Maybe even that does not help, so I''m reproducing the review.


The Spiritual in Poetry and Art

A More Beautiful Question: The Spiritual in Poetry and Art . Glenn Hughes.
Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2011. Copyright © 2011 Lee

Concerned with how art, and especially poetry, can serve as a vehicle of
spiritual expression and orientation in today’s culture, Glenn Hughes’ A
More Beautiful Question adopts the philosophies of Lonergan and Voegelin to
contend that spiritual concerns remain a vibrant part of western culture
but are no longer located in mainstream religions and their teaching. The
growth of alternative religious symbolism and teaching and the popularity
of fundamentalist religious movements attest that the crisis of faith of
the last century is one of disorientation rather than dislocation.
Spiritual and religious self-understanding and expression may have been
culturally marginalized or politically channeled into Gnostic ideologies or
religious fanaticism but spiritual yearning and religious commitment
continue to exist in human affairs because it is a permanent part of our

For Hughes, art, at least great art, speaks from and to our spiritual
apprehensions and can remind us of our spiritual natures in our cultural
life. Because poetry is fundamentally symbolic in its form, it possesses
the capacity to suggest the incommensurable and unknowable of the
transcendence and thereby reawaken the spiritual experiences that gave rise
to the symbols and stories of poetry in the first place. In his book,
Hughes plans to demonstrate how art, and particularly poetry, may help us
recognize and sustain a balanced spiritual orientation in the present

But before looking at poetry, Hughes spends the first two chapters laying
down the theoretical foundations to analyze it. In the first chapter,
“Childhood, Transcendence, and Art,” Hughes explores the spiritual function
of art in contemporary culture by describing the historical transformation
of the discovery of transcendence and how this discovery parallels our own
experiences as we make the transition from childhood to adulthood. As
children, we experience reality as the unity of the cosmos permeated with a
sense of the mysterious and transcendence; as adults we develop a
sophisticated understanding of this source of mystery and transcendence
while trying to retain our child-like sense of wonder towards reality. For
Hughes, appreciating this aspect of the existential journey out of
childhood provides the basis for an understanding how art can sustain a
spiritually-rich adult life.

The second chapter, “Spiritual Functions of Art,” explores how formal
structures of art evokes a wholeness of reality and thereby suggest a
dimension of transcendent meaning; and how the content of art reminds us
that we are spiritual creatures. Specifically Hughes looks at Lonergan’s
treatment of art, which focuses on fact and potentialities of freedom, and
combines it with Voegelin’s concept of the metaxy – the “in-between”
existence between immanence and transcendence – as an analytical tool to
understand art. The task of art therefore is to reawaken the spiritual
capacities of people in a culture dominated by materialism, flatten
psychological experiences, and religious fanaticism.

The next three chapters explore three poets whom Hughes believes their
poetry evokes one’s existence in the metaxy and affirm human participation
with transcendence. In the third chapter on Hopkins, Hughes argues that
Hopkins’ poetry was focused on communicating the experience of the
transcendence in the finite world and gave particular attention to the
Incarnation of Christ. Creation for Hopkins is participation in the divine
Word of God which made all things. Unlike conceptualized language,
Hopkins’s poetry is representative of Lonergan’s concept of elemental
meaning: a primordial, concrete, and densely compacted expression that is
symbolic in nature and alludes to the reality of transcendence. Struggling
to find a language that express this elemental meaning, Hopkin experimented
with poetic forms and language that broke free from the Victorian poetic
diction of his period. Although the form of his poetry was modern, the
content of his poetry was decidedly traditional or spiritual in its attempt
to express human existence and participation in the world.

After Hopkins, Hughes looks at Emily Dickinson’s poetry as records of
ecstatic or transfigured moments in which transcendence is experienced and
leads her to explore further the human situation as one of longing and
striving for transcendence in the metaxy. Dickinson was engaged in the
recovery of genuine spiritual experience in her poetry and pushed aside the
religious dogmatism and emotional sentimentalism of her time. In her
accounts of spiritual paradoxes, uncertainty, and suffering, Dickinson
performed this recovery of transcendence in experimental form and as an
exercise of self-examination and self-imposed social isolation.

Hughes brings us into the twentieth century with an examination of T.S.
Eliot’s Four Quartets. This poem presents us a portrait of what it means to
be a spiritual realist in the contemporary world. By exploring human
existence in the metaxy, Eliot presented a perspective of humans striving
that balances immanent and transcendent concerns in their lives and being
open to sources of transcendence outside the Christian tradition. For
Hughes, Eliot’s poetry is the artistic counterpart of Voegein’s philosophy
of consciousness and provides us the foundation from which child- like
experiences can be invoked and recalled within us.

The book also has an introduction and conclusion that summarizes the themes
that Hughes explores in philosophy and poetry. Although portions of it has
been printed elsewhere, Hughes’ A More Beautiful Question provides us a
theoretically approach to poetry that is both illuminating and thematically
consistent. For those who are interested in poetry, its capacity to express
spiritual longing, and its role in contemporary culture, Hughes’ book is an
excellent source to understand and explore these questions.

Having said that, I have one minor point about the book that I wished
Hughes would have explored further. The relationship between poetry and
philosophy that Hughes presents is one of compatibility. However, this
position is contrary to most of western philosophy starting with Socrates
who exile the poets from the city in The Republic. Although I recognize
this book is not about the quarrel between philosophy and poetry per se, I
do think Hughes should at least acknowledge that more recent philosophy’s
acceptance of poetry as a legitimate source of knowledge (which includes
thinkers like Lonergan and Voegelin) is something new and explain why this
change has occurred.

But this is a minor quibble. Hughes’ A More Beautiful Question is a
philosophically-sound, textually-driven account of how poetry can provide
us spiritual orientation in the culture today. The decline of mainstream
religion is not an indication of spiritual diminishment but rather one of
disorientation where people look to religious fundamentalism or Gnostic
ideologies for existential meaning. Hughes proposes poetry, at least great
poetry, as a third choice for our culture to orient itself properly. To
point this out and to propose this as an alternative to the illegitimate
forms of ideology and fundamentalism is one of the great contributions this
book makes in our culture and understanding of it.

On Sat, Feb 4, 2017 at 2:11 PM Chanan Mittal <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> Let me forward the original message to me, Ken.
> Hope everyone gets it here.
> Regards,
> CR
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