Topics of this week’s links include Hagia Sophia, Poetry and James Matthew Wilson, Eudora Welty as Color-blind Southern Photographer.
In a Controversial Move, Turkey Will Cover Mosaics Depicting Christian Icons in the Hagia Sophia During Muslim Prayer
Emperor Justinian built Hagia Sophia in Constantinople in 537 AD, when the city was the capital of the Byzantine Empire. After more than nine hundred years of its existence as a church, Ottomans conquered the city, and the church was turned into a mosque in 1453. Some of its priceless Christian art was destroyed. Some was plastered over. Muslim decorations were added. Hagia Sophia was converted to a museum in the late 1930s. Several of the plastered-over and other destroyed mosaics were repaired and restored and coexisted with the Muslim decorations.
Today July 24, 2020, Hagia Sofia will be open for prayer and will start functioning as a mosque after 86 years. Many Christians were concerned that its Christian art works would be hidden again. To my relief, the above linked article says that only a few mosaics will be covered, the ones that are in the directions Muslims face when praying, and they will be uncovered at other times when tourists will be able to visit. Yes. Tourists will still be allowed. And admission will be free.
In the article linked above, David Paul Deavel at Catholic News Report considers the role of poetry in the cultural life of the past century or so. Deavel compares currently famous poets who are “famous only to other poets” to wildly popular Instagram poets (Insta-poets), and he looks at the reasons behind the loss of popularity of poetry of a more traditional sort. He suggests, “the verse of too many poets, ‘free’ as it was of rhyme, fixed meter, and any organization of its rhythm for so long, was part of what led to poetry’s near death.” Happily, he tells us about James Matthew Wilson and other poets like him “whose critical intelligence and gut says that if you love verse, one thing that you must not do is to set it all free.”
James Matthew Wilson may never make the late-night circuit. . . . But if we are thinking about the fortunes of poetry in an age of social media, I’ll bet the works of both the titled modernists and the interloping Instas will be the ones that will disappear after their fifteen minutes of fame is up.”
Southern writer Eudora Welty was born September 10, 1909, and she died July 23, 2001, nineteen years ago today. There is much of great interest in the above-linked article by T. A. Frail, Senior Editor at Smithsonian Magazine, including the fact that many subjects of Welty’s photos were African-Americans who at that time (in the early 30s) and at that place (Mississippi) were “socially invisible” to whites. Welty made her color-blind photos while she was a reporter for the Works Progress Administration, one of few women who worked for the WPA.
I was taking photographs of human beings because they were real life and they were there in front of me and that was the reality,” she said in a 1989 interview. “I was the recorder of it. I wasn’t trying to exhort the public”—in contrast, she noted, to Walker Evans and other American documentary photographers of the ’30s.
“In her memoir . . . Welty paid respects to picture-taking by noting: ‘I learned in the doing how ready I had to be. Life doesn’t hold still. A good snapshot stopped a moment from running away. Photography taught me that to be able to capture transience, by being ready to click the shutter at the crucial moment, was the greatest need I had. Making pictures of people in all sorts of situations, I learned that every feeling waits upon its gesture; and I had to be prepared to recognize this moment when I saw it.’
“She added: ‘These were things a story writer needed to know. And I felt the need to hold transient life in words—there’s so much more of life that only words can convey— strongly enough to last me as long as I lived.’”