Sunday, November 20, 2011

On the relic in the age of mechanical reproducibility

When I popped into the prize-winning new Catholic cathedral of Oakland for mass this morning, I did not expect to see an image of Christ from the port royal at Chartres, let alone 58 feet high in points of light punctured in aluminum. I didn't expect it to but it works, hovering above the proceedings like a sort of hologram, collapsing scale and distance by so knowingly naming them. Another sampling from Old Europe worked too, to my astonishment. As the bishop introduced the peace, his voice was suddenly replaced by the muffled sounding voice of an older man, not a native speaker of English, saying "let us offer each other a sign of peace." It was, I realized, a recording of the voice of Pope Benedict XVI. All very postmodern, in one way. But in another, very premodern. This is how relics work, and why.

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