The Ends of Literature – Apocalypse and the Power and Boundaries of Art
The relation of literature towards reality has been a topic of controversial debate since the times of Aristotle. It was Plato’s contention that poets are liars because of their inability to capture the true essence of an object. Aristotle countered, that man is an artificer and in this aspect resembles nature which creates ceaselessly. In his opinion art is only one of the many forces producing the new and thus enriching reality. This controversy still seems to influence today’s poetological debates. Is art relevant? Does it deliver truths? Can the artist claim access to privileged knowledge? Where does inspiration come from? The Postmodern era more than any other time is prone to the self-scrutinizing of art through art. In a context where there are no certain truths anymore, the very concept of authenticity in art or communication has been shattered. Authors meet with this reality by a poetological exploration of the abilities of literature and the role of the poet. In this endeavor, the apocalypse can function as a pattern since it is itself deeply concerned with the transmission of fundamental truths, the creation of authority in the speaking voice and the authenticity of the message. In my presentation I am going to show how two postmodern authors – Samuel Beckett and Hans Magnus Enzensberger – use the apocalypse as a pattern for the exploration of truth and authenticity in literature. I will discuss this topic on the basis of Becket’s Fin de Partie and Enzensbergers Der Untergang der Titanic.
The Apocalypse of Stanley: Authenticity and Millennium in Stanley Spencer’s Resurrection Paintings
The religious belief informing Stanley Spencer’s (1891-1959) paintings has been widely recognised, to the extent that it is something of a cliché to refer to Spencer as ‘visionary’. The artist’s highly subjective artwork combined his idiosyncratic Christian philosophy with his imaginative interpretive ability and the experiences that were familiar to him. Yet the most significant engagement Spencer made in his paintings with religious subjects was with the Christian conception of the eschaton – of which the most prominent examples are the Resurrection paintings that were produced in earnest throughout his mature career.
The significance of the Resurrection subject has never been given full expression. His monumental early Resurrection paintings from the 1920s clearly visualise the Last Day, however subsequent examples frequently incorporated a sexual dimension that has problematized the reading of the work’s religious content. Art historical scholarship has accordingly focused on Spencer’s biography and the sexual character of his artworks, with the theological dimension having largely been marginalised.
This paper argues that the Resurrection subject, as conceptualised by Spencer, is a symbolic event rather than an allusion, and that it became the principal means for Spencer to articulate his desire for renewal and reconciliation after the tribulation of the Great War. By reconciling the Resurrection paintings and restoring the religious content, it is possible to revise the critical perspective rooted in the artist’s apparent eccentricities, and unveil a distinct theological vision: Spencer’s Resurrection paintings constitute a manifesto for realising the millennium.