Inherited, Not Made

Alan Jacobs on the Fëanor Temptation:

And this is why “making” in and of itself is not the answer to our decadent moment. “Love of things, especially artificial things, could be seen as the besetting sin of modern civilisation, and in a way a new one, not quite Avarice and not quite Pride, but somehow attached to both” – and this is the Fëanor Temptation. It is in light of this temptation that I advocate repair, which is a mode of caring for what we have not made, but rather what we have inherited. We will not be saved by the making of artifacts — or from the repair of them, either; but the imperative of repair has these salutary effects: it reminds us of our debt to those who came before us and of the fragility of human constructs.  

Lately I have become more and more troubled by the tendency of my fellow Christians to elevate Art to the level almost of Gospel. (Mako Fujimura has advocated almost exactly this.) In so doing, we are far, far more like our secular modern neighbors than we think. When a Christian says “Beauty (or Art) will save the world,” we ought to ask, “Whose beauty? Which art?” Making is not unequivocally good.

In case I haven’t said this before on this blog, let me say it here: if any writer is going to guide us through the deceptively shimmering waters of Art in the 20th and 21st centuries, it will be J. R. R. Tolkien. I can’t think of anyone else with the necessary experience, humility, and depth of knowledge to write clearly on this subject, even though that writing takes the form of fantasy literature. It may be because it’s fantasy that it will prove so valuable.

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