Rutgers University Is Religion a Form of Art Discussion

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Readings: “Homo Religiosus,” by Karen Armstrong.

“The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism,” by Jonathan Lethem

In “Homo Religiosus,” Karen Armstrong argues that religion is close to art, that both religion and

art have “the power to change our perception in ways that we not be able to explain logically but

that seem incontestably true.” Armstrong develops her argument along these lines, insisting that

deep religious truth can’t be accessed by reason alone. Lethem writes about his own ecstasies

as a consumer of art, and likens art to a gift that “the empiricists of our market” can’t understand.

Using both texts, answer the following question.

Is religion a form of art? Why or why not?

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Assignment 4 Readings: “Homo Religiosus,” by Karen Armstrong. “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism,” by Jonathan Lethem In “Homo Religiosus,” Karen Armstrong argues that religion is close to art, that both religion and art have “the power to change our perception in ways that we not be able to explain logically but that seem incontestably true.” Armstrong develops her argument along these lines, insisting that deep religious truth can’t be accessed by reason alone. Lethem writes about his own ecstasies as a consumer of art, and likens art to a gift that “the empiricists of our market” can’t understand. Using both texts, answer the following question. Is religion a form of art? Why or why not? Before writing your paper, be familiar with the following terms or ideas: -Ekstasis -Reason vs Belief in Armstrong -The Brahmodya and the Upanishads -Yoga, as explained by Armstrong -The Gift Economy Due Dates Rough Draft 1 - Thursday March 26th (12:00 PM on Canvas and Google Docs) Rough Draft 2 - Thursday April 2nd (12:00 PM on Canvas and Google Docs) Final Draft - Thursday April 9th (12:00 PM on Canvas and Google Docs) The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism By Jonathan Lethem All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. . . . —John Donne LOVE AND THEFT Consider this tale: a cultivated man of middle age looks back on the story of an amour fou, one beginning when, traveling abroad, he takes a room as a lodger. e moment he sees the daughter of the house, he is lost. She is a preteen, whose charms instantly enslave him. Heedless of her age, he becomes intimate with her. In the end she dies, and the narrator—marked by her forever—remains alone. e name of the girl supplies the title of the story: Lolita. e author of the story I’ve described, Heinz von Lichberg, published his tale of Lolita in 1916, forty years before Vladimir Nabokov’s novel. Lichberg later became a prominent journalist in the Nazi era, and his youthful works faded from view. Did Nabokov, who remained in Berlin until 1937, adopt Lichberg’s tale consciously? Or did the earlier tale exist for Nabokov as a hidden, unacknowledged memory? e history of literature is not without examples of this phenomenon, called cryptomnesia. Another hypothesis is that Nabokov, knowing Lichberg’s tale perfectly well, had set himself to that art of quotation that omas Mann, himself a master of it, called “higher cribbing.” Literature has always been a crucible in which familiar themes are continually recast. Little of what we admire in Nabokov’s Lolita is to be found in its predecessor; the former is in no way deducible from the latter. Still: did Nabokov consciously borrow and quote? “When you live outside the law, you have to eliminate dishonesty.” e line comes from Don Siegel’s 1958 film noir, e Lineup, written by Stirling Silliphant. e film still haunts revival houses, likely thanks to Eli Wallach’s blazing portrayal of a sociopathic hit man and to Siegel’s long, sturdy auteurist career. Yet what were those words worth—to Siegel, or Silliphant, or their audience—in 1958? And again: what was the line worth when Bob Dylan heard it (presumably in some Greenwich Village repertory cinema), cleaned it up a little, and inserted it into “Absolutely Sweet Marie”? What are they worth now, to the culture at large? Appropriation has always played a key role in Dylan’s music. e songwriter has grabbed not only from a panoply of vintage Hollywood films but from Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Junichi Saga’s Confessions of a Yakuza. He also nabbed the title of Eric Lott’s study of minstrelsy for his 2001 album Love and e. One imagines Dylan liked the general resonance of the title, in which emotional misdemeanors stalk the sweetness of love, as they do so oen in Dylan’s songs. Lott’s title is, of course, itself a riff on Leslie Fiedler’s Love and Death in the American Novel, which famously identifies the literary motif of the interdependence of a white man and a dark man, like Huck and Jim or Ishmael and Queequeg—a series of nested references to Dylan’s own appropriating, minstrel-boy self. Dylan’s art offers a paradox: while it famously urges us not to look back, it also encodes a knowledge of past sources that might otherwise have little home in contemporary culture, like the Civil War poetry of the Confederate bard Henry Timrod, resuscitated in lyrics on Dylan’s newest record, Modern Times. Dylan’s originality and his appropriations are as one. e same might be said of all art. I realized this forcefully when one day I went looking for the John Donne passage quoted above. I know the lines, I confess, not from a college course but from the movie version of 84, Charing Cross Road with Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancro. I checked out 84, Charing Cross Road from the library in the hope of finding the Donne passage, but it wasn’t in the book. It’s alluded to in the play that was adapted from the book, but it isn’t reprinted. So I rented the movie again, and there was the passage, read in voice-over by Anthony Hopkins but e Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism Jonathan Lethem without attribution. Unfortunately, the line was also abridged so that, when I finally turned to the Web, I found myself searching for the line “all mankind is of one volume” instead of “all mankind is of one author, and is one volume.” CONTAMINATION ANXIETY In 1941, on his front porch, Muddy Waters recorded a song for the folklorist Alan Lomax. Aer singing the song, which he told Lomax was entitled “Country Blues,” Waters described how he came to write it. “I made it on about the eighth of October ‘38,” Waters said. “I was fixin’ a puncture on a car. I had been mistreated by a girl. I just felt blue, and the song fell into my mind and it come to me just like that and I started singing.” en Lomax, who knew of the Robert Johnson recording called “Walkin’ Blues,” asked Waters if there were any other songs that used the same tune. “ere’s been some blues played like that,” Waters replied. “is song comes from the cotton field and a boy once put a record out—Robert Johnson. He put it out as named ‘Walkin’ Blues.’ I heard the tune before I heard it on the record. I learned it from Son House.” In nearly one breath, Waters offers five accounts: his own active authorship: he “made it” on a specific date. en the “passive” explanation: “it come to me just like that.” Aer Lomax raises the question of influence, Waters, without shame, misgivings, or trepidation, says that he heard a version by Johnson, but that his mentor, Son House, taught it to him. In the middle of that complex genealogy, Waters declares that “this song comes from the cotton field.” My Internet search was initially no more successful than my library search. I had thought that summoning books from the vasty deep was a matter of a few keystrokes, but when I visited the website of the Yale library, I found that most of its books don’t yet exist as computer text. As a last-ditch effort I searched the seemingly more obscure phrase “every chapter must be so translated.” e passage I wanted finally came to me, as it turns out, not as part of a scholarly library collection but simply because someone who loves Donne had posted it on his homepage. e lines I sought were from Meditation 17 in Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, which happens to be the most famous thing Donne ever wrote, containing as it does the line “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” My search had led me from a movie to a book to a play to a website and back to a book. en again, those words may be as famous as they are only because Hemingway lied them for his book title. Literature has been in a plundered, fragmentary state for a long time. When I was thirteen I purchased an anthology of Beat writing. Immediately, and to my very great excitement, I discovered one William S. Burroughs, author of something called Naked Lunch, excerpted there in all its coruscating brilliance. Burroughs was then as radical a literary man as the world had to offer. Nothing, in all my experience of literature since, has ever had as strong an effect on my sense of the sheer possibilities of writing. Later, attempting to understand this impact, I discovered that Burroughs had incorporated snippets of other writers’ texts into his work, an action I knew my teachers would have called plagiarism. Some of these borrowings had been lied from American science fiction of the Forties and Fiies, adding a secondary shock of recognition for me. By then I knew that this “cut-up method,” as Burroughs called it, was central to whatever he thought he was doing, and that he quite literally believed it to be akin to magic. When he wrote about his process, the hairs on my neck stood up, so palpable was the excitement. Burroughs was interrogating the universe with scissors and a paste pot, and the least imitative of authors was no plagiarist at all. Harper’s Magazine Blues and jazz musicians have long been enabled by a kind of “open source” culture, in which pre-existing melodic fragments and larger musical frameworks are freely reworked. Technology has only multiplied the possibilities; musicians have gained the power to duplicate sounds literally rather than simply approximate them through allusion. In Seventies Jamaica, King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry deconstructed recorded music, using astonishingly primitive predigital hardware, creating what they called “versions.” e recombinant nature of their means of production quickly spread to DJs in New York and London. Today an endless, gloriously impure, and fundamentally social process generates countless hours of music. Visual, sound, and text collage—which for many centuries were relatively fugitive traditions (a cento here, a folk pastiche there)—became explosively central to a series of movements in the twentieth century: futurism, cubism, Dada, musique concrète, situationism, pop art, and appropriationism. In fact, collage, the common denominator in that list, might be called the art form of the twentieth century, never mind the –2 – February 2007 e Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism Jonathan Lethem twenty-first. But forget, for the moment, chronologies, schools, or even centuries. As examples accumulate—Igor Stravinsky’s music and Daniel Johnston’s, Francis Bacon’s paintings and Henry Darger’s, the novels of the Oulipo group and of Hannah Cras (the author who pillaged Dickens’s Bleak House to write e Bondwoman’s Narrative), as well as cherished texts that become troubling to their admirers aer the discovery of their “plagiarized” elements, like Richard Condon’s novels or Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermons—it becomes apparent that appropriation, mimicry, quotation, allusion, and sublimated collaboration consist of a kind of sine qua non of the creative act, cutting across all forms and genres in the realm of cultural production. truths, no matter how deeply he or she submerges that knowing. What happens when an allusion goes unrecognized? A closer look at e Waste Land may help make this point. e body of Eliot’s poem is a vertiginous mélange of quotation, allusion, and “original” writing. When Eliot alludes to Edmund Spenser’s “Prothalamion” with the line “Sweet ames, run soly, till I end my song,” what of readers to whom the poem, never one of Spenser’s most popular, is unfamiliar? (Indeed, the Spenser is now known largely because of Eliot’s use of it.) Two responses are possible: grant the line to Eliot, or later discover the source and understand the line as plagiarism. Eliot evidenced no small anxiety about these matters; the notes he so carefully added to e Waste Land can be read as a symptom of modernism’s contamination anxiety. Taken from this angle, what exactly is postmodernism, except modernism without the anxiety? In a courtroom scene from e Simpsons that has since entered into the television canon, an argument over the ownership of the animated characters Itchy and Scratchy rapidly escalates into an existential debate on the very nature of cartoons. “Animation is built on plagiarism!” declares the show’s hot-tempered cartoon-producer-within-a-cartoon, Roger Meyers Jr. “You take away our right to steal ideas, where are they going to come from?” If nostalgic cartoonists had never borrowed from Fritz the Cat, there would be no Ren & Stimpy Show; without the Rankin/Bass and Charlie Brown Christmas specials, there would be no South Park; and without e Flintstones—more or less e Honeymooners in cartoon loincloths—e Simpsons would cease to exist. If those don’t strike you as essential losses, then consider the remarkable series of “plagiarisms” that links Ovid’s “Pyramus and isbe” with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, or Shakespeare’s description of Cleopatra, copied nearly verbatim from Plutarch’s life of Mark Antony and also later nicked by T. S. Eliot for e Waste Land. If these are examples of plagiarism, then we want more plagiarism. SURROUNDED BY SIGNS e surrealists believed that objects in the world possess a certain but unspecifiable intensity that had been dulled by everyday use and utility. ey meant to reanimate this dormant intensity, to bring their minds once again into close contact with the matter that made up their world. André Breton’s maxim “Beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table” is an expression of the belief that simply placing objects in an unexpected context reinvigorates their mysterious qualities. is “crisis” the surrealists identified was being simultaneously diagnosed by others. Martin Heidegger held that the essence of modernity was found in a certain technological orientation he called “enframing.” is tendency encourages us to see the objects in our world only in terms of how they can serve us or be used by us. e task he identified was to find ways to resituate ourselves vis-à-vis these “objects,” so that we may see them as “things” pulled into relief against the ground of their functionality. Heidegger believed that art had the great potential to reveal the “thingness” of objects. Most artists are brought to their vocation when their own nascent gis are awakened by the work of a master. at is to say, most artists are converted to art by art itself. Finding one’s voice isn’t just an emptying and purifying oneself of the words of others but an adopting and embracing of filiations, communities, and discourses. Inspiration could be called inhaling the memory of an act never experienced. Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos. Any artist knows these Harper’s Magazine e surrealists understood that photography and cinema could carry out this reanimating process automatically; the process of framing objects in a lens was oen enough to create the charge they sought. Describing the effect, Walter Benjamin drew a compari- –3 – February 2007 e Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism Jonathan Lethem son between the photographic apparatus and Freud’s psychoanalytic methods. Just as Freud’s theories “isolated and made analyzable things which had heretofore floated along unnoticed in the broad stream of perception,” the photographic apparatus focuses on “hidden details of familiar objects,” revealing “entirely new structural formations of the subject.” Splits, M*A*S*H, and e Mary Tyler Moore Show. I was born with words in my mouth—“Band-Aid,” “Qtip,” “Xerox”—object-names as fixed and eternal in my logosphere as “taxicab” and “toothbrush.” e world is a home littered with pop-culture products and their emblems. I also came of age swamped by parodies that stood for originals yet mysterious to me—I knew Monkees before Beatles, Belmondo before Bogart, and “remember” the movie Summer of ‘42 from a Mad magazine satire, though I’ve still never seen the film itself. I’m not alone in having been born backward into an incoherent realm of texts, products, and images, the commercial and cultural environment with which we’ve both supplemented and blotted out our natural world. I can no more claim it as “mine” than the sidewalks and forests of the world, yet I do dwell in it, and for me to stand a chance as either artist or citizen, I’d probably better be permitted to name it. It’s worth noting, then, that early in the history of photography a series of judicial decisions could well have changed the course of that art: courts were asked whether the photographer, amateur or professional, required permission before he could capture and print an image. Was the photographer stealing from the person or building whose photograph he shot, pirating something of private and certifiable value? ose early decisions went in favor of the pirates. Just as Walt Disney could take inspiration from Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr., the Brothers Grimm, or the existence of real mice, the photographer should be free to capture an image without compensating the source. e world that meets our eye through the lens of a camera was judged to be, with minor exceptions, a sort of public commons, where a cat may look at a king. Consider Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer: Other people, so I have read, treasure memorable moments in their lives: the time one climbed the Parthenon at sunrise, the summer night one met a lonely girl in Central Park and achieved with her a sweet and natural relationship, as they say in books. I too once met a girl in Central Park, but it is not much to remember. What I remember is the time John Wayne killed three men with a carbine as he was falling to the dusty street in Stagecoach, and the time the kitten found Orson Welles in the doorway in e ird Man. Novelists may glance at the stuff of the world too, but we sometimes get called to task for it. For those whose ganglia were formed pre-TV, the mimetic deployment of pop-culture icons seems at best an annoying tic and at worst a dangerous vapidity that compromises fiction’s seriousness by dating it out of the Platonic Always, where it ought to reside. In a graduate workshop I briefly passed through, a certain gray eminence tried to convince us that a literary story should always eschew “any feature which serves to date it” because “serious fiction must be Timeless.” When we protested that, in his own well-known work, characters moved about electrically lit rooms, drove cars, and spoke not Anglo-Saxon but postwar English—and further, that fiction he’d himself ratified as great, such as Dickens, was liberally strewn with innately topical, commercial, and timebound references—he impatiently amended his proscription to those explicit references that would date a story in the “frivolous Now.” When pressed, he said of course he meant the “trendy mass-popularmedia” reference. Here, transgenerational discourse broke down. Today, when we can eat Tex-Mex with chopsticks while listening to reggae and watching a YouTube rebroadcast of the Berlin Wall’s fall—i.e., when damn near everything presents itself as familiar—it’s not a surprise that some of today’s most ambitious art is going about trying to make the familiar strange. In so doing, in reimagining what human life ...
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Surname 1
RUNNING HEAD: Religion as an art

Is religion a form of art?

Date of submission

Surname 2
RUNNING HEAD: Religion as an art
Religion has existed for almost as long as human civilization has. All generations of
human beings have had a sovereign being who they worship and refer to as their ‘God’. People
are born into different communities where they adopt the religion that their people adhere to. In
the same way, new artists come up with artwork depending on the art that they have been
exposed to. This is regarded as an artistic influence and not plagiarism. Art has also been in
existence for a very long time. In her publication, ‘Homo Religiosus’, Karen Armstrong (2001)
talks about the underground caverns of Lascaux and the religious significance that the paintings
and carvings in these caves had to the humans in 30,000 BCE. These were sacred places that
were used for rituals by the early humans. T...

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