Tuesday, July 28, 2015

David Morgan

David Morgan is Professor of Religious Studies at Duke University, with a secondary appointment in the Department of Art, Art History, and Visual Studies. He is the author of The Embodied Eye: Religious Visual Culture and the Social Life of Feeling and The Sacred Gaze: Religious Visual Culture in Theory and Practice, and coeditor of the journal Material Religion.

Morgan's new book is The Forge of Vision: A Visual History of Modern Christianity.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
At the moment I am reading three deeply suggestive books, classics in their own right: Friedrich Schiller’s Aesthetic Education of Man (1795), Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens (1950), and Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment (1976). The three work together very well because at the heart of each is a rich appreciation of the nature of play. This is directly relevant for my current book project, whose title is Images at Work: The Material Culture of Enchantment. Schiller argued that human beings are most human when they are at play, and he understood art generally as a form of play. Huizinga took up this idea and came to regard play as fundamental to human culture. He produced a searching reflection that is broadly informed by the history of philosophy, poetry, myth, and language. Bettelheim brings to the examination of fairy tales his work as a psychoanalyst of children, arguing that fairy tales are powerful instruments for children to engage the welter of dark, inchoate forces of the psyche in creative interpretation, investing them in symbols children are able to manipulate and therefore use to resolve on their own terms the tensions that might otherwise haunt them.

All of these writers work with a deep understanding of the tradition of thought and art shaped by German Romanticism and Idealist philosophy. The irrational side of life gets attention in this tradition, whether it is the violence and horror of Grimm’s Fairy Tales or the seething, impetuous Id of Freudian psychoanalysis. That means that enchantment in my project is a way of resisting the temptation to insist that human experience be resolved in rationally coherent terms. Sometimes that works, but often it does not. Enchantment, a playful indulgence in the virtual space of different kinds of ritual absorption, is a pervasive set of strategies and material devices—from games to art to good luck charms to religious techniques of penance and devotion—that make life work in spite of its paradoxes and persistent incongruities.
Learn more about The Forge of Vision at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue