A literary style, darkly
| Gabriel |
The core theoretical statement of my recent Oscars article with Esparza and Bonacich (ungated version) is:
This mismatch between the essentially collaborative nature of most arts and the essentially individualistic nature of most awards provides us analytic leverage to see how individual achievements are assessed when critical observers have access only to the collaborative efforts within which these achievements are embedded. We do not see individual talent face to face, but through the glass darkly of social context and team effort.
In the course of getting this article to publication, I’ve found a lot of people don’t like the phrase “glass darkly.” I think the real issue is simply that they aren’t familiar with the reference to the KJV of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (Chapter 13):
Given that many people don’t get the reference, why use it? Basically, I believe in literary style which is why I didn’t ditch it the first time somebody misinterpreted it or said it sounds weird. I can break down the style issue into a few parts:
- It powerfully expresses the idea that our awareness is limited, whether that be a limitation on the ability to perceive the kingdom of God in Paul’s example or the limited ability to perceive individual merit in my example. This idea of the limits of perception is the usual meaning of the phrase “glass darkly” and is why Philip K. Dick, among many others, has worked with the reference.
- One of the running themes in the paper is the charismatic nature of art, and the several religious allusions (“consecration,” “Matthew Effect,” “Advent,” “glass darkly”) in the paper help set the tone that we’re dealing with something transcendent and not wholly rational. This is why we didn’t use the slightly more familiar secular reference of “shadows in a cave.”
- 1 Corinthians 13 KJV is a beautiful and relatively familiar passage from one of the core documents of the Western tradition and I have a normative and aesthetic belief that both the Bible and the secular classics ought to remain in the cultural repertoire. In this sense, if some people don’t recognize the reference it makes it all the more important to use it, as an act of cultural preservation.
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