First Reformed and the Art of Withholding

Article, February 2019, Film, Sound and Silence

“Because the human being is able to speak, the ability to be silent is an art, and a great art precisely because this advantage of his so easily tempts him.” – Søren Kierkegaard

Wind howls incessantly. Birds chirp and crow in dialogue. Trees continuously creak. Slowly the camera advances, gazing upward toward a small white protestant church. This is how Paul Schrader opens his latest film First Reformed.

A story of unrelenting despair, First Reformed was among the most chilling and challenging films I saw last year. The themes of the movie span hope and depression, the sacred and the mundane. Shrader’s film indicts the condition of the modern church, its corporate structures, its political affiliations, and its disregard for the natural environment. But at its heart First Reformed is about one person struggling to see God in a valley of darkness.

On Two Challenges to Art and Poetry

Article, February 2019, Poetry, Sound and Silence

“Beyond all doubt it is best to have made one’s first acquaintance with Spenser in a very largeand, preferably, illustratededition of The Faerie Queene, on a wet day, between the ages of twelve and sixteen…” – C. S. Lewis

An existential irony exists today, in which we have been insulated from our world by noise. Because our senses are constantly bombarded, we must tune down our sensitivity to the world in order to cope with it all. The loudest, most urgent noises make it through, and we process them, often according to priority of urgency. The net effect is to silence our ears to the rest of the world and its subtleties.

I needn’t delve into the many well-documented repercussions of this chronic clamor on our psyches. We know most of them only too well. But I will mention one lesser-known one, and that is the effect on our relationship to art.

If art were a car, it would run on attention—deep, high-octane attention. 

February 2019: Sound and Silence

February 2019, Sound and Silence

In an upcoming article titled “On Two Challenges to Art and Poetry,” Graham Shea describes the experience of poetry as one of moving from attentive silence to the thrilled discovery of sound. Whether reading or writing, this discovery is always fresh and exciting:

Malcolm Guite, a poet I admire very much, once described his writing process with a sheepish grin. He said he gets some words he likes down on paper, then leans over the page and whispers to them, “Have you got any friends?” and waits to see who comes. — Graham Shea, “On Two Challenges to Art and Poetry” (coming soon)


This February, a theme of “Sound and Silence” will guide contributions of poetry and visual art, and articles on topics from religious art to transcendental film.


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