Give Them More to Say

A friend read the introductory paragraph of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s The Christian Future at Men’s Group this weekend. Here it is:

ERH goes on to say that this “speechless future,” as he calls it, is the dilemma of our age and was the theme of his life for several decades.

I found myself unexpectedly moved by this anecdote, in particular the line, “When a lover has nothing more to say”—nothing, that is, except “to Hell.” When not even love can move a man to care about beautiful speech, what hope is there for speech at all?

I’m not old enough to call this dilemma the theme of my life, but it has certainly been a preoccupation. I spend the bulk of my time making art and teaching others to make art for themselves. Almost everything I do, whether teaching literature, organizing a music colloquium, or publishing a magazine, is part of this project: to make the best art I can and teach others to make it, too.

The artist’s main challenge (apart from just doing the work) is getting other people to care. In fact, that may be the best way to measure the success of any given artwork. Does it compel people to care? The theater producer in the story gives up his dreams because he thinks that his cause is hopeless. Granted, a public that has no response other than to say “to Hell” makes a tough crowd, but I hold out hope that it can be won over. Eventually, that apathy will break under its own weight and people will begin looking for things to care about.

And once they care, they will need words to say. One day, a young Romeo spending an evening with his Juliet may realize that he does want to woo her with beautiful speech, and he will search high and low until he finds something. So this is my encouragement to artists and teachers everywhere: Keep making and loving beautiful things. One day, the world will want them again.

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