Searching for Jehanne

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I was born in the village of Domremy, Susan Aurinko. On exhibit at LUMA (Loyola University Museum of Art) in Chicago.

 

In 2013, Chicago artist Susan Aurinko visited a 12th century chateau in France’s Loire Valley that was once the temporary home of Joan of Arc. Aurinko returned again and again to photograph the actual places where Joan of Arc once lived or visited, using these layered images to explore Joan’s passion, from her inspired childhood to her military victories, brief political triumph, capture, suffering, and martyrdom. The photographic exhibit of Aurinko’s work at the Loyola Museum of Art in Chicago, “Searching for Jehanne: The Joan of Arc Project,” suggests the ways Joan lives on as a cultural and religious icon, preserved in sculpture, film, and popular memory. Many of the photographs in the exhibit are images of statues of Joan praying or striding triumphantly with her banner, superimposed on dark, churchlike interiors. Other photographs show wistful little girls with faraway eyes standing in the woods or next to rural outbuildings. Some images show teenaged young women in chainmail looking devout and vulnerable. These images float towards viewers with varying levels of immediacy, yet because all are housed in thick, dark, ornate frames, we are reminded of Joan’s distance and separation from us by time and constructed memory. Joan’s words, taken from her trial transcripts, accompany each photograph as a kind of narration or inner monologue.

These various photographic images of Joan—some as hard and remote as a marble statue, some as immediate and moving as a little child peering out through her own windblown hair—remind us that Joan is made and remade for us by religion, the state, and the media, but that we also make Joan what we need her to be. Here Joan is emotional, vulnerable, naïve, and devout, swept up inexorably by forces beyond her control that she cannot fully understand. Joan is also unswerving, courageous, and inspired, a person of frankness, conviction, and great integrity who survived not only the medieval battlefield but months of imprisonment, including physical hardship and deprivation, psychological torture, and probable sexual assault at the hands of military captors and religious tormentors.

Looking at these images inspired by Joan, their subject suspended so near, yet fixed at a distance by dark frames of culture and history, I am reminded of Vita Sackville-West’s Saint Joan of Arc, a biography written in the 1930s by one of England’s most prominent women writers, an admirer and self-confessed nonbeliever who eventually admits to new-found respect for miracles and the supernatural as a result of her research into Joan’s life. Like Aurinko’s photographs bringing us close to Joan yet insisting on our inability to really know her, Sackville-West’s biography alternates between feminizing Joan and marveling at the alien nature of her saintly masculinity. Sackville-West attributes Joan’s shrewdness to “feminine intuition,” and downplays the physical vigor that allowed Joan to spend nearly a week in armor without taking it off even to sleep. She dwells on Joan’s frequent tears: “She was, in fact, emotional, and wept copiously at every possible opportunity—as queer a mixture of feminine and masculine attributes as ever relentlessly assaulted the enemy and then must cry on seeing him hurt.”[1] She notes that witnesses described Joan’s impatience as that of “a woman great with child,”[2] and in her biography she sometimes calls Joan “a girl dressed up.”[3] Such strategies are perhaps designed to bring Joan nearer to people who want their saints to be more “normal,” more intelligible as properly-gendered, tender-hearted beings.

At the same time, Sackville-West acknowledges the things about Joan that distance her from the ways many people still think young girls should feel and act. She finds it to be incontrovertible that Joan possessed the gift of prophecy; she also marvels, with nearly religious wonder, that Joan leapt 60 or 70 feet from a tower trying to escape her captors, yet emerged unharmed. She guesses that the Dauphin Charles must have found Joan an “alarming savior,”[4] and imagines that because Joan “was not really a soldier at all; she was not even a man,”[5] she must have had an “astonishing effect”[6] on the troops.

Sackville-West is most impressed by Joan’s courage in leaving her childhood and her village to move beyond the familiar, and seems pleased that unlike many saints, Joan never used expressions like “my heavenly Spouse,” or “my Betrothed.” Sackville-West writes:

She is the least sentimental of saints, and the most practical . . . She is too heroic and bracing to appeal intimately to the average mind. She makes the mistake of being always something over life-size; something which, however much she may command admiration and respect, can never be loved in quite the same personal way as the more human saints.[7]

I laughed when I first read this passage, in part because it is funny, but also because this sentiment about Joan is a common one. Joan remains a strange saint for many people. Despite the extraordinary record we possess of her actual words at her trial, she can seem oddly unknowable. Is this because she leaves her girlhood behind? Is her tender girlhood the thing we cling to as familiar and knowable, because her warrior’s ruthlessness seems too harsh? Sackville-West’s characterization of Joan’s heroically virtuous nature as a “mistake” is a humorous jab at conventional notions that it is more important for a woman to be loved than it is for her to do great things. As these words suggest, it is this ability to be loved that is so reassuring; a woman who does great things without being especially lovable is terrifying. When Sackville-West finally allows herself to imagine Joan as a warrior, she calls her “The Maid,” the title given her by the common people signifying Joan’s status as the figure of myth destined to deliver France from English occupation: “no soft saintly girl, but a stern and angry young captain with very definite ideas of her own,”[8] and “that inexplicable character, the girl-boy captain—La Pucelle.”[9]

Contemplating Joan’s martyrdom allows tenderness and pity to soften Sackville-West’s sense of Joan’s strangeness. Deeply moved by Joan’s death, Sackville-West notes that “many wept,” and notes the care for others Joan demonstrated in warning the priest holding a crucifix for her to get down off her burning pyre. As her biography nears its close, Sackville-West recounts the miracles surrounding Joan’s death without a trace of skepticism—the name of Jesus writ large in the flames, the English soldier who saw a white dove fly out of the fire and wing its way towards France, the executioner traumatically frightened by the refusal of Joan’s heart to burn.

Similarly, Susan Aurinko’s pictures at LUMA also suggest a figure we never quite know, yet who fascinates and moves us. The mystery of Joan’s nature, of virtuous courage at the intersection of human and divine, is the essence of Joan’s appeal, and this sense of mystery pervades these photographs and this installation.

 

The show runs through October 21, 2017 at the Loyola University Museum of Art, 820 North Michigan Avenue. Admission is free through November 11, 2017.

On October 17 from 6:00 to 7:30, LUMA will host a panel with University of Chicago Professor Françoise Meltzer, author of For Fear of the Fire: Joan of Arc and the Limits of Subjectivity; Loyola University Chicago professor Bren Ortega Murphy; and artist Susan Aurinko on “Joan of Arc in Contemporary Culture,” a conversation about the lasting legacy and cultural significance of this venerated saint. For more information go to: https://www.luc.edu/luma/education_outreach/publicprogramsandevents/paneldiscussionjoanofarcincontemporaryculture.shtml

 

[1] Vita Sackville-West, Saint Joan of Arc (New York: Doubleday, 1991), 11.

[2] Saint Joan of Arc, 89.

[3] Saint Joan of Arc, 149.

[4] Saint Joan of Arc, 112.

[5] Saint Joan of Arc, 149.

[6] Saint Joan of Arc, 149.

[7] Saint Joan of Arc, 335.

[8] Saint Joan of Arc, 154.

[9] Saint Joan of Arc, 162.


Jaime Hovey is Associate Program Director for Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, Prof. Jonathan Lear to give keynotes at conference

cardinal-and-learnews(From left): Cardinal Blase J. Cupich and Prof. Jonathan Lear will present the keynote talks.

Oct. 13 and 14 event caps Virtue, Happiness & the Meaning of Life project

By Andrew Bauld

After more than two years of research with collaboration between philosophers, religious thinkers and psychologists, the Virtue, Happiness & the Meaning of Lifeproject will present its findings at a capstone conference on Oct. 13 and 14, featuring keynote talks by Prof. Jonathan Lear and Cardinal Blase J. Cupich.

The conference culminates a project that brought scholars together from around the world to examine the enrichment of human life. Research in both the humanities and social sciences suggests that people who feel they belong to something bigger than themselves—be it family, a spiritual practice, or work in social justice—are often happier than those who do not. Scholars refer to the feeling as “self-transcendence.”

Panelists throughout both days, including scholars from religious studies, theology, philosophy, psychology, and economics, will discuss whether self-transcendence truly makes people happier and provides deeper meaning in human life.

Speakers from the University of Chicago include Candace Vogler, the David B. and Clara E. Stern Professor of Philosophy and co-principal investigator for the project; Marc Berman, assistant professor in psychology; and Tahera Qutbuddin, professor of Arabic literature.

“This conference serves to share our research with the broader community,” said Jennifer A. Frey, co-principal investigator, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina and formerly a scholar at the University of Chicago. “Our scholars from a variety of disciplines have reached similar conclusions about the essential role of self-transcendence in the general account of what makes for potential happiness and meaning in human lives. Our hope is that as this project winds down, we are only at the beginning of a new line of research.”

Lear, the John U. Nef Distinguished Service Professor in the Committee on Social Thought and the Department of Philosophy, will speak at 7 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Oriental Institute. His talk, titled “Gettysburg,” will look at the ethical difficulties of memorializing the dead and in particular the soldiers that died following the bloodiest battle of the U.S. Civil War.

Cardinal Cupich will speak at 6 p.m. Oct. 14 in the auditorium at the Law School. He will deliver a talk considering virtue in the context of building up the common good, titled “A Consistent Ethic of Solidarity: Transcending Self, Transforming the World.” President Robert J. Zimmer will introduce the cardinal.

“Cardinal Cupich has distinguished himself in his fundamental love of and concern for some of the most disadvantaged people in the city of Chicago,” said Vogler. “His call for solidarity is rooted in the genuine practice of solidarity, day in and day out.”

The conference is free and open to the public, but registration is required. To learn more, visit the Virtue, Happiness & the Meaning of Life website.

 

Candace Vogler to speak on moral relativism at Vanderbilt University October 5

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Our principal investigator Candace Vogler will be at Vanderbilt University October 5 to speak on moral relativism, hosted by the Thomistic Institute chapter in Nashville. Here is the abstract for her talk.

Moral Realism in a Climate of Moral Doubt

The thought that good is to be pursued, and bad is to be avoided is a basic condition on the intelligibility of animal movement generally.  We are intellectual animals—the kinds of animals that need to figure out what to pursue and how to go about pursuing it.  And this means that pursuit and avoidance are harder for us than they are for other kinds of animals.  For all that, making sense of what we go for and what we fear or flee operates in the context of some understanding of what is good for human beings.  These days, in the face of stark and shrill disagreement among thoughtful people about some of the most basic aspects of our lives, it can seem as though people have lost any clear, common understanding of human good.  Moral disagreement can seem completely intractable.  In this talk, I will look at some serious, likely intractable examples of profound moral disagreement, with an eye toward learning how to think about and engage these topics in the secure understanding that disagreement is partly a function of the challenges that intellectual animals face in trying to see what is good for them, urging a kind of modesty that does not require setting aside one’s own convictions.

Candace Vogler to speak on Happiness at Harvard University Sept 21-22

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Our principal investigator Candace Vogler will be at Harvard University September 21-22 to give a Graduate seminar and  Medical School seminar delving into topics such as Happiness, Virtue, Evil, and Doing Good. She will be hosted by the Thomistic Institute Graduate Chapter at Harvard University.

How to be Happy: Virtue and the Path to Human Happiness

Call both one’s efforts at being a good person and the ways of thinking, feeling, and responding to circumstances that develop while one works to be a good person ‘virtue.’  Let ‘human happiness’ pick out a pattern in one’s life marked by such connected and interrelated goods as love, health, strong family ties and friendships, intellectual engagement, interesting work, a reasonable measure of material security, optimism for one’s future, and availability to experiences of joy and peace.  On some traditional views, the development and exercise of good character—of virtue—is supposed to be enough to guarantee happiness.  On other views, traditional and more modern, virtue and happiness can come apart.  Both sorts of view share the idea that people want happiness.  Both sorts of view share the understanding that acting well can be costly.  In this talk, I will trace some of the tensions between virtue and happiness, urging that, while there may be no guarantee that the living will be easy when we work to be good human beings, the kinds of temporal happiness we can enjoy are only worth going for in the context of our efforts to be good people.

 

Good and the Privative Understanding of Evil

In this talk, I will think about bad things, and the ways in which we can apprehend and consider what is bad—both the kind of badness at issue in so-called “natural evils” like illness, injury, and some forms of suffering, and so-called “moral evils”—like injustice (with the understanding that moral evil can sometimes show itself in manmade natural evil).  It can seem like both sorts of bad function completely independently of the goods that they block, impede, prevent, or otherwise sabotage.  It can seem that way even if we don’t have unproblematic access to an account of what overall good might look like in the relevant area of human experience, life, or action.  I will take seriously the difficulty of giving an account of all-around goodness in specific areas of life, experience, and action, and argue that, nevertheless, any understanding of badness is parasitic on a grasp—however inchoate or indeterminate—of good.

 

Self-Other Concept in Humble Love As Exemplified by Long-Term Members of L’Arche

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We’re presenting a short series of abstracts of the work-in-progress our scholars presented and discussed at their June 2017 Working Group Meeting.

Robert C. Roberts is Professor of Ethics and Emotion Theory at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, and joint Chair with the Royal Institute of Philosophy. Michael Spezio is Associate Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience and head of the Laboratory for Inquiry into Valuation and Emotion (LIVE) at Scripps College in Claremont, CA.

After living for a significant period in l’Arche communities, people often experience a change of self-other concept. It is a character change in which, from conceiving self-other in a way that is typical for modern secular societies, members’ experience of self in relation to others is transformed under the reign of what we call humble love. Both before and after the transformation, the experience of self-other has the character of concern-based construal, but the terms of the two kinds of construal are mutually contrary. Following Jean Vanier, we call the ethos guiding the first self-other style of construal “the Normal” (he writes of “the tyranny of the Normal”). The leading concepts on which this ethos turns are success, competence, competition, advancement, achievement, power, superior-inferior, rival, reputation/recognition/ acclaim, and the like, as criteria for the evaluation of persons. Here the self is seen as in relation to the other/ others, but the relations are distancing, alienating, ones of rivalry, differential competence, superior achievement, competition for power, winner and loser, etc. The relations are not those within a community, in the strict sense, but rather within a social arena of agonistic differentiation. By contrast, the terms of self-other construals that are fostered by long-term living in l’Arche are characterized by commonality, mutuality, and reconciliation: brother/sister, friend, helper, colleague, forgiveness, love. Humble love combines two highly congruent and complementary virtues: humility and charity. The tyranny of the Normal erects “walls” that impede the mutuality construals of self-other that are characteristic of love. Humility, which dissipates or undermines the distancing, alienating self-other construals, brings down these walls, making way for the genuine communion of love with its characteristic self-other construals.

Candace Vogler to speak on the place of virtue in a meaningful life, at Valparaiso University September 15

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Candace Vogler will give a talk September 15 at Valparaiso University as part of their programming on the theme of the pan-humanities seminar taken by every freshman, and the theme this fall is “human meaning and purpose.” She will be hosted by the Department of Philosophy at Valparaiso University.

The Place of Virtue in a Meaningful Life

Call both one’s efforts at being a good person and the ways of thinking, feeling, and responding to circumstances that develop while one works to be a good person ‘virtue.’  Let a ‘meaningful’ life be a life imbued with a sense of purpose or significance—a life that is full, engaging, and engaged, where the fulness comes of something more than mere subjective interest and enthusiasm.  It can seem as though virtue and meaning have very little to do with each other.  Whatever sort of struggle might be involved in working to be a good human being can seem like something personal—an individual quest to have a beautiful character or a shining soul.  Having a meaningful life, on the other hand, looks like the sort of thing that will require that I go beyond the business of working toward having a lovely soul and into a larger world where I try to find things that are genuinely worth pursuing, and devote myself to their pursuit.  In this talk, I will work to bring the two together, partly by urging a different account of virtue, partly by developing a slightly more articulate account of meaning in human life, and always by drawing on work by Thomas Aquinas.

 

Racism and Negligence

 

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Torch-bearing white nationalists rally around a statue of Thomas Jefferson on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 11, 2017. (Edu Bayer/New York Times)

For those who thought the racial tensions that have long shaped the fault lines of American politics could continue to be ignored, Charlottesville was the seismic event that shook up this complacency. Like many an earthquake, much of the damage was not limited to the initial event; the political aftershocks have done equal, if not greater, damage. For when torch wielding Nazis and white supremacists march in large numbers, chanting racist slogans, screaming slurs, and threatening violence against minorities, when one of them drives his car into a crowd, killing one and injuring nineteen others, we should be able to expect our President, at the very least, to denounce them immediately and unequivocally. And yet this did not happen; incredibly, the opposite did.

 

Civility and a commitment to equality for all are American values that transcend partisan interests. We have a right to expect our leaders to form a government for everyone, and strive to keep the peace for all of the people. President Trump appeared to be trying to do this, denouncing “hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, many sides” (emphasis mine). However, this initial response was, as many have pointed out, disastrously off base: the bigotry was clearly on one side, and there is no moral equivalence between the promulgation of fascist and racist ideology and principled opposition to it. While the counter-protest was far from perfect, it was not worthy of our president’s equal condemnation.

 

Presidents are supposed to unify their citizens in times of crisis, but in the aftermath of Charlottesville the only thing that seemed to unify most Americans was disappointment in the president’s inability to carry out this vital task. In a rare moment of concession to his many critics, Trump later denounced the hate groups by name. But this rare act of humility was short-lived. Just a few days later Trump lashed out at the press and doubled down in defense of himself; notoriously, he even went so far as to claim that there were “some very fine people” involved in the “unite the right” rally. And just in case anyone doubted what his true priorities were, the following week Trump held a rally in Phoenix, not primarily aimed at defusing racial tensions or uniting a divided populace in turbulent times, but solely in defense and even celebration of his troubling remarks.

 

We are about a month on from Charlottesville; nuclear threats, destructive hurricanes, and football now dominate our news feeds, and it would be all to easy to forget about it. But forgetting about it is a kind of political negligence, a failure to give it the importance it deserves. Negligence is a too little considered feature of our moral and political life. It is also important to the analysis of what was so awful about Trump’s post-Charlottesville behavior.

 

Consider his defense of some of those marching for “historical preservation” in Charlottesville. Negligence is a key to grasping why these defenses are indefensible. Let us set aside the issue of whether it is legitimate to support confederate monuments, as it is beside the point. As is well known, the “unite the right” rally in Charlottesville was organized and promoted by white supremacist groups. The names listed to speak at the rally comprise a veritable who’s who of fascist and racist political leaders in America. These are men who openly admire Hitler, adopt Nazi imagery and rhetoric, and who advocate some form of racial apartheid in our country. A rally that is organized, promoted, and features speeches by such men is arguably a racist rally, no matter what cause it serves; but it is most certainly a racist rally when the cause is the defense of the statues of men who devoted their lives to the perpetuation of enslavement of blacks in the South. Any right thinking person who merely cared about preserving historical monuments as a testimony to history would not make common cause with Nazis, fascists, and white supremacists.

 

Even if we concede the very remote possibility that one of these warm hearted historical preservationists somehow missed the fact that the organizers, promoters, and speakers at the rally were all extreme racists, at best we could say their actions were grossly negligent, which makes them very far from being “very fine.” Failure to know what’s going on isn’t admirable, nor does it inoculate one against censure or blame. Ignorance doesn’t always excuse.

 

Determining culpable ignorance is an important aspect of morality and the law, and is part of any theory of negligence. Negligence comes from the Latin phrase “nec eligens” which literally translates to “not choosing.” Negligence is a normative and not merely descriptive word. There are an infinite number of choices I didn’t make this morning, but most of them, like the choice I didn’t make to begin writing the next great American novel, are of no consequence. Only a very small range of what I don’t do counts as a blameworthy failure, and the determination typically depends on the roles that can be legitimately assigned to me (for instance, as a parent, I am culpable if I oversleep and fail to get the kids to school on time).

 

We know as a matter of common sense morality and the law that we are responsible for what we fail to do, even when that failure is completely unintentional. Now, a prudent citizen should be well informed about the kinds of civic engagement he participates in; therefore a failure to notice that an event is organized by and prominently features white supremacists is a classic case of culpable ignorance.

 

Even so, one might still argue that culpable ignorance does not necessarily imply racism. Fine, but footage of Charlottesville reveals that once there one could have had no doubt that this was an event for promoting racist ideology. At that point, one is further at fault for not realizing that marching in the rally not only would not advance the cause of preserving history, but would also deepen racial tensions in Charlottesville and possibly lead to racially motivated violence.

 

To march alongside virulent racists shouting racist slogans and slurs displays a culpable lack of concern for members of the minority groups being targeted. We need to be clear that one is a racist not simply if one has active animus directed towards racial minorities, but also if one lacks active good will towards them; one lacks such good will when one does not care at all, or does not care enough about their well being and security to act (and not act) towards them in certain ways. One should care enough about minorities not to march alongside those that seek to marginalize and defame them. Failure to care enough about the manifest harms to these communities by placing the importance of historical preservation above their safety and well being is racist.

 

Charlottesville should still deeply trouble us. We cannot make racial progress, however, if we cannot come to a reasonable agreement about what racism is. If elements on the left can sometimes be blamed for making us all racists just in virtue of being born into a racially unequal society, elements on the right can sometimes be blamed for making the racist into a fantastical unicorn by imagining criteria for it that almost none of us will ever meet. A sensible understanding of the complexities of racism would steer a steady course between these two extremes, and we need such an understanding if we have any hope of having a reasonable public discourse about race in this country. A small step in this direction would be to acknowledge that racism of neglect is a real and damaging.


Jennifer A. Frey is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina and Principal Investigator with Virtue, Happiness, and the Meaning of Life.