to play devil’s advocate here, Jonathan, the argument I most often hear in support of avoiding even "a little bit of negative material" is that the Lord "cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance."

    How do you respond?

  19. DLewis says:

    The problem is that all of the analogies we use compare engaging in art with eating food. THEY ARE NOT THE SAME. With food, you take in everything that’s there, dog poop and all, there’s no discrimination. You consume it, it becomes part of you, whether you like it or not.

    Art is not like this–or at least, not entirely like this. We have minds. We can see, read, or watching something and rather than simply imbibe it, we can say, "Hmmmm, that’s morally wrong. That’s problematic. I wouldn’t agree with that character there. But I can continue." We can process, accept, and reject at least some (if not all) of the art we partake in. The food analogies have to stop.

    Personally, I like to compare art to conversation (I think Wayne Booth thinks of it this way). You listen, you evaluate, you agree in some places, you disagree in others, but you don’t kick someone out the moment they say a bad word. You respect them enough to hear them out but you don’t have to accept everything (or even invite them over again). There’s at least one way to re-think this paradigm.

  20. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    If you have received your latest [i]Irreantum[/i], read the Editor’s note from Jack Harrell. It addresses morality in art. A really nice little essay.

  21. Adrienne Cardon says:

    I think this is a perfect articulation of the problem and hope it falls on a wide range of ears. It’s very important people understand these concepts and use their agency to make their own media choices.


  22. Katya,

    Good question. I think there are several important points here:

    1. Depicting sin in art is not the same thing as advocating sin. Similarly, reading about sin is not the same as accepting or engaging in it–though in some cases the one may involve the other.

    2. What does it mean to not look on sin with any degree of allowance? Sometimes it means utter rejection of the contaminated material–but only when a process of repentance and transformation has been tried and failed (e.g., the case of Sodom and Gomorrah). Somehow God finds it possible to work with "contaminated" humans rather than cast us out. The metaphor of purifying silver (rather than throwing it out because it isn’t pure) is a powerful one to me.

    3. Living in an environment that is free from sin and negativity wasn’t God’s solution to the problem of creating good, strong people.

    DLewis’s point about choice is an important one. As with any experience in life, we have a degree of choice about whether our artistic experiences wind up influencing us for good or for evil. Indeed, it seems to me that good and evil are more likely to reside in the act of artistic reception than in the art itself. Should we not, then, place at least equal emphasis on learning how to read/listen/view righteously (whatever that may mean), instead of focusing exclusively on filtering our artistic exposure?

    Perhaps the ultimate answer, again, is to tie this to individual responsibility. Not exercising any degree of allowance for sin in our own lives needs to be a matter of sensitivity to the real impact that art–and any other kind of experience–has on us. Case in point: I learned many years ago that playing Monopoly makes me into the sort of person I don’t like. I’m a poor winner, and I’m a poor loser. So for me, Monopoly is an occasion of sin. But extending this to say that I should never play any kinds of board games at all (because some of them might have the same effect) would constitute building a hedge around the law, which is something that Jesus explicitly condemns.

  23. Moriah Jovan says:

    [b][i]Case in point: I learned many years ago that playing Monopoly makes me into the sort of person I don’t like. I’m a poor winner, and I’m a poor loser. So for me, Monopoly is an occasion of sin.[/i][/b]

    EXCELLENT analogy, and one I can relate to, because I’m the same way. I avoid games and contests of most sorts. (Although every once in a while I enter one, lose, and then sulk about it for weeks.) (And my mother is definitely off my to-play-games-with because she’s a super-bad loser, but she loves the games too much.) (And although I’m an excellent blackjack player and win consistently, the jangling noise and bright flashing lights make me want to rip somebody’s head off immediately.) (So I’m relegated to Bookworm and Jewel Quest and FreeCell.)


  24. Katya says:

    DLewis – Sometimes it takes a very wise person to point out something that should be obvious.

    Jonathan – Thanks for responding. Now I can steal all of your points to use next time the subject comes up elsewhere.

    Here’s another thought I had: There is a difference between committing a sin and taking a sin upon oneself. God cannot turn a blind eye to those who commit sins. Christ, on the other hand, took our sins upon him so that he could understand us in our pain and weaknesses and thereby save us. Some of my favorite films, books, etc., are the ones that drag me through some small piece of hell along with a character. In the same way that we are commanded to mourn with those that mourn, I think that such works of art make me a more caring and compassionate person, because I have a chance to walk in someone else’s shoes (and possibly in their sins) and feel someone else’s pain, even if that person is fictional.

  25. ryan smith says:

    I’ll take a second serving of poop too. Refusing to reduce the Gospel to a checklist is challenging when simplistic thinking, black and white rules, are so easy.

  26. Katya,

    I like your thought about imitating Christ, how he took upon him our sins, and how that imitation may involve us coming to know more about the experiences — including sinful and negative experiences — of others.

  27. Bruce Young says:

    I’ll probably have more to say, later, on the general issues. But first, on [i]Troilus and Cressida[/i]: When I learned it was going to be performed at BYU, I was surprised, but I added a requirement in my Shakespeare syllabus for my students to see it. (Now I’m requiring them to see [i]Romeo and Juliet[/i]–mainly I want them to experience live Shakespeare.)

    I was surprised because I had a hard time imagining the large audiences drawn from students and the community for a main stage production being ready to have a good experience with one of Shakespeare’s oddest and most astringent plays. I thought it might work better on a smaller stage for a more self-selecting audience. But (I thought) I guess it depends mainly on how it’s done. The play can be done in any number of ways, from something approaching a romantic combination of sweetness and pathos (with plenty of dark undertones, to be sure) to something unredeemably harsh and cynical. For myself, I’d prefer something somewhere in the middle.

    I saw a powerful production of the play in England some years ago, one that may have been a bit harsh for BYU but that otherwise came close to the right balance for me–except that there were moments so overwhelmingly erotic that I don’t believe I could experience such moments very often without real danger and damage. Anyone who could handle them better than I could must be a lot stronger than I am, or else self-deceived or far gone into desensitization. Though the production has found a place firmly in my memory, I seem to have survived intact. Am I a better person for having seen the play? I don’t know. "Better" can mean so many things, from wisdom to sensitivity to compassion to strength.

    I already knew the play pretty well. Professionally I need to know it: it has a significant and peculiar place in the Shakespearean canon. Seeing the production added a few nuances to my Shakespearean expertise. Like most of what Shakespeare wrote, the play is a masterpiece in its particular niche, though not as moving or profound or enlightening (by a long shot) as plays like [i]Macbeth[/i] or [i]King Lear[/i] or [i]The Winter’s Tale[/i]–or [i]Measure for Measure[/i], to take a play with closer affinities to [i]Troilus and Cressida[/i]. [i]T&C[/i] helps shatter naive idealism about love and war, but apart from that, I find it harder to make a case for its value than for most of Shakespeare plays.

    Even kept intact, I can imagine it performed at BYU in a way that might work, though some of Pandarus’s lines might cause some squirming, and it would be hard to imagine audiences knowing quite how to handle Thersites, with his constant stream of invective and vulgarity.

    I don’t know much about how it was decided not to do the play at BYU, but from the little I know, I doubt it was done (entirely) in a simplistic way depending on "Platonic" binaries. The play really is problematic.

    Of course, so is [i]Romeo and Juliet[/i], though not in the same way or to the same degree as [i]T&C[/i]. Plus it has a place in the cultural consciousness that [i]T&C[/i] lacks. It will be interesting to see what’s done with [i]R&J[/i]. I can imagine anything from a sensationalist soap-opera style production to a profoundly sympathetic and illuminating rendition of the play. That’s one of the perils and gifts of live theater: the moral value depends in great measure on the particularities of the production and unfolds (often surprisingly, unpredictably) in the very moment the performance takes place.

  28. Bruce Young says:

    General thoughts: I agree with much in Eric’s post and in the comments. But I also find much said that, even while objecting to oversimplification, tends to simplify the issues and to characterize alternative views as naive, erroneous, and simplistic when there are in fact intelligent versions of them worth attending to.

    In practice, I sometimes find myself on one side or another. I have recommended a film I consider wonderfully moral but which is then objected to by at least a few viewers, who of course I imagine to be narrow minded and judgmental. (Mostly, I just feel sad that they don’t see what I see in the film.) On the other hand, I find myself depressed and sickened by language, images, and assumptions in films that I want to, and to some extent do, enjoy. I have a son who objects to any editing of films, presumably including editing for airlines and for television. But as for myself, I am deeply grateful for effective editing that spares me being assaulted by things that deaden my sensitivities and make my inner life harsh, dissonant, confused, and ugly. My wife and I find deeply disturbing the thought of certain music going through our younger son’s mind. On the other hand, I love and teach works of literature that are challenging and, in their own way, disturbing (I would say redemptively disturbing) as well as inspiring and edifying.

    How much damage do we need to risk as part of the process of learning and growth? As some have noted, our whole mortal experience is based on the assumption that some risk is required. But I see people who have acquired a taste for destruction—for the tang of chaos, violence, and lust—minus any discernible progress toward light and goodness.

    C. S. Lewis, who loved literature and music with a passion, who was eclectic in his tastes and exceptionally intelligent and learned, nevertheless placed literary and artistic values much lower than ultimate ones. “If we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.” Of course, a souvenir is not the same as awareness. A souvenir is something we cling to, or that clings to us—like the lizard on the oily man’s shoulder in [i]The Great Divorce[/i]. When it comes right down to it, Lewis argues, “the salvation of a single soul is more important than the production or preservation of all the epics and tragedies in the world.” Happily, we don’t normally have to choose one or the other—and in fact, remembering how infinitely less important the entire world of arts and letters is than any one person allows that world to reveal itself at its most delightful, illuminating, and enlivening; whereas clinging to music, art, and literature as if they were our salvation kills them.

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