Monday, December 18, 2006

Paul Tillich's Theology of Indie Rock I

I think this will have to become a mini-series (not the 36-part kind), because the more I think about it the more interesting it becomes.

As I wrote in this post, Tillich developed quite a Theology of Art, unique in many ways. Now, modern art is not my forte, but while reading about Tillich's theology of art (in Russel Re Manning's study Theology at the End of Culture, Peeters 2005.), I've been constantly relating what I read to some of my favourite bands (You can find the whole list of what I listen to here).

Tillich asked what makes some art religious. No actually, what he was really asking was "Where can we find religion today", but I'll leave that question to the side for the moment. I'm rephrasing this question: "Of the various bands I listen to a lot, why are there some that I would say have a religious quality to them (you might prefer the word spiritual), and others that I would never dream to claim they have that quality?

As I wrote in my post on religious art, Tillich distinguishes between Inhalt and Gehalt. No in rock music, Inhalt would be the actual narrative of the lyrics. Old music reviews often mention this. I remember an early review of "Lucy in the Sky wit Diamonds" that effectively said that "this is a song about a girl named Lucy"! Ok, maybe that example is too extreme... Take this Smiths song.
A dreaded sunny day
so I meet you at the cemetery gates
Keats and Yeats are on your side
while Wilde is on mine

So we go inside and we gravely read the stones
all those people all those lives
where are they now ?
with loves, and hates
and passions just like mine
they were born
and then they lived and then they died

which seems so unfair
and I want to cry
There is a (rather low-quality) recording of the song here.

Now, the Inhalt of this song is about walking in a graveyard looking at the gravestones (and about plagiarism). The Gehalt, however talks about something much deeper, about alienation, mortality, but also about friendship of those that do not feel accepted by society.

Any work of art has Gehalt to a lesser or higher degree. But what, according to Tillich, sets religious art apart from non-religious art is that in religious art the Gehalt is somehow in focus.

For Tillich the Inhalt is really of little concern, what is important is the relation between the Gehalt and the Form of the piece of art. For a work of art to be considered religious, form and Gehalt must be related and in harmony. If the Form becomes the focus, then the Gehalt is easily destroyed,

It is important to be aware that the religious is not the only quality a piece of art can have. Tillich doesn't say that the religious is a more true criteria for analysing art than for example beauty. It's just one aspect.

Tillich goes on to categorize various styles of art according to this criteria, and this is what I will do in my next post.

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