Woody Allen’s Insincere NihilismPosted: August 12, 2014
I hope Woody Allen reads this.
Though it’s unfair to start in the middle of Rev. Robert Barron‘s comments, this is a section that suggests the graceful exploration at work here. Note: Barron refers to Allen’s “recent ruminations on ultimate things”, but I’m not sure where Woody’s ruminations appear. Perhaps a recent interview? If a reader recognizes the reference, let us know. Though I’m tempted to include my own observations, I’ll refrain, to avoid diminishing Barron’s commentary.
“…If you consult the philosophers of antiquity and the Middle Ages, you will find a very frank acknowledgment that what Woody Allen observed about the physical world is largely true. Plato, Aristotle, and Thomas Aquinas all knew that material objects come and go, that human beings inevitably pass away, that all of our great works of art will eventually cease to exist. But those great thinkers wouldn’t have succumbed to Allen’s desperate nihilism. Why? Because they also believed that there were real links to a higher world available within ordinary experience, that certain clues within the world tip us off to the truth that there is more to reality than meets the eye.
One of these routes of access to the transcendent is beauty. In Plato’s Symposium, we can read an exquisite speech by a woman named Diotima. She describes the experience of seeing something truly beautiful — an object, a work of art, a lovely person, etc. — and she remarks that this experience carries with it a kind of aura, for it lifts the observer to a consideration of the Beautiful itself, the source of all particular beauty. If you want to see a more modern version of Diotima’s speech, take a look at the evocative section of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, wherein the narrator relates his encounter with a beautiful girl standing in the surf off the Dublin strand and concludes with the exclamation, “Oh heavenly God.” John Paul II was standing in this same tradition when, in his wonderful letter to artists, he spoke of the artist’s vocation as mediating God through beauty. To characterize artistic beauty as a mere distraction from the psychological oppression of nihilism is a tragic reductionism…(read more)