Room 2.07, MediaCityUK
Dr Gavin Hopps (University of St Andrews)
Too Much Heaven: The Kitsch Epiphany
Most people in the contemporary western world are familiar with what Noel Coward, that connoisseur of kitsch, referred to as the extraordinary potency of cheap music – that is, the experience of being bowled over, 'carried away' or profoundly elated by an art-form that seems able to 'give more than it has'. But is it of any theological significance? Pop, rock, rap and rave have all been used in religious worship, but what about outside the church? Might such music be able to elicit what Paul Tillich refers to as an experience of 'revelatory ecstasy'? Does it make any sense to speak of a 'kitsch epiphany'? That music is capable of engendering such affects is of course something of a commonplace. Karl Barth, for example, famously claimed that it is possible to hear in Mozart’s music the goodness of the created order and, as such, that it may even serve as a kind of theodicy, since it communicates a sense of the lux perpetua in which the darkness of the world is enveloped. And yet such arguments, which have been cogently defended in recent years by Jeremy Begbie, Albert Blackwell, Richard Viladesau and others in relation to classical music in general, are rarely applied to popular forms. Since it seems unlikely that musical affects can be so neatly prescribed in advance, and that a medium of such peculiar potency should be excommunicated in its entirety, this paper will explore the possibility that pop music may be capable of eliciting the kinds of affects that Barth attributes to Mozart.
Gavin Hopps is Lecturer in Literature & Theology and Director of the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts at the University of St Andrews. He has been a Lecturer in English at the universities of Aachen, Oxford and Canterbury Christ Church and a Visiting Fellow at the University of Cambridge. He has published numerous articles on Romantic writing, a collection of essays on spectrality in Byron, and a monograph on the singer-songwriter Morrissey. He is currently working with Jane Stabler on a new edition of the complete poetical works of Lord Byron (to be published by Longman in 6 volumes), a monograph on popular music and radical wonder, entitled The Kitsch Epiphany, and another on the levity of Byron's Don Juan.