Category: Arts

On November 3rd, Acton welcomed Victoria C. G. Coates, cultural historian and Ph.D, to talk about her argument that democracy has had a unique capacity to inspire some of the greatest artistic achievements of western civilization. She lays out this thesis in her latest book, David’s Sling: A History of Democracy in Ten Works of Art. In her Acton Lecture Series address, Coates takes as her case studies Michelangelo’s “David” and Albert Bierstadt’s “Rocky Mountains: Lander’s Peak“, describing the roles each played in their respective civilizations as well as the underlying political meanings of each piece.

You can watch Victoria Coates’ lecture via the video player below.

Michael Hamburger, a Jew born in Germany and exiled in England in 1933, borrowed the persona of the previous century’s German Romantic poet Friedrich Holderlin to express in verse the madness of the modern world. For Hamburger, Holderlin’s well-documented … shall we approach this delicately? … mental issues, were a proportional response to a world he perceived as approaching the precipice. In his 1941 poem titled “Holderlin,” Hamburger wrote:

I have no tears to mourn forsaken gods
Or my lost voice.
This is my wisdom where no laughter sounds,
No sighs, this is my peace.

Glory is gone, and the swimming clouds;
My dumb hand grips the frozen sky,
A black bare tree in the winter dark.

For truly observant Roman Catholics, the contemporary milieu echoes Hamburger’s lament vis-a-vis Holderlin about “forsaken gods,” or, at the very least, forgotten or casually ignored for convenience’s sake Church history, doctrine, dogma and precepts.

Zmirak

Overtly, one need look no further than recent WikiLeaks’ revelations concerning John Podesta and company’s desire for a “Catholic spring;” the Affordable Care Act’s attempted bulldozing of religious liberties; the media and its “green” allies embracement of many of the pronouncements found in Pope Francis’ Laudato Si encyclical; government compulsion of florists and pastry chefs to violate their respective religious conscience; the tragic abortion morass wrought by the Supreme Court’s discovery of an unknown until 1973 penumbra of privacy in the U.S. Constitution; and the combined deleterious effects on the family unit caused by the twinning of the sexual revolution with no-fault divorce.

Less obvious are efforts within the Church itself, which include nuns, laity and clergy promoting government wealth-redistribution efforts under the guise of charity as well as engaging in ill-informed “environmental” activism that pose very real negative threats to the world’s poorest – and consistently contradict the Church’s explicit teachings on such matters. As your writer can attest, post-Vatican II Catholic school education did little to inform its students about the Deposit of the Faith due to focusing on such “social goods” as economic equality and using pop music lyrics to advance squishy theological concepts that tilted heavily toward socialism and pantheism. One need only close one’s eyes to recall the wheat-germ scented nuns of the 1970s agitating for more government programs.

It’s all enough to make someone stand athwart Christian history, yelling Stop! – and that someone is John Zmirak, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide® to Catholicism: The Most Politically Incorrect Institution in the World! (Regnery Publishing, 2016, 370 pp, $21.99). Those of us familiar with Zmirak’s other books and essays shouldn’t be surprised he wields a mighty pen and encyclopedic knowledge of Catholicism and many other topics when it comes to demolishing liberal shibboleths and the agendas to which they’re attached. (more…)

Today at The Federalist, Acton associate editor Sarah Stanley penned an article profiling an artist from North Korea who goes by the name of Sun Mu. This profile is inspired by a recent documentary that highlights the life of the artist. Sun Mu defected from the oppressive state in the late 1990s and since then has been creating art that depicts the story of his life in North Korea.  In order to protect his family, Sun Mu can’t use his real name.  Stanley explains:

The most extraordinary thing about him is that the audience for his art mostly doesn’t know what he looks like, or what his real name is. Sun Mu still has family in North Korea, so he never shows his face in public. His real identity is a closely guarded secret. He insists hiding in plain sight is not a form of thrill-seeking. He puts himself in real danger simply because he was “destined” to become Sun Mu (a phrase meaning “no boundaries”).

When Sun Mu first defected from North Korea he made his way to China where he was first exposed to a society other than the tyrannical state of his home country. Stanley explains his experience:

The most surprising thing he noticed when he arrived in China was the lights. “The glittering lights,” Sun Mu says. “Plastic bags blowing in the winds. Is this rotten capitalism? Is this the rotten capitalism the North has been talking about? Why are so many lights on?” He even began to wonder if he was hallucinating. There couldn’t be that many working lights glittering all over. For at least a decade after he defected, he continued to believe the lies perpetuated by Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong Il, propaganda that said capitalism made other countries worse.

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virtual-choir-whitacre-water-nightThe rise of globalization and the expansion of trade are continuously decried for their disruptive effects, particularly as they apply to “authentic community.”

Indeed, our strides in global connectedness have often come at a local cost, with the small and familiar being routinely replaced by the big and blurry, the intimate with the superficial, and so on. The shift is real and widespread, but it needn’t be the framework of the future.

Disruption is sure to continue as collaboration expands and innovation accelerates around the globe. But while we’re right to be cautious of the merits of such change, we mustn’t forget the opportunities it presents, not just for our economy or personal wellbeing, but for community itself.

Examples of these fruits abound and surround us, from trade to technology to niche hobbies to global missions and so forth, but I was reminded of it recently while watching a “virtual choir” performance by Eric Whitacre, the famous composer and conductor.

Known best for his choral works, Whitacre continues to leverage the technological tools of globalization to gather singers from around the world, each submitting an individual video to contribute to a massive global choir. (more…)

A few weeks ago in connection with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, I looked at Lex Luthor as the would-be crony capitalist über Alles, and pointed to Bruce Wayne along with Senator Finch as the economic and political counterpoints to such corruption, respectively.

In this week’s Acton Commentary, Daniel Menjivar looks more closely at Bruce Wayne as representative of aristocratic virtue, the capitalist hero to Luthor’s crony capitalist villain. And while, as Menjivar concludes, “In cape and cowl he is a true hero, the Dark Knight. But in suit and tie, Bruce Wayne is the quintessential capitalist superhero, a shining example of corporate nobility,” Menjivar also notes that Wayne is an imperfect hero.

Threat Bruce Wayne“One clear fault is Bruce’s assumption that by simply fulfilling the material needs of the survivors he has done his part. This is most clearly evidenced in the character of Wallace Keefe, the very man that Bruce Wayne pulled from the rubble of the Wayne building in Metropolis. Wallace loses his legs in the aftermath of the battle, however, he refuses and returns all of Bruce Wayne’s checks,” writes Menjivar.
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In an earlier post I compared the political economy of superheroes in the DC and Marvel universes. And today I have a piece up at The Stream examining the figure of Lex Luthor, the crony capitalist villain featured in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

LexCorp (more…)

This year will deliver major superhero ensemble films that provide alternative views of the limitations and proper exercise of power. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice premiered this spring to uneven reviews, and Captain America: Civil War is due out later this summer. As Charlie Jane Anders has observed, these films offer a noteworthy message to our contemporary situation. “These films are all about a man with superpowers and colorful clothes, and the question of whether he (and his friends, in Civil War) have too much power and too little accountability,” writes Anders.
batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justiceThe differences that promise to be on offer between the DC and Marvel explorations of power and its limits have something to teach us about the vigilance required of those in power. In the DC universe, Batman worries about the corruption of Superman and the dangers represented abuse of superpowers. If there is even the slightest chance that Superman might be corrupted and turn evil, opines the Dark Knight, then we have to assume that as an absolute certainty and take steps, however harsh, to mitigate the threat and neutralize the risk.
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