A review of Cosmopolitics
Claude Le Fustec
This selection of essays is drawn from the international conference entitled “Transdisciplinary Approaches to Spirituality in Contemporary Western Arts and Literatures” held at Rimouski University (Quebec) in May 2015 during the ACFAS Congress. It was convened by Theorias, an international and transdisciplinary network of researchers aiming at theorizing spirituality, which was officially created in 2012 in the wake of a first conference on “Transdisciplinary Approaches to Spirituality in the Arts and Sciences” held in Nice (France) in June 2011. Like the Nice conference, the one in Rimouski meant to approach the spiritual in theoretical terms so as to make it a valid term for scientific use in secular academic circles.
Accordingly, the six contributions selected strive to construct conceptual frameworks that might accommodate the experiential nature of the spiritual in the context of art and literature. While the first three are devoted to both classic artistic genres, such as painting and music, and more contemporary artistic practices like performing and installation art, the last three focus on literature, with a concluding one about drama, at the juncture of performance and literature.
Danielle Boutet provides an excellent introduction to this selection of papers when she states that “if the spiritual is an experience, then this means that it is not dependent on any specific content, but relies on form.” As she proceeds to show, by quoting a wide array of artists, investigating the spiritual in art entails exploring an artistic experience (not abstract thought), i.e a specific relationship to artistic form. She contends that such a relationship is spiritual when it both makes matter into meaning and opens up our awareness.
Philippe Filliot speaks to a similar kind of experience when referring to the personal, self-transforming artistic practices of four artists, Tania Mouraud, Marina Abramović, Béatrice Balcou, Fabienne Verdier, who have all made meditation central to their art. A reflexive practice making both artists and spectators aware of their own mental processes, meditation also seems a good description of James Turrell’s art according to Daniel Proulx, who holds that Turrell’s installations make you aware of your own perceptual powers. They even inspire Daniel Proulx to suggest four characteristics of spiritual experience, based on a preliminary survey of ways that perception and the nature of being have been conceptualized in philosophy. This, in turn, points to the relevance of notions like “levels of reality.”
If meditative reflexivity seems the crux of the spiritual in art, Claude Le Fustec suggests that the form, or structure, of a piece of fiction may also give rise to a spiritual type of experience for a reader of literature. So she turns to Northrop Frye’s “kerygmatic mode” and Jacques Derrida’s “messianic” as helpful theoretical tools to examine the spiritual potential of the literary.
Catherine Rapenne, for her part, tracks the persistence of romantic themes in literature, painting and cinema, as evidence of the spiritual vitality of romanticism. Finally, Lydie Parisse turns to contemporary drama as the enactment of mystical apophatism. The implied equivalence between “mystical” and “spiritual” should be the subject of further debate. Still, Parisse’s study of current theatrical expressions of the via negativa speaks volumes about the extraordinary liberating force unleashed by the study of spirituality in the arts and literature, from both a hermeneutic and intellectual viewpoint. These, in a world torn between fundamentalism and unbelief, are very high stakes indeed.
The last section, « Debates and Documents » includes a lecture by Léo Moulin, a prestigious medievalist who once described the Dominican legislation as a « cathedral of constitutional law ». This lecture was delivered at the final session of the World Forum of International and Transnational Associations. It previously appeared in Transnational Associations, and highlights the relations between politics, religion and democracy, a topic dealt with in the last two issues of Cosmopolis, in a very original way.