views, reviews and previews
Giant of Twentieth Century Sculpture Tate Britain
24 February–8 August 2010
Admission £12.50; concessions £11
You could say it was all the fault of Dean Hussey. His commission of a ‘Madonna and Child’ for St Matthew’s, Northampton was Moore’s first truly accessible sculpture and a sure sign that he had arrived.
From then on it was the slippery slope to a reclining figure in every New Town and the ‘ripe camembert cheese’ at St Stephen’s, Walbrook. Thanks to the association with a Dean of Chichester it is probably a heresy if Anglo- Catholics raise doubts about the man routinely described as the greatest sculptor of the twentieth century, but the current exhibition of his work at Tate Britain does just that.
What the show wants to do, and does, is to freshen our understanding of Moore by bringing out more clearly his debt to the artistic milieu of the Twenties and Thirties, to Surrealism and Primitive art and the impact of new ideas of the subconscious. All this, of course, is largely a matter of sex, and it is refreshing to see that sexual activity was discovered in the Twenties rather than the Sixties as we might have previously been led to believe.
The recumbent body and the Mother and Child are the two most important subjects which emerge at this time. Hardly subversive we might think, until we notice the mixed gender of some of the bodies (boring!) and the way that the Mother and Child rarely look at each other – which makes you wonder about the actual religious content of the St Matthew’s Madonna.
The exhibition properly covers the advent of the holes in Moore’s work, though makes little reference to the way Moore took this idea from Barbara Hepworth. We might think that’s OK since great artists steal. But if memory serves correctly, small-scale Hepworths are more interesting than the small-scale Moores on display at the Tate.
And that is what this show unintentionally brings out. Moore was a follower rather than a leader of the avant garde. He didn’t achieve the beauty which Hepworth managed. And he didn’t have the originality and vitality of Picasso whom he copied so much. Perhaps he was no more than a petit-maître as Picasso’s biographer suggested and as the show’s post-war large-scale figures scream at us.
However, Moore had a real empathy with his materials and there are some large-scale exhibits on show which do work. These are four elm carvings, each from a different date in Moore’s career, all very similar. Here for once Moore seems to be in contact with his real roots, almost literally so. These pieces speak as much of the English countryside as of movements in artistic fashion. They are large but because of the wood grain they are not industrialized. They don’t have the totalitarian aspect of much of Moore’s work in the Thirties. You might even say they have a humanity which some of his Mayan Toltec figures lack. For all their massiveness and simplicity these figures lie like some river gods or dryads in a Baroque garden. They are the nearest thing on show to Moore’s inner Bernini.
The other successful exhibits are the shelter drawings made of people in the Belsize Park tube station in 1940. The exhibition points out that some of these pictures are drawn from Picture Post rather than real life and the critics have been right to say ‘so what?’ to that. The drawings in question are very obviously taken from groups posed for a ‘feel-good’ effect. By contrast Moore’s own vision of the sheltering people was of a slave ship, with sleeping bodies laid out in neat rows and denied their humanity. I’m still not clear whether I find the artist’s de haut en bas attitude more irritating than the loverly cockerneys of Picture Post – at least the posed pictures have their patriotic purpose.
Sadly, for all his technical assurance and undoubted power, Moore’s view of the industrialized masses is inhuman. It does no justice to our natural desire for play and affection. As Sleary says in Hard Times, ‘people must be amuthed.’ There has to be humanity in art, just as a mother has to look at her child.
Acumen, 149pp, pbk
978 1 84465 203 7, £9.99
Like the air we breathe, money is so basic to life that some of us fail to appreciate it until it goes short. Others spend their whole lives in pursuit of it. To have money is to have power even though money is itself just printed paper or figures on a computer. Moral judgements surround its use. Money can assist us or it can ruin us.
This book on money is by a hedge fund manager with formation in philosophy. Eric Lonergan’s Money contributes to The Art of Living series which aims to look philosophically at aspects of lifestyle. The tenor is cool and measured, even if the book appears as the effects of the worst economic recession since the Thirties continue. Four philosophical properties of money are dealt with: interdependence, control of the future, measurement and allure.
In succession to barter, cash economies have helped counter violent social engagement. The pricing of scarce resources can help their better use – or not. Money now flows across the world at the click of a computer mouse, making for unprecedented human interdependence. Lonergan stresses that if there were no differences there would be no cash flow.
It is a clinical approach, chilling, given the extent of ongoing global poverty, though he cites China’s growth as due to the benefits of the money market. The occasional destructive panic of money markets is rather glossed over.
The section on control of the future draws a fascinating parallel with the role of religion which he sees, like money, as being largely in the business of providing certainty within life’s changes and chances. Saving money for a rainy day is parallel to commitment to divine revelation about the future.
Uncertainty is alien to us, hence this approach, and yet uncertainty can also be exciting. Part of us wants to control our future and part of us is exhilarated by risk. There is to Lonergan’s mind an irrational prejudice towards certitude with the approval of saving more than spending.
So much of life – and money use – is about countering fear of the future.
Investigating money’s use to measure, necessary in any accounting, brings the recognition of how this can corrupt, as things like happiness and status get caught up in the equation. Money cannot buy love, and yet it has an allure linked to our quest for power, freedom and security. Greed, envy and self-importance are the downside of money’s allure.
Lonergan ends with irony. Money would serve us better if we thought about it less, though our attitude towards it is helped by deeper understanding. Hence the book. It is a brave philosophical venture, heavy at times with technical terms, but it flows profitably along the four clear lines of its investigation.
WILLING, WANTING, WAITING
OUP, 216pp, hbk
978 0 19 921457 0, £27.50
There are two reasons why readers of New DiRecTions might want to read this work of philosophy. First, it provides a clearer and more nuanced description of how we may (or may not) overcome temptation; and second, it offers a description of free will that is considerably richer than many of the descriptions used by Christians in their apologetic.
I am sure there must be some philosophers somewhere who would disagree (and provide a mass of material to back up their claim), but for most of us there is a simple equation, ‘No free will, no Christian faith.’ We have an interest, therefore, in this branch of philosophical enquiry, especially in an age when more and more philosophers are denying the existence of any meaningful sense of free will.
Again to generalize outrageously, it appears that the simplest descriptions of free will are those most open to rejection and refutation. One group of theories, called ‘libertarian’, do little more than state that an act of free will simply is a free action, uncaused and undetermined. From which one moves on to compatibilism and incompatibilism – namely, whether free will is compatible or incompatible with determinism.
Now, there may still be plenty of literature and a steady stream of peer-reviewed articles. Nevertheless, it is not entirely untrue to say that these old debates have run their course, and if they have reached any conclusion or left any lasting impression, it is that free will as a useful concept is moribund, or at the very least not worth bothering about. Which is a gloomy prospect for reflective people of faith. Faith may not be dependent upon philosophy, but all the same...
Holton tackles this unease about freedom in an excellent final chapter, ‘Doubtless the most quoted sentence is the English free-will literature comes from Samuel Johnson: ‘Sir, we know our will is free, and there’s an end on’t.’ Later, in Boswell’s Life, the point is developed in what we now think of as a distinctively Moorean [early twentieth-century English philosopher] way: ‘You are surer that you can lift up your finger or not as you please than you are of any conclusion from a deduction of reasoning.’
From here he moves to a consideration of another Johnsonian remark, ‘All theory is against the freedom of the will; all experience for it.’ Well, not entirely. With our sharper analysis of our own experience, unconscious as well as conscious, with our more developed science of human motivation, subliminal influences, self-awareness and delusion, it is clear that our ‘experience’ may not extend quite as far as we would wish.
Holton’s conclusion is that our experience of choice and of holding to resolutions is not delusory, though it offers nothing that might support a libertarian view of free will. In itself it is a reassuring, if disappointingly modest, conclusion. The heart of the matter is found earlier in the book, where he dissects the processes of choosing and resolving, and it is here that the most positive results can be found.
Laymen may think of it as a form of philosophical psychology or psychological philosophy, supported by experimental evidence and careful analysis of the technical jargon. The solution, in essence, is to grasp the vast complexity of voluntary decision-making.
His most persuasive chapter is on the forming of resolutions. It is not enough to have desires, nor even to turn those desires into intentions and bolster them with beliefs; we must go further and form resolutions that can supersede and if necessary overrule our desires and even intentions. Free will, in other words, is an engagement of greater complexity and commitment than is too often supposed.
The proper Christian approach is of the form, ‘We have a will, certainly. The question is whether or not it is free,’ from which one discusses sin and its power to bind the will. The philosophical tradition comes from an entirely different direction, but I gained the exciting sense from this book that this key issue is at last being fully addressed. There is an appreciation here of the power of temptation, and therefore the need for serious commitment to the forming of something more substantial than mere choice and intention, that speaks to our own concerns and interests.
LIFT HIGH THE CROSS
the Congress Movement John Gunstone Canterbury, 372pp, pbk
978 1 85311 817 3, £25
Of recent chronicles of the rise and fall of Anglo- Catholicism John Gunstone’s congress history is most hopeful. It ends with an indulgent image from John Betjeman but is throughout concerned to draw the reader’s attention to solid Christian truth.
Betjeman’s poem ‘Anglo-Catholic Congresses’ declares: ‘The bells and banners – those were the waking days when the Faith was taught and fanned in a golden blaze.’ The waking up to ritual caught attention easily. The waking up to the Church as a divine society extending the incarnation, and establishing justice for the poor in anticipation of God’s kingdom, is by contrast an ongoing and costly arousal.
It is fascinating to read how the Anglo-Catholic Congresses were born a century ago out of a perceived apologetical challenge that sounds quite contemporary. For Richard Dawkins read Bertrand Russell! The credibility of Christian faith is as much an issue now as then. The Catholic religion practised by Anglicans speaks to this challenge through adherents who put flesh onto their words to demonstrate their truth. Where are the successors of Bishop Weston of Zanzibar or Fr Jellicoe, minister of the Kings Cross slum clearance? They can be found in what remains of the catholic Anglican tradition.
Congress contributor Bishop Kenneth Kirk saw five truths the nineteenth century Oxford Movement had recovered for the Church of England. These were sacramental vision, social mission, personal holiness, pastoral authority and the spiritual independence of the church. Kirk claimed there was much ground to be made up on the last two and this seems evident seventy years on as ethical conflicts unravel Anglicanism. Chesterton, who flirted with AngloCatholicism en route to Roman Catholicism, complained justly about the Church of England of his day, ‘We do not want, as the newspapers say, a Church that will move with the world. We want a Church that will move the world.’
John Gunstone is a writer concerned for spiritual and theological renewal. This is no dry history. It brings out how the early Anglo-Catholics had a strong mystical element. Writers like Evelyn Underhill would be dismayed at the severance between the mystical and the sacramental that seems to abound in the church today. The ascendant evangelical and pentecostal streams in today’s Anglicanism seem to be turned away from the sacraments. A rigidity and lack of charity among the Congress succession has played a part here, perhaps in response to the confusing impact of liturgical change and the divisive repercussions from attempts to make women and homosexuals more up front in the church today.
Lift High the Cross is an easier read than its size and historical chronicle might appear to offer. It provides many gems of wisdom for today’s church. I liked part of the Curate of St Barnabas, Pimlico’s, Fr Rawlinson’s address to the 1921 Convention: ‘The longer I live the more convinced I am that sins are not conquered; they are crowded out. The energies are directed into a fresh channel. The disappearance of sin and the growth of the interior life are not successive but parallel movements’.
The Revd Dr John Twisleton, Rector of Horsted Keynes, West Sussex
A Guide for Grown-up Idealists
Bodley Head, 470pp, hbk
978 1 847 92044 7, £20
I should have taken the subtitle as a warning; instead I allowed myself to be persuaded by the adulatory comments on the back. I wanted to be convinced. As a reader of New Directions my first reaction to the Enlightenment is to reject it as a malign influence on Western Christendom. Until that is, I face modern secularists and political theorists who dismiss its legacy still more vehemently. Then I want to defend the notion of a liberal liberalism against the modern absolutists. Then I see tolerance as a rational Christian virtue, and even secularism as a Christian Enlightenment ideal (before it too was highjacked by contemporary relativists).
This promised to be a philosophical rehabilitation of the ideals and virtues of the Enlightenment project, but without the technical, professional jargon. It was certainly that. Neiman writes with attractive fluency and with an assured grasp of our cultural heritage: a top class commentator. But in the end, her thesis did not convince: the climax cum conclusion was an anticlimax: not that I thought, ‘She’s wrong,’ but ‘Is that it?’ – a collection of essays in search of a thesis.
Her grounding in American culture and politics was at first off-putting – I am not that interested in the philosophical battles of the neo-cons and their opponents – but in the end proved the most enlightening element. It revealed how far we are different, and that the differences matter.
Whatever the atheist secularists may believe, England is an old society, fully established long before the Enlightenment. America, by contrast, was founded during the Enlightenment and upon its ideals and principles. This difference is crucial when one is caught up in a reassessment, rejection, or (in Neiman’s case) a rehabilitation. The key problem is what one might call the Asymmetry of Lapsing.
Christendom and traditional Christians show clear limitations – both institution and members are in need of improvement, specifically in terms of the personal virtues that relate to freedom. The best option seems to be to have solid, traditional, Christian parents who will bring you up in the bosom of the Church. Once you have gained all that they have to give, your best bet is to lapse. You will have gained all the merits of a full Christian education, while being able to lose all the stultifying limitations evident in practising members.
This is what the Enlightenment achieved; and these are the virtues and ideals that Neiman celebrates. But then? What the Enlightenment passed on was not membership of the Church (with all its limitations), but the benefits of Sunday School (the distillation of the teaching without the personal commitment). And it failed.
Sending your child to Sunday School, as so many well-meaning parents have discovered to their cost, is not the same as bringing them to Church. If only it worked. If only a distillation of the Enlightenment ideals could be passed on to the next generations without the additional baggage imposed by practising believers.
Neiman tries, and I warmed to her for trying; but I have to say I remained unmoved. Her modern day ‘Enlightenment heroes’ are admirable people, but a collection of admirable people cannot prove a truth. If all Catholics and all modern-atheists were manifestly wicked, it might; but they are not.
Arthur Savage ND
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