Matthew Henry John Bartlett

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Tuesday 27 July, 02004

Rowan Williams/Lost Icons

by Matthew Bartlett @ 11:35 am

I’ve just finished the Archbishop of Canterbury‘s book Lost Icons. It was worthwhile. Quite esoteric language, but perhaps that is necessary when making the kind of sytem-wide critiques of ‘North Atlantic society’ that he does. He concludes the book with the following:

The ‘lost icons’ of this book have been clusters of convention and imagination, images of possible lives or modes of life, possible positions to occupy in a world that is inexorably one of time and loss. But as the discussion has developed, it has hinted more and more at a single, focal area of lost imagination, what I have called the lost soul. And this loss, I’ve suggested is inextricably linked with the loss of what is encoded in actual icons of Christian tradition and usage – the Other who does not compete, with whom I don’t have to and can’t bargain; the Other beyond violence, the regard that will not be evaded or deflected, yet has and seeks no advantage. What has been culturally lost, the sense of being educated into adult choice, the possibility (tantalisingly both political and more political) of social miracle, active appropriation of a common good, the possibility of letting go of a possessed and defended image of the moral self, abstractly free, self-nuturing – all this will remain lost without a recovered confidence in the therapeutic Other, not ‘there’ for examination, for contest, even for simple consolation; so hard to say anything about without risking the corruption of the consolatory voice. But sometimes, whatever the risk, we have to force ourselves to talk, not of consolation but of hope, of what is not or cannot be lost. We can choose death, but we don’t have to. What we are present to is neither created nor extinguished by our will. The iconic eye remains wakeful.

6 responses to “Rowan Williams/Lost Icons”

  1. John says:

    What does that mean? I figure that “the Other” is a reference to God, but that is as far as I got, and even then I only got that because it was capitalised. My iconic eye is obviously asleep.

  2. aaron says:

    hhhmmm. The conclusion clearly belongs at the end of everything else that will give it sense.

  3. Matthew says:

    Yeah, the idea is, if the conclusion interests you then you’ll probably want to read the book.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I would have thought that “the kind of sytem-wide critiques of ‘North Atlantic society’ that he does” would mandate clear language to communicate to such a wide audience.

  5. Matthew says:

    I don’t know who exactly his audience is. I think it’s probably intended for a fairly narrow range of people, the kind who read Foucault, Wittgenstein, Freud. In fact yeah that’s right – I think he is aiming at academics, trying to show them where their ideas are causing trouble in the wider world.

  6. Hans says:

    Cheers Matt, but nobody reads Freud anymore.

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