Performatism or Theological Aesthetics of the Liturgy?

In his book Reforming the Liturgy, John F. Baldovin, S.J. responds to a number of critics of the post-Vatican II liturgy who argue for a “reform of the reform” from theological, philosophical, historical, social and anthropological perspectives. Baldovin notes in his introduction that aesthetic elements in the liturgy including art, architecture, music, gesture and movement are inescapably linked to any approach to the reform since it is inherent to the lived experience of the liturgy (Baldovin, 8). It would thus make sense that many of the critics’ arguments end with proposals for aesthetic reforms.

What is curious about the various critiques, however, is the point at which many of them converge — that is in the specific style of liturgical aesthetics — despite the wide-range of approaches used to critique the reform. The style upheld is one of grandeur and ornate details, often inspired by gothic architecture from the high Medieval Ages to early Renaissance, along with the period’s elaborate rituals, processions, unutterable words and polyphony. The flaunting of the cappa magna, a surge of interest in Gregorian chant and renaissance polyphony, and the return of elaborate gothic chasubles are just three visible trends among many that reflect a growing adherence to such ideas of liturgical reform.

Whether the scholarly work of the critics has had a direct influence on the aestheticization of the liturgy and its increasing mainstream appeal is debatable. What is apparent is simply the increase in preference for a particular style of liturgical aesthetic accompanied by refrains espousing “beauty,” “transcendence,” “more reverence” and “evoking the sacred.” These mantras certainly have overtones of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s theological aesthetics. But I suspect that they reflect, rather, performatism — an emerging cultural reaction to postmodernism that falsely objectifies chiefly subjective aesthetics through coercive means. In performatism, “beautiful,” “transcendent,” “sacred,” and “reverent” are descriptors that attach themselves to a culturally endorsed medieval aesthetic, which in turn provide a speciously objective meaning to primarily subjective art forms.

Performatism is defined by Slavist literary scholar Raoul Eshelman as an emerging epoch beyond postmodernism and its theoretical adjunct, poststructualism. To understand performatism, it is first necessary briefly to establish an understanding of postmodernity, the cultural milieu out of which it stems. For this purpose, Eshelman draws from Derrida’s deconstruction of Kant’s philosophy. In Derrida’s critique of Kant, Derrida shows “that any talk of intrinsic aesthetic value depends on that value being set off from the ‘extraneous’ context around it by means of a frame.” (Eshelman, 1) The frame is a subtle, but crucial and constantly deferring precondition; it is that place where the text and context meet in a way that is both absolutely fundamental to the work’s makeup but impossible to determine in advance. Any piece of artwork that claims to be unified and closed is trapped by this frame. Eshelman describes the irony deconstruction prescribes:

Through the frame, the presumed closure of the work is always already dependent on the context around it, which is itself everything other than a coherent whole. The frame is always already dependent on some aspect of the context around it. (Eshelman, 3)

From the standpoint of the dominant postmodern and poststructualist mindset, prospects for creating a new, autonomous monist aesthetic are nil. Postmodern artwork is thus continually undermined by a narrative frame that creates a state of recursive irresolution regarding the truth of some part of that work. Any form of objectivity is inconceivable.

Performatism reacts against the uncertainty of postmodernism in its attempt to re-empower the frame. In performatist framing, “a blend of aesthetic and archaic, forcible devices” are used to establish a new monism in an attempt to re-establish some kind of objectivity (Ehselman, 2). Eshelman describes the phenomena in the following way:

Performatist works are set up in such a way that the reader or viewer at first has no choice but to opt for a single, compulsory solution to the problems raised within the work at hand. The author, in other words, imposes a certain solution on us using dogmatic, ritual, or some other coercive means. This has two immediate effects. The coercive frame cuts us off, at least temporarily, from the context around it and forces us back into the work. Once we are inside, we are made to identify with some person, act or situation in a way that is plausible only within the confines of the work as a whole (…) On the one hand, you’re practically forced to identify with something implausible or unbelievable within the frame — to believe in spite of yourself — but on the other, you still feel the coercive force causing this identification to take place, and intellectually you remain aware of the particularity of the argument at hand. Metaphysical skepticism and irony aren’t eliminated, but are held in check by the frame. At the same time, the reader must always negotiate some kind of trade-off between the positive aesthetic identification and the dogmatic, coercive means used to achieve it (Eshelman, 2).

The forced, artificial unification of a work takes place in what Eshelman calls double framing. The inner frame provides the originating context, while the outer frame imposes some sort of unequivocal resolution to the problems raised in the work on the reader or viewer. Implausibility in a work results in two possibilities: some sort of irony could undercut the frame from within and break up the artificially framed unity, or an inner frame simply confirms the outer frame’s coercive logic (Eshelman, 3 – 4). Eshelman concedes that a certain amount of tension between the frame is inevitable, but notes that the difference between postmodernism and performatism is in the fact that “one is now being offered a specific choice as to the outcome of a reading or viewing, rather than being condemned from the start to a misreading or misprision.” (Eshelman, 4) Double framing as such can be summarized as a specific way of creating aesthetic closure; allowing an opaque or dense subjectivity, governed by an authorial mode of organizing temporal and spatial relations, which in turn promotes a false sense of objectivity.

Within a postmodern context, the liturgy is constantly in flux as communities repeatedly discern the “right” way of doing liturgy while fearing the slip into relativism: postmodernism is likely a key cultural catalyst behind the many post-Vatican II “experiments” that have understandably been criticized heavily. Performatism reacts to the uncertainty of postmodernism and attempts to ascertain objectivity in liturgy by appealing to arbitrary authoritarian sources such as tradition. The result is a false and shallow objectivity that manifests itself through partisan support for particular interpretations of liturgical aesthetics and obsessions over the letter rather than spirit of the law.

Hans Urs von Balthasar’s theological aesthetics offer an alternative notion of aestheticization that places the subjective experience against the ultimate objectivity of divine beauty, in unity with truth and goodness. When autonomously constructed subjectivity is constantly countered by objectivity, subjective expressions reign freely without the risk of slipping into a sea of relativism. For von Balthasar, such true aestheticization is found in the Christian experience.

In a true aesthetic experience, the object initiates the relationship while the subject relinquishes its will entirely, in surrender to the object. The subject first becomes fully passive, allowing the object to move actively towards the subject and expand within it. Von Balthasar describes the block of appropriation by the subject in theological terms, with God as “being” that can be discovered in the beautiful:

The quality of “being-in-itself” which belongs to the beautiful, the demand of the beautiful itself makes to be allowed to be what it is, the demand, therefore, that we renounce our attempts to control and manipulate it, in order truly to be able to be happy by enjoying it (Balthasar, 153.)

Such is the first of two phases in theological aesthetics. Von Balthasar calls the first “the theory of vision (or fundamental theology): ‘aesthetics’ in the Kantian sense as a theory about the perception of the form of God’s self-revelation.” (Balthasar, 125)

The second phase of theological aestheticization moves beyond a one-sided initiation by the object. Phase two requires the participation of the subject in the relationship so that the subject is truly immersed in the objective experience. Von Balthasar calls this second phase “The theory of rapture (or dogmatic theology): ‘aesthetics’ as a theory about the incarnation of God’s glory and the consequent elevation of man to participate in that glory.” (Balthasar, 125) Von Balthasar expounds on this essential interaction between subject and object and its importance in doing theology:

In theology, there are no “bare facts” which, in the name of an alleged objectivity of detachment, disinterestedness and impartiality, one could establish like any other worldly fact, without oneself being (both objectively and subjectively) gripped so as to participate in the divine nature (participation divinae naturae). For the object with which we are concerned is man’s participation in God, which from God’s perspective, is actualized as “revelation” (culminating in God’s manhood) and which, from man’s perspective, is actualized as “faith” (culminating in Christ’s Godmanhood). This double and reciprocal ekstasis—God’s “venturing forth” to man and man’s to God—constitutes the very content of dogmatics, which may thus rightly be presented as a theory of rapture: the admirabile commercium et conubium between God and man in Christ as Head and Body (Balthsar, 125 – 126).

Von Balthasar’s theory of theological aesthetics forms the foundation of his theology. He uses multiple examples of aesthetic experiences in his writings as analogies of the ultimate Christ experience — one that culminates in the transformation of the human person. For example, von Balthasar describes the aesthetic experience of a subject that allows itself to be incorporated by the aesthetic form: by letting one’s senses fully engage with a painting that “opens itself” to the subject, the captivated person enters into a “state of vibration and becomes responsive space, the ‘sounding box’ of the event of beauty occurring within him.” (Maeseneer , 103) A parallel to this aesthetic experience can be found in von Balthasar’s exposition of the Christ experience as

the progressive growth of one’s own existence into Christ’s existence, on the basis of Christ’s continuing action taking shape (Sicheingestalten Christi) in the believer: “until Christ has taken shape (Gestalt) in you” (Gal 4:19) (Maeseneer , 104).

For von Balthasar, theological aestheticization is accomplished in the mutual kenosis of the divine and human person that enables an ultimate spiritual transformation.

Theological aesthetics and performatism share the aesthetic gene but are intrinsically incompatible. In performatism, the double frame traps the subject in a recursive loop of false objectivity by way of the outer frame, preventing true interaction with the ultimate divine “object.” The subject never attempts to break the frame, choosing instead to bounce back and forth between the inner and outer frame, for fear of drowning in a sea of relativism. When theology is done within a performatist context, authoritarian strategies reign. Hierarchical ecclesiology, authoritative documents, rule-based catechesis form both the inner and outer frame, allowing one to appeal to any of its aspects to reaffirm one’s stance, without having to confront intellectually contradicting scenarios.

Within the liturgy, a performatist insists on rigid obedience to rubrics and monist interpretations of ritual elements, even when the nature of aesthetic interpretations is allegorical and highly subjective. Particular temporal and spatial aesthetics in music, art, and language form a coercive frame through which communities determine if something (or someone) is Catholic or not, inadvertently ignoring broader cultures outside its frame. Imperfection and creativity are threats to beauty; tradition, uniformity, and select interpretations of ritual are deemed authoritative in an attempt to bookend expressions of beauty. The sacred risks being idolized in narrowly defined ritual performances. And when aesthetic trends change, the divine encounter could be shaken up or lost to the participant. True kenosis is only possible in performatism when the community recognizes the contradictions keeping the fabricated frames together, and chooses to explore alternatives by allowing the artificially framed unity to be undercut. For the performatist, the Christ experience as von Balthasar describes it, is thus, greatly limited.

In contrast, von Balthasar’s theological aesthetic framework allows for both subject and object to undergo a kenosis from the start. The passive reception of an aesthetic is only a beginning; a single frame (or object) can thus be said to eventually dissolve into to the subject and vice-versa through a mutual interaction.  This mutual interaction admits imperfection and questioning, which in turn allow a breaking-in of true beauty; multiple interpretations of liturgics are in fact celebrated as expressions of the absolute divine beauty. Aesthetics speak beyond the senses, through error, creativity, and across cultures transforming those who participate fully into the Beautiful. Unlike performatism, Von Balthasar’s aesthetics ultimately allows the Christian to find Beauty amidst mundane everyday tasks, rubbles of a disaster, and the humor of creation.

Audrey Seah is a 2012 graduate of Saint John’s University School of Theology•Seminary with a masters degree in theology, concentration in liturgy.

 

Baldovin, John F. Reforming the Liturgy: a Response to the Critics. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2008.

Balthasar, Hans Urs Von. The Glory of the Lord: a Theological Aesthetics. Edited by Joseph Fessio and John Kenneth. Riches. Translated by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis. Vol. 1. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1983.

De Maeseneer, Yves. “The Art of Disappearing: Religion and Aestheticization.” Edited by Graham Ward. In The New Visibility of Religion: Studies in Religion and Cultural Hermeneutics, edited by Michael Hoelzl, 99-116. London: Continuum, 2008.

Eshelman, Raoul. Performatism, or the End of Postmodernism. Aurora, CO: Davies Group, 2008.

76 comments

  1. There’s some interesting theory here, but it’s largely historically ungrounded.

    Some elements of the current liturgical scene are briefly waved at, but they’re used in strange and contradictory ways. The return of the Gothic chasuble? This is an early twentieth-century controversy. Perhaps it’s the “decoration” that’s emphasized? The current controversy is pretty much the opposite… the return of the baroque chasuble.

    “[A] surge of interest in Gregorian chant and renaissance polyphony”? Did the early music movement never happen? That movement… driven by an intensely modernist (in an artistic sense) concern for original artistic intent and authentic intepretation was not post-post-modernist.

    The “flaunting” of the Cappa Magna, this isn’t particularly ROTR at all, but traditionalist.

    This aesthetic unity… it’s just not there. Duncan Stroick and James McCrery’s churches don’t look the same. Langlais and Palestrina don’t sound the same.

    Things (e.g. chant) that were part of the liturgical movement from it’s 19th century beginnings are somehow now cast as the result of a new anti-Christian ideology.

    This historical ungroundedness undermines the general thrust and the application of the theoretical consideration.

    1. @Samuel J. Howard – comment #3:
      Sam,

      On the contrary, nothing that you raise undermines the general thrust of the argument. Rather, you’re raising quibbles, none of which really affect it.

      “Gothic chausable” – you’re right, that’s the wrong adjective. Just think of the return of more traditional (Baroque, as you say) vestments, and the distraction disappears.

      “Surge of interest in Gregorian chant and renaissance polyphony” – she’s not talking about in conservatories or concert halls, but in the Catholic liturgy. And there, the surge has happened in the last few years – just check out the CMAA website (or addition of the chant section at NPM, for that matter).

      Cappa magna – many of the people who say they support ROTR also defend the cappa magna whenever it becomes an issue on the web. There is clearly much overlap between ROTR and “traditionalist.”

      Of course Stroick and McCrery differ (as do Mozart and Haydn, or Pachelbel and Walther). The claim isn’t that they are uniformly the same, but that they part of a larger tendency today to retrieve and reclaim. It’s “unity” in that sense, not in your straw man sense.

      So, let’s get back to the real question: performatism or theological aesthetics of the liturgy, as the title has it. I invite you to talk about THAT issue! I’d hate to think that you’re raising quibbles to avoid the issue, or to be defensive about it.

      awr

      1. “Surge of interest in Gregorian chant and renaissance polyphony” – she’s not talking about in conservatories or concert halls, but in the Catholic liturgy. And there, the surge has happened in the last few years – just check out the CMAA website (or addition of the chant section at NPM, for that matter).

        And I’m not referring to that either. I explicitly referred to the revival of chant in the Catholic liturgy that began at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.

        My concerns aren’t quibbles or nitpicking. The character limit (not to mention the format) makes it hard to make extended historical arguments, so I write what I can about the history of these things which were revived in various times and places long before the present day, which makes it quite impossible that they’re merely the result of a late-appearing post-postmodern trend.

      2. @Samuel J. Howard – comment #11:
        Samuel, this isn’t a post about history primarily, and thus the details of history aren’t really the heart of the argument.

        There have been lots of revivals of Gregorian chant in lots of places – as you say, one of them happened at the end of the 19th and beginning of 20th century. So? The issue of the post is whether the recent surge of chant in Catholic liturgy is an example of performatism.

        You don’t need to make “extended historical arguments” – with or without character limit. Talk about whether performatism is happening today. The point of the post is that it is; that some liturgical things also happened in the past is interesting but not dispositive. We now have a lot of things going on in the liturgy: more chant, more Latin, more traditional vestments, more lace, more 1962 missal, etc. etc. Is all this an example of performatism? Is there something unique going on in this postmodern moment that can be called performatism? I think the question is interesting and important.

        awr

  2. I found this very interesting – thank you Audrey for articulating very well what’s been bothering me for the last 15 years or so.

    During that time I’ve been disturbed again and again by the actions and theology of many of the “reformers” of the reform which, to me, seem to range from ignorance to deep hostility to historical process – in all its human messiness – leading ultimately, IMO, to an unconscious diminishment of the Incarnation and denial of its consequences.

  3. Audrey, this was excellent! As a frequent reader of von Balthasar, I have been waiting for more to be done with his theological vision and liturgy.

    I think you’re definitely on to something here – and I hope you continue exploring these topics. I’m wondering in particular if there’s more to the relationship between artistic styles and the content of revelation (and by extension the liturgy). In Balthasar’s language it would be the relationship between artistic style(s) and what Balthasar terms ‘Being’. An investigation there may suggest that particular styles are more in accordance with what has been revealed by God in Christ. I’m thinking especially of his articulation of the why-lessness, the utter gratuity of creation throughout his entire corpus – which rests exclusively on the superabundant love of God. Is it possible that certain artistic styles ‘show’ this constitution of Being better than others? This kind of discussion might re-open a door for affirming a range of aesthetic styles being used (even in one and the same liturgy) without thereby falling into either rigid obedience to rubrics or a kind of relativism.

    Again, really great job.

    1. @Brendan McInerny – comment #5:
      Thanks Brendan! A few inchoate thoughts – FIrst, I think we must first depart from speaking about what styles are suitable in ritual and look for beauty in creation as Balthasar suggests. True beauty is found in the liturgy of the neighbor for we are made in his image. Second, I think its possible to understand much of Balthsaar’s “Being” as a verb, for it is only then can the interpenetration between the finite and infinite he speaks of be alive. Aesthetics is then less about the visible result (predeterminate styles, genres, periods, etc…) and more about the invisible journey (the being). I once attended a mass in a small town in Indonesia that didn’t have a church building. My group sat on make-shift concrete blocks, but most of the parishioners sat on dirt ground. The cantor led the congregation a capella using a microphone and portable amp. The melody of the opening hymn they sang was simple, some may even say trite. The community had nothing compared to what my parish has, but the mass was beautiful. Of course, the church’s own parishoners who experience that same mass every week may not have seen the beauty I saw. I was outside of my comfort zone. But that’s exactly it – I think an aesthetic challenge can only happen in change (mutatio), ideally eucharisticially (conversio). Change is a constant movement towards ultimate Being, which continues to reveal itself (revelation). Creation itself is constantly changing, so looking to creation for God isn’t about looking for static perfection, but rather, finding perfection in change. Thus, I think it is more important to speak about “how” a piece of art is achieved than critiquing its result – beauty is in the process. Why else can one be so deeply moved when a group of 6 year olds belt out imperfect, out-of-tune hymns, but to the best of their ability and with great joy?

      1. @Audrey Seah – comment #30:
        Thanks for the response. I agree that Being is not principally a noun, but a verb – something along the lines of “gratuitously participating in the divine act of existence” (for how else could we exist?) and is thereby a source of joy and wonder. The dynamic connection with God is common to every created thing, by virtue of its existence.

        But saying that certain styles, or even specific works, manifest the gratuity of God’s love better than others does not deny this nor does it mean, contra-performatism, closing off dynamism and settling into stasis. Look at the variety of any particular style or period and that is apparent, and then, when multiple styles and periods are taken together it becomes a dizzying variety and potential for all the more.

        Perhaps the question behind my thinking is: “What is the relationship between art (its production, style, genre, form, content, setting, etc.) and (creaturely) Being (and then, by extension, the glory of God)?” If works of art ‘disclose’ or ‘instantiate’ Being (in a way that other objects might not), then I think it might be possible to ask whether certain styles, genres, etc., do disclose Being as Christians understand it better than others. Art might not be neutral – extending even beyond content.

        I don’t think that invalidates your experience in Indonesia by the way, or the out-of-tune 6 year olds. The setting very much matters. What is an incredible disclosure of Gospel joy in Indonesia or among 6 year olds might not be on the Upper East Side in New York among semi-pro musicians. We work with the materials at hand.

      2. @Brendan McInerny – comment #34:
        Thanks for clarifying the question. I think I’ve been thinking along similar lines but have different follow-up questions. Your description of all that goes into art (production, setting etc…) is exactly where I think I’d begin. Art, as you say, extends beyond content. My gut feeling is that the relationship between Being and art is social exchange (Love?). I’d like to look into the relationships between ritual, art, and culture more one day using Jean-Luc Marion’s phenomenology of love and saturated phenomenon.

        I am still uncomfortable with the question that follows – of whether certain types of art disclose Being more than others. It’s a valid question, but it raises too many other questions for me. I.e. What’s the basis (production, content, artist?) for making such a judgement? Where does the balance between subjective opinion and a theological claim of being lie in a piece of art? And instead of saying something has discloses more or less of God, could we simply say they differ and challenge ourselves to find the divine presence in all things? Maybe eastern icons can teach us something about this. There’s much to think about! 🙂

      3. @Audrey Seah – comment #30:
        Aubrey – thanks for this vivid experience. Care to reply to Allan’s latest:

        http://southernorderspage.blogspot.com/

        He ends with:

        “MY FINAL COMMENT: Give me reform of the reform within continuity “performatism” any day over the post-modern performatism that so many think is superior. Make no mistake the radical ordinariness and dreariness of pseudo-incarnational theology these people promote is meant to lead to the complete deconstruction of the Catholic Mass, sacraments and Church and make it more Unitarian, or worse yet, Episcopalian, meaning transgendered people in ministry, no distinction of roles between male and female and all kinds of moral absurdities. That’s the bottom line with the “performatists” lost in the 1970’s and Post-Catholic banalities and desconstruction.”

        Don’t think he read the book you suggested.

  4. Thanks, Audrey – excellent analysis. After reading Baldovin & Faggioli’s books and his analysis of the role of von Balthasar’s theology and its connection to Lumen Gentium and the divergence of thinking in terms of *overly optimistic* versus *appreciation/insertion of human weakness, sin, etc.* and how this may have impacted SC, your analysis is the first (for me) in which someone applies von Balthasar’s theology to liturgy.

    Some questions:
    – given your liturgical analysis and the espoused Ratzingerian theology that is attributed to von Balthasar, how do you understand Benedict XVI’s decisions around Summorum Pontificum, liturgical directives such as Liturgiam Authenticum, his Benedictine altar arrangement, use of baroque vestments, tendency to re-clericalize liturgy; etc.?

    Ask this in the context of your quote:
    “Within the liturgy, a performatist insists on rigid obedience to rubrics and monist interpretations of ritual elements, even when the nature of aesthetic interpretations is allegorical and highly subjective. Particular temporal and spatial aesthetics in music, art, and language form a coercive frame through which communities determine if something (or someone) is Catholic or not, inadvertently ignoring broader cultures outside its frame. Imperfection and creativity are threats to beauty; tradition, uniformity, and select interpretations of ritual are deemed authoritative in an attempt to bookend expressions of beauty. The sacred risks being idolized in narrowly defined ritual performances. And when aesthetic trends change, the divine encounter could be shaken up or lost to the participant.”

    Your last line, especially, appears to capture the oft heard traditionalist complaint that liturgical change was too fast, poor education, ignored or left some folks behind. Yet, you look at the root cause rather than the secondary *accidents* – thus, you don’t blame liturgical development. Rather folks have put their faith in the wrong thing – rubrics, law, stbdtr, one form or spirituality.

    It does make me wonder about folks such as Fr. Z, EWTN, Allan, etc. that seem to be *frozen* in time. For example, http://southernorderspage.blogspot.com/2013/01/how-shocking-at-papal-mass-in-roman.html

    Fixation on and rejoicing over Roman Chasuables and the return of the Fannon as stated…..”Pope Benedict’s signature leadership in the reform of the reform in continuity”

    Given these types of comments, how do you fit that into your analysis? Is it performatist, monist? Obviously, you would not explain *reform of the reform in continuity* in the same way – if you would even use that phrase? (it does seem to mean whatever you want it to mean)

  5. “Did the early music movement never happen? That movement… driven by an intensely modernist (in an artistic sense) concern for original artistic intent and authentic intepretation was not post-post-modernist.”

    This is a good question. The early music movement sprouted in the late 70’s through the 80’s, and predated the current reform2 by a generation. I’m not so sure there’s a corollary between the two. Though it’s worth looking into.

    The recovery of early music includes the use of instrumentation, and many early music researchers might differ from the “mainstream” interpretations within the reform2 movement: that Gregorian chant is a direct descendant of Jewish Temple chant. And then there is the problem of instrumentation.

    I suppose one could note that the punk/roots anti-establishment movement in rock happened almost simultaneously with the renewed interest in early music. Perhaps they were both rejections of the corporate takeover in music, and less a reaction against the excesses of post-modernism.

    I appreciated this essay, too. I suspect the loyal opposition, perhaps not too much in terms of lauds from them.

  6. I have now read this essay three times, and applaud the work that has gone into it. It contains some interesting insights which I will continue to think about, and portrays von Balthasar in a rather less conservative light than I had previously understood. The contrast between the “internality” and “externality” of aesthetics, and how this operates, is certainly worth further work. I’m also grateful to receive the word “performatism” to express a concern I have had for many years.

    Sam Howard, your response sounds as if you are feeling rather threatened by the essay. I wonder if further readings might be helpful.

  7. To my mind Samuel makes some good points. The cappa magna, the gothic chasuble, the move toward polyphony and chant, even the pretentious “sacral language” of the new translation may well be red herrings and may be historically inaccurate.

    The important idea, for me, is the notion of ‘double framing’ – a system whose outcome is overdetermined. Such a system rejects “the dictatorship of relativism” and leaps straight into a dictatorship that is far worse, one where new experience or data cannot possibly be experienced, assessed or integrated into a worldview. A ‘double-framed’ system confronts every assertion with a simple question: good or bad? Orthodox or heretical? With us or against us? It is caught in an endless loop.

    If the cappa magna and the gothic chasuble don’t work as data to test Audrey’s theory, what would? I would start with the current mess in the academic system, where orthodoxies and shibboleths seem to be crowding out even simple historical analysis, and where ecclesiastical power (and, in some cases, the influence of wealthy donors) constrains the academy. The calls to bring back the anti-modernist oath and the focus on the mandatum as a means of “renewing Catholic identity” all smack of this.

    The anthropologist Clifford Geertz buried an important insight in a footnote to his essay, “Ideology As a Cultural System” (in The Interpretation of Cultures):

    One constructs arguments for tradition only when its credentials have been questioned. To the degree that such appeals are successful they bring, not a return to naive traditionalism, but ideological retraditionalization – an altogether different matter.

    Faggioli makes a similar point regarding the (re)interpretation of Vatican II.

    I have not read much of von Balthasar so I have no view on whether he manages to break out of the loop of false objectivity. But kudos to Audrey for sharing this interesting perspective. I hope we hear more from her on Pray Tell.

  8. Audrey: True kenosis is only possible in performatism when the community recognizes the contradictions keeping the fabricated frames together, and chooses to explore alternatives by allowing the artificially framed unity to be undercut. For the performatist, the Christ experience as von Balthasar describes it, is thus, greatly limited.

    Yet, Audrey, the EF “frame” in which I worship provides me with transcendent moments which lift me beyond liturgy into the faith of the Church. Most celebrations of the ordinary form are not said in Latin or have no connection to the Latin substratum of the Roman liturgy. Why, then, would I not seek the Latin frame that best communicates the fundamentals and beauty of Catholic belief to me? The reformed liturgical project has left Catholics like me at the side of the road, almost as if we are collateral casualties on the way to an ever unfolding “renewal”.

    I have long thought that some liturgists consider that the reformation of the Roman liturgy must be undertaken at all costs, even if some Catholics are alienated from their faith through liturgy they either do not understand or find quite foreign. The goal of the “reform of the reform” is to keep more traditional Catholics within the reform through a slower series of changes. ROTR and to some extent the EF revival are not designed to wall off traditionally-inclined Catholics from postmodernism, but rather to selectively engage current aesthetic and linguistic trends.

    I do not perceive any rush of post/modern liturgists towards a kenosis which envelops older liturgical expressions. Why, then, should liturgical traditionalists open their hearts only to be inevitably shunned by the reformed establishment?

    1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #12:
      I’m sorry that you feel left out by the reformed liturgy and in fact more alienated! It seems that it is the process by which you experienced change that made you feel uneasy. I’m not implying that all ROTR efforts fall into the trap of performatism, I’m just suggesting that some might. The point is to question which are and which aren’t, so any advances made do not inadvertently limit the Infinite.

      1. @Audrey Seah – comment #31:

        Belatedly, I thank you Audrey for your essay. I should have started my previous post with this statement. You have introduced me to the concept of performatism and liturgy. Please do recognize that my post was not intended as an ad hominem. The first post was more angst than constructive dialogue.

        I was born in 1980, so I have no knowledge of preconciliar life. I “converted” to a very strident traditionalist stance as a teenager, only to seek personal reconciliation with the reformed liturgy later in life. As I’ve demonstrated, I am far from a lasting peace with the ordinary form.

        Raoul Eshelman’s double frames easily appear within a ROTR context. I identify the inner frame as a reactionary “knee jerk” stance against certain modern trends such as versus populum celebration, lay ministry, and recent liturgical music compositions. The outer frame is patronization clothed in false charity: ROTR adherents will “correct” the “abuses” of the ordinary form for the “benefit of all”, even if many persons are content with the licit liturgies celebrated in their parishes.

        When combined, these frames contribute to either a strident objection to the ordinary form or, as in my case, frustration brought about by a false consciousness. My insinuation that some who advocate for the reform are not charitable only highlights that my life in the ROTR double frame has distorted my understanding of charity.

  9. Anthony Ruff, OSB : @Samuel J. Howard – comment #11:Is there something unique going on in this postmodern moment that can be called performatism? I think the question is interesting and important. awr

    How on Earth are you going to determine if there is “something unique going on” without seriously engaging with the detail of history?

    History alone is not going to answer your questions, but it could be enough to knock out a number of possible answers.

    Accordingly, it can not be dismissed as being not relevant or beside the point, as you seem to be doing.

    1. @Scott Smith – comment #14:
      If you have an argument to make about why the details of history show that performatism is or isn’t now happening, please make it. Until you do, I will stand with my hunch that you’re trying to avoid the question of whether performatism is now happening or not.
      awr

  10. The problem with the theory of this essay is that it assumes that ‘performatism’ is a weakness limited to the ROTF and Tradionalist crowds (two VERY different groups, Fr. Anthony).

    I’ll limit myself to one adjective: flaunting. Where is the defense of the use of that word? The mere use of Cappas Magna in a very few Pontifical TLM’s is flaunting? The cappa only left the scene a scant half-century ago. One might more aptly apply the word to the use of female altar servers, a now ubiquitous practice virtually unknown before recent times.

    The problem in this essay isn’t really cappas or female altar servers. The problem is that human nature in unalterable and has no history. Performatism has ever been with us and isn’t limited to any persuasion or class. Rich people can be generous, and poor people can be greedy. The author hasn’t read his Shakespeare or Dickens or Hugo or the Bible. Alas, the author has spent far too much time writing this piece either ignoring or ignorant of human nature.

    There are habitless sisters who are true-hearted believers, and there are seemingly pious traditionalists who are more concerned with the shape of a chasuble than the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…..and vice-versa. I’m afraid that this essay takes none of that into account.

    1. @Christopher Douglas – comment #16:
      “…human nature in unalterable and has no history….” – this kind of says it all!

      The pronoun for “Audrey” is “her,” not “his” – if I may point out one particularity of humanity-in-history.

      awr

  11. Christopher,

    While I think your point that performatism may extend beyond the ROTR and traditionalists (I’m not so sure those are very different groups or not, in fact, I’m not so sure they’re cohesive entities at all), and therefore may be a weakness of the piece, is a welcome addition to the discussion, the tone of your comment seems unnecessarily harsh and might be nonsensical.

    How exactly has the author ignored human nature? It seems her point is that, whether or not there are ‘true believers’ in this or that group, from her point of view, those groups who hold that certain liturgical aesthetics are objectively more ‘sacral’ than others are ‘performatist’ insofar as they make their subjective position objective by coercion. Again, I fully agree that the pattern may very well apply just as well to non-ROTR/traditionalist thinking too (albeit using other terms).

    I also completely fail to see what you mean by the immutability of human nature, or its relevance to your issue with the piece. That seems to be an assertion that needs some further explaining – especially since your examples of ‘human nature’ are largely examples of ‘how human beings are/behave’ and include sin, or at least a disposition to sin, which theologically is only ‘how we are’ as the result of a history (or at least meta-history for those guarding us from fundamentalism), and are aberrations of true human nature. We now require radical changing, which praised be to God, has occurred in Christ (in history, no?).

  12. Unfortunately, I am not competent to argue in Balthasarian and other similar categories that are at the heart of this discussion. But, I do have one rather basic (and un-loaded) question to pose: it is unclear to me whether ‘performatism’ as used here is pejorative, or has even a tinge of such. Further, if not, then may we also posit that ‘charismatics’ are performatists? Are those who really do (!!!???) seem to prefer pop-inspired music, rock music, etc., etc., at their masses guilty as well of this highly subjective ‘framework’. Why single out ‘traditionalists’ as the dupes of a ‘framed performatism’? And, if we do not do so, how does this alter the parameters and fundamental assumptions of the conversation?

    It may seen to me that ‘performatism’ is necessarily inherent in the praxis of any self-conscious aesthetic, whether it is a ‘contemporary’ one or a perceived ‘revival’. (???)

    Too, bias is all too evident in the language of reporting events. Is just wearing a cappa magna to be ipso facto ‘flaunting’? (Not that I am necessarily a partisan of such vesture.) Is not wearing one ‘flaunting’ one’s own aesthetic and the message it sends??? Very often, I think it is!

    1. @M. Jackson Osborn – comment #20:
      No, performatism is not meant to be pejorative. It’s meant to be descriptive of a cultural phenomenon. Performatism is NOT limited to ROTR. ROTR is simply used as an example since its supporters are more visible and vocal today. I have not experienced charismatics doing the same. I am not claiming that performatism is at work in all of the ROTR. I’m merely suggesting that it may be so in some ways. Those who insist one genre of music is “more reverent” than another, thus more suited to the liturgy for example, seem to exhibit classic performatist traits.

      1. @Audrey Seah – comment #22:
        If, then performatism is ‘meant to be descriptive of a cultrural phenomenon’, then we cannot, indeed, in this discussion limit it to ‘traditionalist’ phenomema, but must use a broader brush and include ‘other worship aesthetics’ (if that isn’t an oxyomoron!) under the banner of performatism. For ‘folksy’, rock, pop, charismatic, etc., are equally performatist and as such are equally ‘framed’. And, are equally thought by their adherents to have a greater authenticity than other aestheses. So, as I intimated in #20, this unavoidably extends the frontiers, the perameters and underlying assumptions of your thesis.

        Too: is Derrida really germane to Catholic liturgical praxis??? If so, how???

        Has anyone read Experiments Against Unreality, by Richard Kimball?
        Kimball rather easily and deftly unmasks Derrida et al. A recommended read!

      2. MJO and all,

        Let me comment on whether Derrida is germane to Catholic liturgical praxis, since I think you’ve raised an important question.

        I hold that thinkers such as Derrida (I believe he considered himself an atheist) are germane because liturgy happens in a cultural context, and part of our current cultural context is that he is among the most important philosophers describing the contemporary situation. Christians can benefit much by engaging such as him. We don’t get the content of our belief from him, obviously, but we certainly might gain helpful tools of analysis, and he might help us notice and name many things better.

        Tertullian famously asked what Jerusalem has to do with Athens – he meant to assert that Christian faith (Jerusalem) has nothing to do with secular philosophy (Athens). He lost this argument pretty badly, at least in the Catholic tradition. One thinks of Aquinas making use of a non-Christian philosopher like Aristotle to help him try to explain the mystery of the Real Presence.

        awr

      3. @M. Jackson Osborn – comment #24:
        Perhaps when MJO and others propose that the performatism Audrey describes is found alongside many other liturgical styles, they are missing the coercive aspect: “the reader or viewer at first has no choice but to opt for a single, compulsory solution to the problems raised within the work at hand”. In the church situation, the authoritarian aspect comes from the reinforced liturgical rules and regulations, and the almost paralysing effects of knowing in these days that small deviations reported by a stranger can result in censure of clergy. It seems that participants become passive, in contrast to the “mutual interaction” which “admits imperfection and questioning”.

        The article suggests a new framework in which to place these present day church experiences alongside what is happening in the wider culture, and perhaps to learn how to escape the confinement of imposed frames of performatism.

      4. @Audrey Seah – comment #22:
        I appreciate that clarification. I take it that you mean “performatism” as a type of “look at me” or liturgy that is distinct, referring to both style of liturgy and how one “performs” it and that this is found in many expressions of liturgy. I’m quite familiar with charismatics and always felt that it looked like “perfomatism” to me some of the over-the-top style of bodily praying. But the revised liturgy as celebrated by many does precisely the same thing, with singing ensembles or choirs placed before the congregation in entertaining mode and the various antics, highly individualized of these singers as witnessed by bodily movements and facial expressions. The same with some priest-celebrants who make themselves the center of the celebration by facial features and huge gestures and prancing about when preaching, etc–these are often worst than the flaunting of any cappa! And of course the cappa is not even used for the liturgy itself it is a prelude kind of ceremony and to be quite honest I’ve never seen one in person, only in pictures, but I’ve seen the performatist priest celebrant of the new variety that is much more inane and detrimental to liturgy and lectors, communion ministers and choir members so affective in demeanor to call attention to themselves not to Christ.
        As for music, I think it would be better to say there are some forms of it that are not suited to the liturgy rather than only one type that is suited, such as Gregorian chant–that would be a mischaracterization of the Reform of the Reform in Continuity group.

      5. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #25:
        Performatism isn’t about the performative aspect of the liturgy even though the phenomenon includes since its in its nature. Performatism is also found in literature, art, architecture, movies – our culture. Performatism is NOT a “look at me” phenomenon. See the definition in the essay as described by the scholar who coined the term “performatism”. It might help to step away from the liturgy and think about how performatism manifests itself in something other than worship. I’d recommend reading the book if you’re interested.

  13. Back in 1964 I was slated to chant a Sunday epistle at a future missa cantata. Then the vernacular intervened. My disappointment was more than compensated in later years with deeper understanding of the Word we were proclaiming. Yes, I know chanting has returned to a parish near me, and chant forms are available for readings in English.

    The search for objective beauty has returned in earnest, as if it can be abstracted from those who perform it. We could celebrate scripture in our liturgies as we used to do for centuries, exalting the word as a heavenly object and paying less attention to the down-to-earth message it conveys. Such celebration has its place in building community. Look at secular liturgies such as the singing of the national anthem. I for one detest singing aimed to display one’s pretentious talents, rather than to evoke and build a common awareness of country.

    Chanting of scripture could be lived as common prayer if the assembly were very familiar with the text, and if the minister had a mature and gifted voice. I have heard the Emmaus Gospel chanted by Msgr. Raymond East at a convention mass celebrated by the national pastoral musicians. It was electrifying, he gathered us in as it were. No, we did not applaud as passive spectators; we knew the Spirit was present among us.

    Without familiarity and spiritual gifts we would have travesty. I recently witnessed a presider who had each step and gesture so carefully choreographed, that the observing assembly had nothing to contribute to the validity of the sacrament, so to say.

    Anyway, our gatherings are hardly familiar with the words of prophets and apostles, which are what lectors read. I have occasionally chanted passages we consider to be canticles (e.g., Philippians 2), though normally I speak in a dynamic didactic as the Lector Works commentaries make clear. Gospel passages, perhaps the words of Jesus in them, offer better possibilities, especially in the hands of a Msgr. East.

  14. Hello Audrey,

    No, performatism is not meant to be pejorative. It’s meant to be descriptive of a cultural phenomenon.

    With respect, I wonder if the readership here – well, some of it – might have had a not unreasonable basis for thinking that it was meant pejoratively, given that you defined perfomatism as “an emerging cultural reaction to postmodernism that falsely objectifies chiefly subjective aesthetics through coercive means.”

    Perhaps some deconstruction of the terms of art used is assumed, but usually, “falsely,” “authoritarian,” “coercive” and even “subjective” tend to carry negative associations, and the context provided doesn’t seem to reject those associations.

    I confess only a limited familiarity with Balthasar’s theological aesthetics, and less with Derrida. But what I do know makes it hard to accept that the two can be so readily reconciled, especially to the point of the (what appears to be) equality of multiple interpretations of liturgics to the degree that I suspect that you have in mind. Perhaps more concrete examples of how this plays out would be helpful.

  15. Thank you for a very worthwhile and thought-provoking essay.

    I agree with some of the commentators that a more thorough historical grounding would help us view the issues with clarity. While your explanation of performatism as a (very understandable) reaction to postmodernism makes sense, I think we might very well be able to identify a similar phenomenon again and again in earlier periods. The framing devices introduced in baroque liturgy and the self-conscious aesthetics of the Liturgical Movement would both be worth examining, for instance.

    At the end your essay leaves me crying out for more! Can you give concrete examples of von Balthasar’s model in action, to match those you cite for performatism? Indeed, could it be that some of the very same examples might accord rather well with von Balthasar’s liturgical theology, if presented to the reader in a less politicised frame?

    I also wonder at the combination of ‘rigid obedience to rubrics’ and ‘monist interpretations of ritual elements’ as features of performatism. Is it necessarily so? The former is characteristic (in speech, if not always example) of groups as diverse as the SSPX and the Roman Curia; the latter is less easy to define, and I’d be interested to know what specific framing devices you’d identify as being able to enforce it. I also can’t help noticing that neither characteristic is really a feature of traditional liturgy (and by extension, some, if not all, traditionalists) in the best sense: the tradition is varied and chaotic enough that monist interpretations are often impossible to establish, and rubrics derive much of their practical authority from the fact that they describe accepted (for which one could in ideal circumstances read: traditional) practice (when they don’t, now as in the past, they tend to get ignored).

  16. Thanks Jordan, for saying (in comment 12) what I could never adequately vocalize. Jordan is not the only one left by the side of road. Honestly, if my only option was to attend either of the Roman Catholic communities in my town, I’d be at home every Sunday morning. Though I am sure that most here would see these communities as exemplars.

  17. Hello Cathy @comment#29,

    Perhaps when MJO and others propose that the performatism Audrey describes is found alongside many other liturgical styles, they are missing the coercive aspect: “the reader or viewer at first has no choice but to opt for a single, compulsory solution to the problems raised within the work at hand”.

    I’d like to highlight this observation, since I believe it is a good opportunity for Audrey to expand more on what she understands by framing, and how it plays out in the concrete.

    PTB has not been remiss in highlighting some of the coercion that Audrey likely has in mind: namely, that by Vox Clara and CDW in the promulgation of the MR3 translation, new rubrical rules imposed by L.A. and R.S., and the rise of more bishops willing to enforce those rules, etc. So we’re all aware of that.

    Yet coercion is not any less coercion when it is imposed at a lower level. For most of the postconciliar period, that coercion has usually unfolded at the parish or diocesan level, at least in the West. A parishioner attempting to receive communion kneeling and/or on the tongue (which is a right acknowledged by the USSCB and the GIRM) in many places could and did find herself refused. A suggestion of some chant or more traditional hymnody could be given a cold shoulder by the music director. And a pastor who decided to start celebrating one mass ad orientem could result in an unpleasant phone call from the chancery the next morning – or, at worst, a reassignment as a hospital chaplain in a remote area.

    And yet, it is hard to see how it could be otherwise. At some level, a decision is made as to what the liturgical norm will be. And when that choice is made, other options are foreclosed. If someone’s preferred approach loses, they have no choice but to accept, or go elsewhere.

    In closing, Audrey speaks of “multiple interpretations of liturgics.” I wonder, then, if her concern is not so much coercion, but at what level it occurs – that great variety between parishes is aimed at.

  18. Coercion!!???
    What is more coercive than but rarely having a choice in what-would-be Roman rite liturgy that is other than plunking guitars, thumping double basses, a jazz trio or a rock band, the vaunted (‘flaunted’?) grand piano and the vapid happy-clappy music found in Ritual Song or worse. Coercion is the not-uncommon encounter with a priest (or, even, a bishop) who PRESUMES (in willful contrariness to the express will of VII and successive popes) to forbid chant (in Latin OR English), and whose ‘good morning, folks’ liturgical style has all the gravitas of the Ed Sullivan show. This is typical American liturgy. It is ‘coercive’. It is ‘performatist’. It is ‘flaunted’. And, it is ‘framed’ in cast iron.

    1. @M. Jackson Osborn – comment #38:

      I was privileged to serve twenty years at a large parish with tracker organ, beautiful acoustics. The adult choir adored Renaissance polyphony, I taught my children´s choirs everything from Mozart, Schuetz, Monteverdi, to Rutter and Joncas. We had two guitar-piano Masses and three organ Masses with a mostly overlapping repertoire of hymns and Ordinary settings. My congregation adopted rather nicely the Mass XVII settings for Advent/Lent of the Kyrie and Agnus Dei.

      The first inkling I had that everything I had worked for was wrong came from a new youth minister that insisted the youth of the parish only wanted the new LifeTeen repertoire and nothing else. The next blow came from a ROTR pastor who cut down the number of hymns per Mass from five to three (or two) and gave the cantors rather uninspiring psalm settings to cover Communion. The Gloria we use now has many descriptors like ¨dignified¨ and ¨noble¨ attached to it but in my opinion there´s nothing there to inspire the congregation to participate in it, other than the implied ¨coercion¨ by refusing to find another setting, or return to the one we had previously, which worked fine with pipe organ or guitar.
      I used to impose a wide range of musical styles from the church´s past and present on my congregation. Now my error of twenty years has been corrected and and we are waiting to see if the congregation reacts at all. So far they have been quiescent.

  19. I find it ironic that the discussion has turned to “Being”, considering that it is a term that is undefinable, and hence this discussion has turned to gibberish. I dare anyone here to define that word.
    St Thomas (Aquinas) had a much more sensible way of speaking about an ens, by looking at it from the perspectives of essentia et esse, which speaks about what a thing is, and that it is. (English is an incompetent language to do metaphysics.) The source of all esse is God, Whose essentia is Esse, His essence is “to be”. All entia on the other hand have limited esse from God according to their essence.
    For the mediaevals, there is no aesthetics contrary to what has been said. Beauty is a transcendental, meaning that an ens is beautiful to the extent that it has esse as Aquinas summarised. Everything, in other words, is good and beautiful because it was created by God Who sustains its “existence”, esse. The world as beautiful and God are intimately interrelated through esse.
    When one speaks of beauty one speaks of harmony, of good order in things (entia). For the Christian, there is also- in addition- as St Augustine pointed out, love. All of this is the real world of Beauty that is outside the individual. Where there is Beauty, so is there God. (There is a hierarchy of beauty.) It is up to the individual to perceive this, not the other way around.
    It was Kant who finalised the Copernican turn, that the real world is in the individual, that beauty is mere aesthetics, and consequently that God can only be “known” through faith because reason has its limits when it comes to knowing God. We are now seeing the dead end of this philosophy in post-modernism that ultimately leads to nihilism and total relativism, as Ratzinger has so often noted.
    What Christians have to do is to show again the presence of God in His creation, through the Beauty that we find in creation. The harmony (good order) and love in the Mass of the Ages is founded on this, and is why the Beauty of this Mass leads us to…

    1. @Ted Krasnicki – comment #39:
      Ted,

      I’m not sure it is gibberish. And I don’t see how what you’ve said suggests otherwise. Since I have been involved in the gibberish of which you speak some clarification would greatly help me.

      Without trying to meet your dare:
      Reading through Balthasar’s theological aesthetics I see someone well versed in the classical, medieval, and modern understandings of Beauty – with an special fondness for Aquinas. And Balthasar uses the term ‘Being’ regularly. As I understand him, ‘Being’ (which is very common in German theology and philosophy, yes?) is the abstracted ‘act of existing which is common to all things that are’ – but since that stems from God, it cannot be fathomed by the human being. It causes wonder and delight in the human mind.

      But doesn’t that allow for the secondary discussion as to whether certain artistic forms or styles ‘manifest’ this or not? Seriously, I’m just not sure what the problem is.

  20. This general discussion reminds me of the distinction Lawrence Levine made in Highbrow/Lowbrow. I don’t know what’s out there in the literature, but are there scholarly articles that discuss liturgy from that standpoint?

  21. Although Ms. Seah denies that she is using the term ‘performatism’ in a pejorative sense in #22 (q.v.) it ‘s plain, as others have noted, that she clearly intends it to be pejorative in her essay by the use of phrases like ‘falsely objectifies’ and ‘coercive means’. Other such words and phrases could be listed. Additionally, she again betrays her intentions when (in #31) she speaks of “the trap of performatism.”

    She’s either genuinely confused about the meaning of the term as used in art criticism (which I doubt), or is intentionally obfuscating the semantic field of the term for rhetorical purposes (which I suspect) by subtly encouraging the reader to associate the word with the concept of ‘performance’ in the sense of ‘play-acting’, ‘show’, ‘contrivance’, and ‘artifice’ in the negative sense of ‘machination’.

    Since she advises, “It might help to step away from the liturgy and think about how performatism manifests itself in something other than worship.” -here is a link to an article that clearly and concretely (and non-pejoratively) demonstrates the aesthetic principles of performatism in the art of photography, contrasting them with the principles of postmodernism:

    http://artmargins.com/index.php/featured-articles/581-performatism-contemporary-photography-alina-kisina-article

  22. Another thing I wanted to mention: Ms. Seah also either unintentionally or (I suspect) deliberately (again, as a rhetorical device) confuses the subtle difference between the meaning of ‘coercive’ in the sense of ‘constraining by force of legal authority’ and the sense in which it is used in art criticism, ‘training the eye or attention to”.

  23. See, the thing is -and I guess it really goes without saying – that in performatist aesthetics, the device, the artifice, the double-framing as Eshelman calls it, is precisely the artistic ‘contrivance’ which discloses the transcendent. The ‘frame(s)’ both constrain and liberate by ‘coercing’ the aesthetic sensibility beyond the quotidian to the transcendent, which any good liturgy does, EF, OF, ENUF, whatever.

    So it’s not antithetical to, “von Balthasar’s theological aesthetic framework [which] allows for both subject and object to undergo a kenosis from the start.” It’s just another “way”, another approach. The author is obviously simply disdainful of the ROTR, EF, traditionalism -whatever -apparently on the basis of personal “druthers” and a vague notion that it is oppressive and antiquarian, and so has brought a polemic against it festooned with pseudo-arguments from aesthetic criticism which, ironically, work against rather than for her ’cause’.

    1. @Mark Emery – comment #42:

      Mark: The author is obviously simply disdainful of the ROTR, EF, traditionalism -whatever -apparently on the basis of personal “druthers” and a vague notion that it is oppressive and antiquarian, and so has brought a polemic against it festooned with pseudo-arguments from aesthetic criticism which, ironically, work against rather than for her ’cause’.

      Have you considered that Audrey’s work highlights a systemic break between the ROTR-EF spectrum of Catholic liturgy and progressive Catholic liturgy? I interpret her call for a von Balthasarian advancement beyond frames of reference as the necessary evolution beyond the balkanization of the fragile “Roman liturgical communion”. The postconciliar diffraction of liturgy into antagonistic factions blinds us to a common worship which does not insist on a “right way” of worship, but the way to Christ.

      As I interpret Aubrey’s work, recognition of our common Catholic worship does not necessarily command that all Catholics worship the same way. Rather, in recognizing a common theology, a tenuous peace can grow between persons of different factions. This is possible unless persons of different persuasions prefer animosity and mutual recrimination instead of a recognition of the common faith we share.

  24. Hi, Jordan, thank you for bringing up this perspective, but after reading the piece several times I could only come to the conclusion, for the reasons I mentioned, that the essay was not intended to be conciliatory at all, but rather a polemical diatribe, couched in pedantic jargon, and based on poorly understood and applied academic concepts, designed to “blast the opposition.”

    I didn’t detect anything conciliatory in at all.

    Personally, I’m not a partisan of any kind in the traditionalist/reformist war, and think it’s rather silly. I was just offering a critique of the piece. My apologies if I came across as being uncharitable or antagonistic.

  25. With others, I offer my thanks to Ms. Seah for her article.

    I am confused, though, after reading it and her sources, why all the liturgical arts should not — among other things — be substantially performatic in nature.

    Accepting for the sake of argument Eshelman’s five basic features of performatism, it seems each of them better serves the end of the liturgy than any other aesthetic model.

    Whether performatism expresses itself variously through a cappa magna and Gregorian chant or guitars and tambourines, it seems each mode or style is attempting to posit — more or less successfully — a reality which is better, truer , and more beautiful than might be immediately perceived through our own experience.

    And, it would seem, it is precisely this gap — “artificially” maintained, even by means of “coercion” — which invites and facilitates our negotiation with the mysteries we encounter.

    Isn’t this consistent with von Balthasar’s notion of true aestheticization?

    1. @Rob Klant – comment #46:

      Thank you, Rob, for an important contribution to the debate. As Mark Emery has suggested, performatism is associated with many pejorative adjectives in the article, and so it seems helpful to step back and work out just what, if anything, is wrong with it, not only as a general cultural phenomenon but also when it is employed in a particular liturgical context with specific liturgical aims.

      Certainly ‘coercion’ (thanks to Mark also for clarifying the meaning of the term) would seem to be a necessary feature of liturgical worship. If our minds are to be lifted up to God (I put it that way, because it seems somewhat Pelagian to say ‘if we are to lift our minds up to God’) some features of the liturgy will need to serve that end. Grace is communicated to us through signs in the liturgy. A strength of the traditionalist/ROTF emphasis on the aesthetics of worship is that it recognizes the basic human fact that the way to our intellect runs through our senses, and so the liturgical signs need to be such as to appeal to our senses (so, vestments and architecture for sight, music for hearing, incense for smell and so on).

      Some other schools of liturgical practice place a similar emphasis on aesthetic features (e.g tambourines & liturgical dance), but where great creativity is involved their efforts can be counter-productive, insofar as the signs introduced into the liturgy may seem culturally arbitrary, and thus coercive in an all-too-ordinary sense. Traditional liturgical signs, because they are given to us by God/the Church/our forefathers (delete as appropriate) are much more resistant to manipulation and tendencies to use the liturgy in a totalitarian sense to control and indoctrinate participants. This will be especially true when the signs are well inculturated, and herein the ROTF seems to share a problem with the New Evangelisation: how can one reintroduce these signs effectively to their own culture, a culture which is doing all it can to forget them?

  26. Have you considered that Audrey’s work highlights a systemic break between the ROTR-EF spectrum of Catholic liturgy and progressive Catholic liturgy?

    Well, I took her to be saying that (as did Fr. Ruff, apparently: “Is all this an example of performatism? Is there something unique going on…”), but she has denied it: “I’m not implying that all ROTR efforts fall into the trap of performatism, I’m just suggesting that some might.”

    As I interpret Aubrey’s work, recognition of our common Catholic worship does not necessarily command that all Catholics worship the same way.

    Writing a polemical essay against certain forms of diversity is an unusual way to encourage diversity.

    1. Jordan @ #44: As I interpret Aubrey’s work, recognition of our common Catholic worship does not necessarily command that all Catholics worship the same way.

      Sam @ #47: Writing a polemical essay against certain forms of diversity is an unusual way to encourage diversity

      The angst of any traditional or conservative liturgical movement towards liturgical progressivism must be moderated against the reality that both the ROTR-EF movements and the progressive liturgical movements inhabit distinctive frames of performatism. Audrey Seah’s citation of the ROTR simply employs a useful specimen within Catholic liturgical culture. Her theory is applicable for diverse instances of progressive liturgical culture as well.

      We who are traditionally-minded must likewise develop a hermeneutic of suspicion towards our liturgical culture and practices. This essay represents a seed which might grow into a introspective discussion within our community. A self-critical hermeneutic tempers a tendency to exalt an idol of infallible orthopraxis which can never be reproached and never listens to liturgical progressivism. Our failure to examine the fallibilities of ROTR-EF entrenched attitudes traps us into an intellectual roundabout with no exits, a roundabout which simply reinforces and amplifies our prejudices.

  27. The angst of any traditional or conservative liturgical movement towards liturgical progressivism

    It’s not “angst,” Jordan. Pathologizing disagreement on either side isn’t helpful. Sure, some people might have “neurotic fear” (OED) of liturgical progressivisim, but others have integrated opinions born of study and practice.

    must be moderated against the reality that both the ROTR-EF movements and the progressive liturgical movements inhabit distinctive frames of performatism.

    Begs the question.

    Audrey Seah’s citation of the ROTR simply employs a useful specimen within Catholic liturgical culture.

    She’s rejected the notion that it’s a “citation of the ROTR” generally but rather a suggestion that “some might” (not all).

    We who are traditionally-minded must likewise develop a hermeneutic of suspicion towards our liturgical culture and practices.

    Underspecified. What do you mean by a hermenuitic of suspicion? Taking it generally, I think you’re wrong. Epistemology has moved beyond Cartesian universal doubting and heremenuitics have moved on beyond suspicion, lest we collapse into nihilism. (See NT Wright, The Challenge of Jesus, 170.)

    A self-critical hermeneutic tempers a tendency to exalt an idol of infallible orthopraxis which can never be reproached and never listens to liturgical progressivism. Our failure to examine the fallibilities of ROTR-EF entrenched attitudes traps us into an intellectual roundabout with no exits, a roundabout which simply reinforces and amplifies our prejudices.

    “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?” My practice is self-critical as is that of many of the liturgists and musicians I work with.

    There’s a certain degree of amusement that must meet contemporary academics exalting Derrida and other continental thinkers as a way of breaking through their prejudices.

    1. @Samuel J. Howard – comment #51:

      Sam: Underspecified. What do you mean by a hermenuitic of suspicion? Taking it generally, I think you’re wrong. Epistemology has moved beyond Cartesian universal doubting and heremenuitics have moved on beyond suspicion, lest we collapse into nihilism. (See NT Wright, The Challenge of Jesus, 170.)

      I agree that an endlessly recursive suspicion might end in nihilism. Yet, are certain tenets of EF and ROTR worship axiomatic? What is “tradition”? What is “precedence”? Must certain aspects of conservative Catholic worship, such as ad orientem celebration, not be questioned unless the entire liturgical project tumble over? I am convinced that conservative and traditional Catholics do not question liturgical constructions unless even a faint doubt over previously unquestioned ideas seeps through ideological allegiance.

      If one were to pick up a model of the EF-ROTR project (as typified by NLM, among other websites) and figuratively smash the model’s constituent parts down to the most elemental thoughts, could a person not in the movement reassemble these elements into a construct which resembles the construct liturgically conservative and traditional Catholics have formed for themselves?

      Probably not.

      Here, then, arrives a reckoning. The challenge of suspicion often results in doubt. Doubt, however, is the catalyst of reasoned change. Ms. Seah has undertaken the role of the disinterested researcher who is not afraid to test a logical re-assembly of the EF-ROTR construct’s pieces. The reality that the constituent pieces of the construct often do not neatly join together suggests that Catholic liturgical conservatism and traditionalism must risk even nihilism to establish a more credible case for existence.

  28. From the peanut gallery, right field of the academy:
    I wonder if Ms. Seah regards this term “performatism” as meaningfully analogous to “the arts” in that whatever constitutes itself as such is in “the eye of the beholder?” And does this inclination extend itself to those charged with executing ars celebrandi?
    It puzzles me that missing from her postulations is one of the most basic mandates ever to emerge from Vatican II liturgical legislation that remains unheeded to this day by a majority (from anecdotal experience) of celebrants who, in all other forms and manners, cling to their own perceptions of a celebrant’s duties and personae at the altar. I speak of the first order of liturgical texts requiring, not suggesting, not begging, requiring the cantillation of the celebrant’s orations. All of them.
    Blessed is the humble celebrant not gifted with a mellifluous tenor voice who, nonetheless, understands the sacral responsibility underlying this mandate (which has little if anything to do with Jewish priestly temple rites or such historicity) and humbly submits to “performing” his duties in order to submit back to God what God gave him and us all, words and melodies which, when wed, express the ineffable to our Lord.
    I want any reader of this to be clear, I’m not castigating priests in toto who, from whatever posture or direction they face at the altar, recite these orations for deliberated reasons. But if they have not familiarized themselves with the most basic of document requirements for the elevation of their ritual effectiveness or worse ignore this which Bugnini himself gave imprimatur, then it is reasonable for us to wonder why they discredit this aspect of “performatism” personally as having jurisdiction over themselves, but then feel intellectually justified in discrediting other adornments to the liturgy, whether from the baroque or the post-modernist perspective. It’s hypocrisy and cafeteria Catholicism from our own clerics under pain of vows.

  29. I observe that Audrey’s essay stings because it seems to suggest that the “errors” of the reform have possibly crept into the reform2, and that it may be that culture forms human beings at liturgy to a significant degree. Orthodoxy and tradition, however they are interpreted, are no antidote.

    Let me suggest that another possible sociological factor is one of the indulgence of expertise. By this I mean that many modern Westerners are much more specialized in their lives, both secular and religious. On matters about which they know little or nothing, they abdicate.

    This aligns well with much (though not all) of what I see in the resurgence of traditionalism. Let the priests (not the laity) do it right: DTRSTB. Let the musicians (not the pewfolk) perform proper music properly. Let teachers and catechists educate my children. Outside the Church, let QuikAuto change my oil, a plumber install my new faucet, a service weed and seed my lawn, and so on. Do we lack the confidence or competence of singing the Mass ourselves, of changing our oil or headlight bulb, or catechizing our children, or mowing our own grass? Granted, no simple answers here.

    I can relate more than one experience of a student in my parish who was confronted with a moral dilemma, and sought out spiritual direction. Now, that might well have been appropriate. (I don’t know; I didn’t ask for details.) On the other hand, if a believer is faced with an “ordinary” temptation, should that person be formed to make the right choice without a confessor? Or have we so specialized the modern existence that no person really need to possess religious expertise? Why, in other words, make choices about morals, liturgy, and music, when we can consult the internet so easily? And not be bothered with it personally. Is that part of performatism: to let someone else do it? If so, it is all around us.

  30. Unlike Mark, I didn’t find Audrey’s essay a polemical diatribe, couched in pedantic jargon, and based on poorly understood and applied academic concepts, designed to “blast the opposition.”. I do struggle with her assertion that “performatism is not meant to be pejorative”. Few would aspire to “a false and shallow objectivity that manifests itself through partisan support for particular interpretations of liturgical aesthetics and obsessions over the letter rather than spirit of the law.”

    In the Eshelman article that Mark quotes, performatism in the work of Alina Kisina leads to “the will to order, unity, and interiority”; Eshelman expects that this will “exert a tremendous appeal on those who have grown tired of the postmodern house of mirrors with its focus on the deadening banality of the real and the eccentric destabilization of space and subjectivity.” Here, performatism functions positively; for Audrey, in “traditionalist” views of liturgy, it is a negative.

    And I agree with that. Many of these viewpoints (I say this without ignoring the distinction between traditionalist, reform-of-the-reform, etc.) fail to adhere to Lonergan’s transcendental precepts: be attentive, be inteilligent, be reasonable, be responsible. They are not a good path to an authentic subjectivity. I include in this the vast majority of liturgically conservative blogs, articles and books, including some written by Pope Benedict. The issue is not that they are stupid, or historically incorrect – most are a curate’s egg on that score. It is that they form a closed circle. There is no evidence that could challenge them. They stand by the imposition of hierarchical power.

    In this discussion – Bill deHaas please note – I sure wish we could ignore thoughtless blasts about “performatism”, especially where the author has scarcely read the text and demonstrates no grip on the meaning of the word. Intellectual eructations ring out constantly and everywhere on the blogs. Why call attention to them? It is a waste of time.

    By the way — and before someone comes along with a tu quoque: I am fully aware that the “progressive” movement has suffered from a similar sort of self-referential, question-begging performatism. I think, nonetheless, that the current flavour is far worse. And I am aware that the last statement needs defending!

    1. @Jonathan Day – comment #56:
      “By the way — and before someone comes along with a tu quoque: I am fully aware that the “progressive” movement has suffered from a similar sort of self-referential, question-begging performatism. I think, nonetheless, that the current flavour is far worse. And I am aware that the last statement needs defending!”
      Thnx for that last paragraph. So true! 🙂

  31. It seems to me that Audrey’s essay has huge potential in that, with thoughtful revision, it could bring the insights of secular aesthetic theory to bear on liturgy. This approach in turn might open up a truly analytical, objective, dispassionate discussion of liturgy –its methods and objectives -which avoids the usual pitfalls of the traditionalist vs. revisionist debate. In my opinion, this is the kind of work brilliant young students of theology and liturgy should be engaged in: finding common ground for meaningful dialogue.

    Unfortunately, she’s taken a single concept (“performatism”) from that body of aesthetic theory, given it negative spin, and used it inappropriately and ineffectively to bludgeon traditionalist liturgical aesthetics, contributing to the acrimony rather than attempting to assuage it. (By the way –as can be easily demonstrated –the negative critique she visited upon traditionalist aesthetics under the banner of “performatism” could equally be made against revisionist aesthetics. The important thing to keep in mind –and this seems to be the salient point which has escaped her attention –is that all art is an attempt to control and manipulate. That’s the purpose and function of art in culture.)

    One (hopefully) helpful suggestion: Audrey might consider reviewing and revising her paper with the idea of accepting and applying Eshelman’s concept of performatism for what it actually is: a descriptive rather than a normative theorem of aesthetics; a tool for insight, understanding and appreciation rather than a new weapon to wield against “the other side”. This alone would open a window to intellectual, aesthetic and spiritual insights she would never suspect in common hours.

  32. IANAA (I am not an academic), but I’d like to participate in this discussion. I apologize ahead of time for not understanding some of the preliminaries.

    Before I go any further and make a fool of myself, is it safe to say that performatism’s “double framing” essentially ignores a great amount of “extraneous” material (thus excluding it from being considered “context”) via its “outer frame” and then pretends its “inner frame” is, in fact, its only frame, and a harmless one at that, displaying only the context that is self-evident due to the “outer frame”?

  33. Audrey -just a few more (unorganized) suggestions for a better presentation, if you were interested in applying some aspects of aesthetic theory to liturgy and sacramental spirituality:

    1. Assuming you might seriously entertain the idea that both traditionalist and revisionist approaches to liturgy are valid, you could take, for example, some of Eshelman’s insights as collected in his concept of performatism, along with some of the ideas of postmodernism, and show how they elucidate the aesthetic elements in both EF and OF Masses. (You would have to assume, of course, ‘ideal forms’ of both types of Mass for the purposes of analysis. Vid clips could be helpful.) 

    2. Examples of interesting questions that could be explored:  which elements in each type of Mass constitute the ‘frame(s)’ of the aesthetic event? Every work of art, including liturgical events, are ‘framed’ in some way. Among other functions, frames help participants distinguish between ‘the work of art’ and ‘everything else’. Often the frame is deliberately left indistinct or blurred for specific aesthetic or didactic purposes. Does this happen in any spatial, temporal, vocal, or gestural structure in either type of Mass? If so, why? There are frequently multiple frames, and frames within frames, especially in dynamic artistic events like liturgy where there are many participants in the work of art itself, and the event perdures in space and time. What are the salient frames in both the EF and OF Masses? where, how and why are they the same? Different? What are their specific aesthetic/didactic, etc., functions and intentions?

    3. The same and many other questions could be asked about the processes of ‘coercion’ in both types of Mass. Where, when, how and why is the attention of the participants trained at various points in the event. Etc.

    4. What are the contextual exigencies of the events? What institutional, political, cultural, and other societal structures and forces influence the aesthetics of the different types of…

  34. Masses. Who has a stake? Who are the participants? Why?

    5. Assuming that both types of Mass can ‘place the subjective [individual and collective aesthetic/spiritual] experience against the ultimate objectivity of divine beauty’ which, in the ecstatic/kenotic process suggested by von Balthasar, ‘culminates in the transformation of the human person’, how does each type of Mass accomplish this? Aesthetically, theologically, didactically, etc.? How do they differ? How are they the same? What ‘personality types’ is each type of Mass likely to attract? Repel? Etc. What types of aesthetic sensibilities?Styles of spirituality? And so forth.

    1. @Mark Emery – comment #63:

      Mark,

      These are all interesting questions, but what do they have to do with Audrey’s article? The contrast she sets up is not EF vs OF, but performatism vs von Balthasar. I think she only cites the EF because comments on EF tend to end up talking about aesthetics, though I could be wrong about that.

      A better way to pursue her topic imo would be to ask about possible virtues in performatism. Does the Incarnation validate the double frame? Does Revelation provide a mediation that aesthetics cannot offer? Is transcendence only achieved through kenosis, as Von B seems to suggest?

  35. I think Jim is right. “EF vs OF” is not the question. Perhaps another way to put his question: can the transcendental precepts be practiced within the frame of a performatist system? Lonergan rather than von Balthasar…

    Moreover, what are the boundaries of “the EF”? Unlike one of the photographs in Eshelman’s essay, the Tridentine Mass, like the Novus Ordo, is many things: a series of texts, massive collections of ritual practice for enacting those texts, theological and ecclesiological claims about text and practices, complements in architecture (e.g. altar rails), assertions about music, etc.

    So the “EF vs OF” question, in addition to being a “third rail” in liturgical conversation, is inherently difficult to analyse in the terms Audrey proposes.

  36. Hi, Jim, the points I wanted to make were that Audrey misappropriated the concept of performatism from art criticism, subtly gave the theoretical tool a negative spin as she loaded it with specious normative evaluative criteria it doesn’t support as a strictly descriptive theorem designed to understand and appreciate recent developments in the arts, and then tried to use it to dismantle and invalidate traditionalist liturgical aesthetics. A cursory review of her essay, coupled with a working knowledge of Eshelman’s theorem, will bear this out.

    Even a quick reading of the article by Eshelman I linked to in #41, where he applies his theorem to the works of a contemporary photographer, will convince the reader that performatism is not a normative or prescriptive theoretical tool designed chiefly to establish whether or not a particular aesthetic is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘effective’ or ‘ineffective’, as Audrey would have it; rather, it is a descriptive theorem designed to analyze and illuminate a set of techniques used in some contemporary works of art, and thereby to come to an appreciation of their aesthetic value. Judging from recent posts on this thread, it seems to me that most people involved in the discussion continue to miss this crucial point.

    Audrey, however, has done a disservice to Eshelman by expropriating his theorem, twisting its application, and using it for purposes for which it wasn’t designed or intended. The reader will be quickly convinced of this by comparing Eshelman’s use of the concept for elucidation and edification with Audrey’s use of it for obfuscation and destruction. Additionally, by pursuing this tack, Audrey has intentionally fanned the flames of the wearying, ho-hum skirmishes between traditionalists and reformists; which is regrettable in that a mind as brilliant as hers could have easily taken an objective, neutral approach aimed at conciliation and mutual appreciation.

    That she might yet pursue the better option was the reason I offered the suggestions in my last posts.

  37. Hi, Jonathan, I meant simply to suggest EF and OF as representative of traditionalist and revisionist aesthetics respectively, in the hope that Audrey (and others) might use the tools of secular aesthetic analysis to objectively and dispassionately compare and contrast differing liturgical aesthetics, in the hope that this might comprise gestures of conciliation and mutual understanding. That’s all.

    You and others are absolutely right, I think, to approach the subject from different angles. This is just my two bits. (Well, maybe six bits…a dollar, lol…) At any rate, we owe Audrey a debt of gratitude for opening the subject to a more multidisciplinary approach. Thanks, Audrey! Your insights into the relationship between aesthetics and sacramental spirituality are much appreciated. May they bear much good fruit! My hope and prayer is that all such efforts will build common ground for respectful and edifying dialogue between “factions”‘ lol…

    By the way, I think she’s created a quickly evolving meme which will rapidly make its way around the Internet. I noticed Mr. Wotherspoon plans to enter it into a venue, and Father Allan has already done so, though I’m not sure what he thinks he’s up to with it, lol…

  38. “From the standpoint of the dominant postmodern and poststructualist mindset, prospects for creating a new, autonomous monist aesthetic are nil.”

    What does this mean? Why is it relevant to Catholic aesthetics?

  39. it is a descriptive theorem designed to analyze and illuminate a set of techniques used in some contemporary works of art, and thereby to come to an appreciation of their aesthetic value.

    Mark, I am not an art critic, so I could be completely off base here. Both Audrey and Enshelman have much broader definitions of performatism than you present here. When Enshelman says “I have tried to take a more specific, hands-on approach to defining art in the epoch after postmodernism, or what I call performatism.” I think he is asserting that ” art in the epoch after postmodernism” is performatism, not that his “more specific, hands-on approach to defining art” is performatism, which is what you seem to be saying. Performatism is epochal, succeeding post modern art as it followed modern art.

    Whether you or Audrey are right, she has identified an epochal shift in aesthetics which she contrasts with vonB’s “theological aesthetic.” Perhaps she should not have called it Performatism, but that does not invalidate her contrast in any way. In postpostmodern liturgy, which is characterized by a particular canonized style, the effort to achieve that style preempts the more profound mutual kenosis of God and human that vonB described. Your questions, as interesting as they appear to be, do not address that contrast.

    1. @John Kohanski – comment #70:
      Audrey is probably the one to reply to this, as I don’t pretend to understand postmodern aesthetics very well. But allow me to offer this observation.

      “Performatism” isn’t just “whatever I don’t like in liturgy,” and it isn’t helpful to do this back-and-forth “gotcha” by showing that the liberals also do showy things that are supposedly just as bad. If you’re not ready to make an argument that your YouTube video is an example of postmodern performatism, then you’ve missed the point and your comment is a distraction.

      Let’s not lose track of the issue. “Performatism” is being used in a particular sense here, as a description of particular phenomena in our (unprecedented) postmodern context. Can we focus on that please? Is ROTR and Latin ad orientem etc. is an example of performatism (in contrast to vB’s aethetics), and if it is, what are the implications of that?

      awr

      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #71:

        “Performatism” isn’t just “whatever I don’t like in liturgy,” and it isn’t helpful to do this back-and-forth “gotcha” by showing that the liberals also do showy things that are supposedly just as bad.

        “Showiness” doesn’t seem to have anything to do with performatism.

        Let’s not lose track of the issue. “Performatism” is being used in a particular sense here, as a description of particular phenomena in our (unprecedented) postmodern context. Is ROTR and Latin ad orientem etc. is an example of performatism (in contrast to vB’s aethetics), and if it is, what are the implications of that?

        I don’t see how it’s off topic to discuss whether other forms of liturgy are performatist?

        Seah has, in comment #22 repudiated that interpretation of her essay. ROTR and traditionalism are being used, she says, as merely containing examples of performatism (though the examples seem to me inadequate for that purpose), and she says she is not describing ROTR and traditionalism as being performatist in general.

        Ironically, misreading (in a Bloomian sense), Seah’s postmodernist essay as a critique of the reform of the reform could be seen as ex-modernists attempting to reimpose a monist liturgical intepretation and praxis on a postmodern discussion in order to come to a “true” understanding, that is to say, a performatist interpretive action on the text.

  40. “performatism — an emerging cultural reaction to postmodernism that falsely objectifies chiefly subjective aesthetics through coercive means. In performatism, “beautiful,” “transcendent,” “sacred,” and “reverent” are descriptors that attach themselves to a culturally endorsed medieval aesthetic, which in turn provide a speciously objective meaning to primarily subjective art forms.”

    My experience in growing up during the decade after the Second Vatican Council (I was born in ’68) is that the Novus Ordo was presented by my parish and diocese (as opposed to how the documents of the Council wanted the Novus Ordo) as “beautiful,” “transcendent,” “sacred,” and “reverent.” Yet as I grew older, these words stood in contrast to the secular-sounding music; the removal of the tabernacle and kneelers; the treatment of the sanctuary as just another gathering hall; and the disinterested/apathetic appearance and participation of those around me.

    “Performatism reacts against the uncertainty of postmodernism in its attempt to re-empower the frame. In performatist framing, “a blend of aesthetic and archaic, forcible devices” are used to establish a new monism in an attempt to re-establish some kind of objectivity (Ehselman, 2).”

    I don’t know about the “archaic” but I can label the Novus Ordo I experienced, the changes in the liturgy and the sanctuary, as an “aesthetic…forcible [device].” I was taught, and the teaching was reinforced, that this was, objectively, how the Mass was to be.

    (cont.)

  41. “Eshelman describes the phenomena in the following way:…”

    Definitely, the Novus Ordo my parish experienced was the “single, compulsory solution to the problems” that the Second Vatican Council addressed. There was no alternative. As I grew older and instinctually felt a disconnect between the Mass as it was presented and the Mass as I was told it was supposed to be (though I could not put words to that instinctual response), all that was offered was the Mass that was there – I was “forced back into the work.” With the liturgy as presented, I certainly felt “practically forced to identify with something implausible or unbelievable within the frame — to believe in spite of [my]self — but on the other, [I] still [felt] the coercive force causing this identification to take place…”
    I don’t know that I was “intellectually …aware of the particularity of the argument at hand” to the extent I could articulate it. But I did express it by a growing disinterest in my faith, the liturgy, and the One to whom both should have been pointing: Jesus Christ. I removed myself from the “frame.”

    (cont.)

  42. “Within a postmodern context, the liturgy is constantly in flux as communities repeatedly discern the “right” way of doing liturgy while fearing the slip into relativism: postmodernism is likely a key cultural catalyst behind the many post-Vatican II “experiments” that have understandably been criticized heavily. Performatism reacts to the uncertainty of postmodernism and attempts to ascertain objectivity in liturgy by appealing to arbitrary authoritarian sources such as tradition.”

    Just as Fr. Ruff stated, “Of course Stroick and McCrery differ (as do Mozart and Haydn, or Pachelbel and Walther). The claim isn’t that they are uniformly the same, but that they part of a larger tendency today to retrieve and reclaim. It’s “unity” in that sense…” I would say that, just all “experiments” in the Novus Ordo weren’t the same, they were united in a performatism, that unifying belief that THIS was how the Mass was supposed to be, that it was absolutely “beautiful,” “transcendent,” “sacred,” and “reverent,” and that any doubts you had about this were to be referred to my priest’s or bishop’s interpretation of the Second Vatican Council.

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