Summa: diary (September 11-15, 2022)

I am resplendent in divergence (Robert Fripp, ‘Under Heavy Manners’, from God Save the Queen/Under Heavy Manners (1980))

September 11. This morning, one of my Facebook chums drew attention to an old Family Bible in the possession of a member from the site’s Abertillery Heritage group; they want to return the book to its rightful owners. Goodness knows how and why it had left my father’s family in the first place. The Bible’s registry includes the names of my great grandparents, my grandparents, Eunice (‘Nina’) and Trevor, and their children, Trevor (my father) and Daphne. Daphne died while giving birth to my cousin (who is the family’s historian and archivist); she was adopted by my grandparents, subsequently.

What is the world coming to?: John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols) tweets ‘Rest in Peace Queen Elizabeth II. Send her Victorious’ (which is noble, if not a little disappointing); Vladimir Putin sends his condolences on the passing of the monarch; and Brian Eno (musician, visual artist, and evangelical atheist speaks at this year’s Greenbelt Christian festival of artistry and activism.

September 12. The ten days of national mourning following the death of Queen Elizabeth II has been antidote to the froth, petulance, seething disdain, and crass superficiality of socially-mediated commentary. Gravitas and sobriety have moved centre stage. I’ve not known a time when one person’s Christian’s faith has been such a feature of the public discourse. This too will pass, and the endless stream of photographs and videos showing anthropomorphized animals will once again fill the vacuum. I’ve neither met nor seen the Queen in person. In death as in life she remains, for me, a televisual event primarily.

Following my discussions with the BBC on Friday, I reflected on the relationship between art and faith in my own work. The last time I’d done so — with any degree of awareness — was in the context of an interview conducted in 1984, at the close of my MA Visual Art studies. These days, I’m less dogmatic, over-earnest, and sure of my convictions in this regard. That is to say, over the years I’ve ceased to be so self-conscious about how these two important aspects of my life interact. I let them be.

Fundamentally, art and faith are independent. For one can make art without faith and have faith without making art. Nevertheless, they possess commonalities. Both arise out of a conviction regarding the nature of things (including oneself); engage the imagination; are in large measure inscrutable; evolve; admit to degree; and may save some (including myself) from themselves.

Together, art and faith have many manifestations. Art can represent the creeds, tenets, God, saints, prophets, martyrs, and other prominent people and beings associated with a religion; the scenes, events, and things mentioned in the scriptures; and the sacred sites and buildings devoted to communal worship. This has been the tradition of Christian art from the time of the catacombs to the present. However, the faith of the artist need not be expressed in terms of religious subject matter. Rather, it may be the attitude of gratitude for the gift, and a reverence toward God in its deployment, that makes up the religious aspect of their work. For the person of faith, creative practice is often undertaken as an act of worship. For example, the community at the monastery on Mount Athos in Greece speak of the icons they paint as being ‘prayed into existence’.

September 13-15. I began creating a database of references to sound in the Bible. This will enable me to develop a taxonomy of types, functions, and modes of acoustic phenomena.

There’s a motion to the nations’ days, presently, that’s somewhere between stasis and the slow crawl of that now familiar hearse which bore the late Queen’s body from Balmoral to Buckingham Palace. Late Tuesday evening, the vehicle’s illuminated interior made the Royal Standard flag that draped the coffin appear uncomfortably vivid. The sight fused elements normally associated with the cultures of street theatre and shop-front and museum display, while maintaining formality and seriousness.

I’ve been following this somber pageant — through the Scottish and English countryside, down dreary motorways, and along the crowd-strewn and eerily quiet streets of the metropolises — on one of my computer monitors (with the sound off), while I worked on another. Whatever your politics of privilege and power, you cannot ignore the historical moment.

Nevertheless, I observe the events of recent days at a critical distance. The splendour, spectacle, and emotional intensity of the monarchy — even at its best, as now — masks much that causes me unease. (But this not the time to parade personal prejudices.) My own politics is hybrid, idiosyncratic, and mutable. It comprises elements drawn from Christian Socialism, Welsh Labour, cultural Marxism, the Sermon on the Mount, and early-Christian communalism. When I pray ‘thy Kingdom come’, my expectation is that a new social order — distinguished by, for example, equity, dignity, and magnanimity — will one day prevail. My responsibility is usher it in through my own inadequate and inconsistent actions in this present faltering world.

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