Jeffrey Kosky, Washington & Lee University
Title: “Portraits of Enchanting Secularity: Notes on faces, prayers, and criticism for those disenchanted with disenchantment”
May 12, 2017
Ever since Max Weber, in 1917, famously characterized “the fate of our times” with the memorable phrase “the disenchantment of the world,” it has been customary to equate modernity, secularity, and disenchantment. One form this disenchantment takes is a cold, critical spirit that pervades modern life in general and academic writing in particular. But a significant number of people, both inside and outside the university, have grown “disenchanted with disenchantment” and are seeking alternatives to it.
This lecture takes portraits made by the contemporary painter Y.Z. Kami as an entry point for a set of considerations that aims to break the connection of disenchantment and modern secularity. Culminating in an exhibition provocatively entitled “Endless Prayers,” Kami’s painting of faces explores counter-moods such as serenity and peace, or counter-states-of-minds such as prayerfulness and contemplativeness, or counter-ways-to-be such as tenderness and vulnerability. These ways of being in the world are largely dismissed by our commonly disenchanted disposition; they are similarly absent from the professional critics’ consideration of modern art. The lecture concludes by identifying a need for another form of criticism and suggesting that religious texts and authors might provide a valuable resource from which those secular critics interested in learning how to cultivate a spirited response other than that of the disenchanted critic might benefit.