Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Natalie Carnes's "Image and Presence"

Natalie Carnes is Associate Professor of Theology at Baylor University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Image and Presence: A Christological Reflection on Iconoclasm and Iconophilia, and reported the following:
“[A]ttempts at pure iconoclasm degenerate into parodies of iconophilia, while attempts at unlimited iconophilia flirt with violence and idolatry.”

“The way images emerge from breaking images echoes the way crucifixes emerge from breaking crucifies, which itself echoes the way the Image of God discloses God in the breaking that is the cross.”

These two statements—on either side of a section break on page 99—get at some of the central claims of Image and Presence. While image-lovers and image-breakers might vehemently oppose one another, they can end up looking strangely similar.

In the chapter where page 99 falls, I am looking at Reformation iconoclasm in particular, when iconoclasm took a theatrical turn. In Basel, Switzerland, for example, a crowd hauled a crucifix into the square and mocked it with words that echo the crucifixion accounts of the gospels, “If you’re God, then save yourself, but if you’re man, then bleed.” In Hildesheim, Germany, a crowd taunted a statue of Christ with lines from Christ’s tormentors in the Passion plays. In England, iconoclasts stripped the altars—just as priest do at the end of the Maundy Thursday service, in preparation for the Good Friday service remembering Christ’s death.

These image-breakers make and parody images in their efforts to reject them. And the way images emerge from breaking images expresses the theological claim of Christians: that the one who is called the Image of God discloses God most perfectly in the brokenness of the cross.

With their acts of image-breaking, the Reformation iconoclasts want to say that God is not bound by human artifice. They proclaim God’s absence in these images in order to insist on God’s universal presence. But divine presence in absence is exactly what the image-lovers want to claim as well. The image gives more than it is. It names both the presence and absence of what it images.

On page 99, Image and Presence is moving toward the claim that certain forms of iconoclasm can be internal to the practices of loving an image well. But the book moves in that direction with a warning: Unmoored from any image love, iconoclasm degenerates toward an insistence of divine absence in the world, while image-love, uninformed by an iconoclastic impulse to insist on the absence of the imaged, can harden into idolatry and even violence. The rest of the chapter explores how that violence can arise.
Learn more about Image and Presence at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue