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Engaging with the Bible in Visual Culture

Hermeneutics between Word and Image, with Broomberg and Chanarin’s Holy Bible

Sheona Beaumont

Abstract

Increasingly articulate contemporary art practices are engaging with biblical representation, revealing new relationships with religion through the availability of the word in image. Taking as exemplary the photographic publication of Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin’s Holy Bible (2013), this essay considers the evidence for their hermeneutics between image and word that is characterized by open awareness of and expansive participation in the (rereading of the) Bible. Discussing this engagement, I explore imagistic readings of the Bible through the artists’ strategies of interpolation and repetition, as well as examining their chosen theme—catastrophe—for its revelatory power. Through the artists’ self-reflexive hermeneutics of indeterminacy, I argue that the discussion of the return of religion in art needs attuning to this kind of specific practitioner experience: a hermeneutical circle of imaginative, dialogical, and dynamic interpretative positions in which the notion of indeterminacy is persuasive for interpretative grist, historical accountability, and theological horizon.

“Fragment of What Will Happen”

A Hauntological Reading of the Poetry of Tomas Tranströmer (1931–2015)

Rein Brouwer

Abstract

The Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer (1931–2015), winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature, is known for the perceptive metaphors in his poems “couched in deceptively spare language, crystalline descriptions of natural beauty and explorations of the mysteries of identity and creativity.” Although Tranströmer himself never made a secret of the religious tendency in his work, there is some discussion about the importance of the religious dimension in his poems, which are widely acclaimed in Sweden, a predominately secular country. This article discusses several discourses exploring the religious dimensions of Tranströmer’s poetry, and presents a new approach for understanding the religious and spiritual aspects of his art based on the work of philosopher of religion John D. Caputo. Caputo’s “hauntology” is claimed to be conducive in reading Tranströmer’s poetry as a religious text. A “hauntological” reading of the poetry of Tranströmer interprets the event that is haunting the poems, and suggests a new way of conceiving a religious insight in a work of modern art.

In the Face of Suffering

Lévinas’s Inter-human Order Animated through Tōmatsu’s Hibakusha Photographs

Katrina Genuis

Abstract

For Emmanuel Lévinas, concrete circumstances of human suffering problematize abstract conceptions of God. Lévinas considers the face of the suffering Other to be the locus of ethical action and ethics as the realm of transcendence. This article relates Lévinas’s conception of the Other’s suffering face to pragmatic observations about humans’ capacity to respond to suffering, and explores whether artwork depicting faces, photography specifically, may uniquely provoke empathetic, ethical responses in an observer. I argue, using examples from twentieth-century Japanese photographer Shōmei Tōmatsu’s images of Nagasaki nuclear bomb survivors, that images have the capacity to reveal hidden dimensions of human experience and provoke humility through estrangement. Tōmatsu’s photographs may renew a viewer’s vulnerability to the pain of others and re-orient a viewer’s self towards relational selfhood. Ultimately, if God is present in the fabric of face-to-face encounters, as Lévinas suggests, artwork that fosters empathetic human relations bears transcendent significance.