First and foremost, I apologize for the dearth of posts lately. I had to take a medical leave this semester (yes, I was very sick; and yes, I am fine now) and as a result all non-essential activities (as well as some essential activities) were sacrificed. But I’m happy to be back online to share some news about the podcast.
Second, I have a new institutional partner and affiliation! Although I am still releasing a few episodes over the coming months with support from the John Templeton Foundation, going forward next year it will be underwritten by The Institute for Human Ecology, which is a research institute housed at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. The IHE is a multi-disciplinary institute that supports work focused on questions about the nature of human flourishing, so it fits well with my own work. The IHE has made me a faculty fellow and will continue to support the podcast for as long as it continues to have a loyal following.
Third, the blog has recently been featured on the American Philosophical Association’s blog. You can read the whole blog post here. One thing this post does is finally explain my choice of image for the podcast’s logo.
Here’s an excerpt from the blog post:
“The logo features a striking image of a battle between divine and earthly love by the Roman artist Giovanni Baglione. Baglione’s painting makes explicit reference to a famous depiction of Cupid by his contemporary Caravaggio, titled amor vincit omnia. In Caravaggio’s painting, Cupid towers triumphantly over the scattered symbols of human striving, clutching his arrows with an impish grin. The title of Caravaggio’s famous piece comes from Virgil’s Eclogues; the full quote it references is “omnia vincit amor; et nos cedamus amori,” which is often translated as, “love conquers all; let us all yield to love.” Although we now associate this phrase with the romantic platitude that only love can overcome all obstacles and divisions, Virgil’s words come from the mouth of the heart sick Gallus, who is conquered by love (Gallus, in anguish from eros unsatisfied, kills himself after uttering these famous last words).
Baglione is playing with these themes in his painting; he responds to Caravaggio’s playful Cupid with a piece that depicts the superior power and triumph of divine over earthly love. Baglione’s image is not hard to interpret, but it has a deeper meaning; Baglione is speaking toCaravaggio directly in his painting—in fact, he is attacking and provoking him (note that the devil’s face bears a non-accidental resemblance to Caravaggio). Baglione and Caravaggio were bitter rivals in the competitive world of Roman art. Although Baglione knowingly imitates Caravaggio’s distinctive style, his admiration is tinged with a jealous envy of Caravaggio’s manifestly superior talent and fame. The painting is (no doubt unintentionally) simultaneously a representation of the triumph of sacred love and a testament to the potential for profane love to lead us into folly and ruin. For it is Baglione’s worldly ambition—his craving for recognition and power as an artist—that creates the bitter resentment and jealousy that constitutes the painting’s deeper meaning. Ironically, Baglione’s depiction of the ultimate triumph of sacred love announces to the world that its creator has been conquered by profane ambition; in attempting to accuse Caravaggio, Baglione unwittingly implicates himself.
I love Baglione’s painting because it captures the central thrust of my podcast in deliciously ironic fashion, which is to explore the relation between love, virtue, happiness, and life’s purpose or meaning. In each episode we explore how and what we love can conquer in two distinct senses: when well-ordered through the cultivation of virtue, love can help us to conquer ourselves so that we can lead deeply happy lives, but when disordered, love can conquer us, by making us jealous, wrathful, selfish, lustful, and overcome with despair. Moreover, the layers of meaning in the painting—intended and unintended—brings out the fact that we bring our own lives to art, whether as creators or consumers. As someone who thinks of art as a central aspect of human experience, I am interested in the fact that how we look at and interpret art determines how we are affected by it, and how this, in turn, is inevitably bound up in our own life experience; this interpretive and affective dynamic includes most especially our own experiences of passionate desire—its perils and its promise, its profane and sacred dimensions. It is the power of the artist’s representation of love to transform us in a deep and permanent way that interests me—how art potentially shapes our character by changing our imaginative landscape, thereby helping to shape how we ourselves think, feel, and desire.
I have talked about art and morality, but my podcast focuses on literature in particular. I wanted to turn to literature because I believe that it is a very specific mode of access to the truth, especially moral truth. Whereas philosophical theory operates at the level of the abstract and general, literature operates in the particular and the concrete. So, while the philosopher can demonstrate the essential structure of vice, the novelist can show us how vice works to destroy the life of a particular person in a particular way. The novelist operates, not at the level of judgment and belief, but at the level of imagination and perception, which brings us closer to the realm of personal choice and action. I also think that literature is one of the best sources for our knowledge of human nature, which I think is a kind of general self-knowledge. Fiction expands the moral imagination such that we see reflections of ourselves and our own lives in the characters we come to invest ourselves in; in this way it often serves to reveal to us some uncomfortable truths about ourselves. This recognition can serve to correct some of our deep-seated tendencies towards self-deception.”
I’ve got upcoming episodes on Goethe’s Faust and Shakespeare’s King Lear, so fans of the podcast–especially those who take the time to write to me about it–thanks for your patience and stay tuned for new episodes soon!