I am behind the times! I haven’t carved time out of my other reading, writing, and editing projects, both academic and creative, to keep up with Ekphrasian blogging. But here at last is a report on our May meeting. I hope to follow up with reports on our three-ish June meetings soon.
For our May meeting, Medieval scholar Mahlika Hopwood traveled down from the Bronx, where she is pursuing a PhD at Fordham University, to talk to us about Hildegard of Bingen. I learned a lot about this fascinating Mystic from Mahlika’s talk.
But first, Betsy G shared a little short story that turned out to be a dream. We discussed how to revised this work to take it from mere dream-record into the realm of the “literary.” And then later, our talk about dreams proved relevant to thoughts on Hildegard’s visions.
Hildegard of Bingen was an amazing person. She was a nun and abbess. She was a rock-star gardener; poet and Inklings scholar Malcolm Guite has a great sermon about her ecological work.
Two themes in Mahlika’s talk stood out.
1. Visual Art
Although it does not appear that Hildegard was herself an artist, she fostered the visual arts among those in her convent. Check out this site with a slide show of the works she commissioned. What astonished me is how “Eastern” these works are: they look like nothing so much as Buddhist Mandala. Their ideas are very similar to Charles Williams‘s concepts about holism, coinherence, and exchange. She pictured the universe as an egg, or as a heavenly rose like Dante’s. She had vivid visions of God’s presence and working in the world, such as the one on the left, in which the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is like a fiery hand gripping her head and forcibly transferring the revelations to her mind. We can see her writing them down, but her faithful secretary also waits off to the right to help her capture her visions in words.
Hildegard enjoyed a startling degree of academic, religious, and personal freedom for a woman of her time. She ran her own Abbey. She was highly literate in several languages. She wrote her revelations in influential forms. Her visions were approved as genuine by the Pope after an examination for their doctrinal soundness. She even traveled around preaching! And… she wrote music.
Another part of Mahlika’s presentation that I found very impressive was Hildegard’s musical skill. She was a composer; check out her music here or here or listen to some of her compositions on youtube. More than that: she thought of the world in musical terms; she used music as a metaphor, or a fully-developed allegory, for spiritual reality. But it was more than an allegory: it was a unified, spiritual-scientific way of picturing the cosmos. The planetary spheres sing, and their harmony holds all things together in musical relationships. It is far more complex than that, but I hope that you go and read up on her life and work for yourself!
After Mahlika’s presentation, several members of the group shared their work, and we had the usual lively discussions, full of remarks about what we liked and suggestions for revision and improvement.
Earl P read the opening section of his Tolkienian narrative of elves, dwarves, and — spoiler alert! — dryads: a short story with the preliminary name “Jotori Chronicles.”
Richard B shared drawings from the Kimmeriorian character set; you can see some of his other work here to get a sense of his style. These pictures led to a very, very lively discussion (debate?) about the perceived sexism of his depictions, both written and visual, of women. We talked about working within and/or subverting the expectations of the graphic novel/superhero genres.
Finally, Joshua L shared some of his photos from Players of the Stage’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. The director, assistant directors, and major members of the cast are all Ekphrasians and were present to enjoy his beautiful photos.