|Hand of St. Valentin. Paul Koudounaris|
1. Catacomb Saints
Photographs like this one by Paul Koudounaris are suddenly popping up around the web. I find them fascinating too, though they seem to be an excuse for many people to flog various dead horses of the past and church history, at least in comments on various sites. Go here for a reasonably respectful treatment of the "catacomb saints."
Koudounaris's new book is Heavenly Bodies. He claims "spectacular" as a descriptor in the subtitle, and that seems to be true from the many samples of photographs online. It's too bad that the book does not appear to have much apparatus to tell us about the photographs which, detached from their historical context and meaning, may well be seen as fabulous but freakish. Many artisans spent years laboring to decorate these bones, seeking to make them an image of the saints in glory . . .
"In 1578 the remains of thousands of individuals assumed to be early Christian martyrs were discovered in Rome. The remains were given fictitious names and sent to Catholic churches and religious institutions in German-speaking Europe as relics of saints to replace holy relics that had been destroyed during the Protestant Reformation. Reassembled by skilled artisans, encrusted with gold and jewels and richly dressed in fantastic costumes, the skeletons were displayed in elaborate public shrines as reminders of the spiritual treasures that awaited the faithful after death."
Last night I saw one of the images on Nathan Ballingrud's facebook page and had a sudden memory of an anecdote. A friend (who shall remain unnamed) was visiting an eastern European castle and allowed to take a peep into stone coffins down in the basement, including one of a recently-deceased aunt. I still remember an odd detail of her fine, detailed clothing. It would make a wonderful story...
2. Eric Whitacre making the over-exposed new
Here's the original version of Sleep from Whitacre's blog. The text was Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." I love the way it estranges the text and makes it uncanny again. The Frost estate did not give permission for the use of the text, and so there is really only one version of the piece available, so far as I can tell. The Concordia Choir.
3. Gioia x 2
If you are interested in arts, music, culture-building, education, business-and-the-arts, or religion, take a look at the double interview with Ted and Dana Gioia: The Arts: Agents of Change and Source of Enchantment. Here are a few clips to entice:
Ted Gioia: I am convinced that, if you have a vocation in life, you don’t choose it. It chooses you. The religious phrase we use to describe this process is the right one. You receive a calling, and the only proper thing you can do is respond to the calling.
Dana: The modern assumption that writers and artists are dreamy, impractical people is both odd and quite insulting to creative people. Sophocles was a general, Goethe a scientist and statesman. Shakespeare was the most successful entertainment entrepreneur of Renaissance England.
Ted: . . . people are just as hungry for serious culture as they ever were, but are stymied by entertainment-driven media that refuse to give a platform to anything deep, challenging, or sophisticated. But let me make a prediction. Popular entertainment of the current sort will not satisfy this hunger.
Dana: Both jazz and poetry became too academic and intellectual. This is not unique to these two arts. It reflected the general isolation of the arts in our society. They have been relegated to small subcultures and cut off from the general audience that once supported them. That separation has hurt both the arts and the general culture. . . . We need to take responsibility for creating the culture we want to live in. That means to express our values—aesthetic as well as ethical—in our daily lives.
And a late addition--
Thanks to Stephen Roth for reviewing A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage at his blog and at Amazon! For more review clips, see the page tabs above. Evidently Stephen's first book will be out next year--congratulations to him!