Seeing Beauty: A Poetic Theology Restricted; Files & ToC

Tabor, Callie (Fall 2021)

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While tracing the story of beauty’s disappearance as a central epistemological resource for ethics, theology, and human formation, Christian theologians have not yet sufficiently responded to critiques of beauty’s complicity in forces of oppression. In this dissertation, I name several of the distortions of beauty which lead to this oppression of living beauty while charting another pathway for the power of human perception of beauty through the poetic. This other way of seeing beauty, I argue, honors the origin and horizon of beauty in the divine.

I begin by naming two key errors in the human understanding of beauty which perpetuate beauty’s oppression – the widespread confusion of glamour for beauty and the hierarchy of beauty which stratifies beauty along the lines of historically-bound societal or ecclesial rankings of human value. I take Hans Urs von Balthasar as an example of theology’s complicity in such errors. I then delineate the ways that “sight” – both literal and metaphorical – has supported these errors through an epistemology of possession and domination.

Acknowledging the intrinsic relationship between seeing, beauty, and power, in the rest of the project I offer a constructive account of how theology might offer a different understanding of the interplay between the three with the aid of the poetic. Given the rampant errors in beauty, I argue that it is important not to reject sight, but to tutor it through a poetic pedagogy of interiority. I draw upon the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Naomi Shihab Nye as well as several key theological interlocutors in order to name how a poetic epistemology might disrupt the dominating apprehension of beauty. Through its willingness to look again, the poetic disrupts the distortions of beauty by encountering the particularity and fragility of created beauty. By learning to see beauty as constituted by particularity and fragility, the human person is invited into the holiness of beauty, which discovers the source of power and of beauty in the divine. This other “sight” becomes an invitation into a new kind of living, understanding the creation as the community of beauty and sanctity.

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