Friday, April 09, 2004

Paglia on Images

The last living pagan in Western captivity, Camille Paglia, writes a dense and intriguing column on images and the media culture in Front Page Magazine. Along with the standard (though certainly valid) point that electronic media have minimized students' appreciation and comprehension of the written word, Paglia discusses the growing illiteracy of images themselves.

One sentence that caught my attention was the following: "Images from the Middle Ages, aside from elegant French Madonnas and Notre Dame's gargoyles and flying buttresses, have proved less successful in my experience than the frankly carnal images of the Italian Renaissance." This suggests to me that the frequent Puritan trope that the middle ages was a predominantly visual culture, as opposed to the protestant emphasis on the written word, may be less than accurate. The iconography of the medieval period required an understanding of the doctrines of the church and the stories of biblical history in order to understand the images.

This is consistent with the Christian incarnational and sacramental view of the world. Human life cannot be comprehended from either a pagan (i.e. carnal) or a secular (i.e. cerebral) perspective alone. Both body and spirit must be united for man to find his place in God's order.

No comments: