Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sigur Ros: Primus et Secretus

I have, at the suggestions of friends, recently paid quite a bit of attention to the band Sigur Ros. They are an Icelandic group whose music strikes a very organic chord in the psyche and the spirit. My first real experience with them was watching the video for the song Glosoli, which you can watch here on YouTube. I highly, highly recommend it. Watch it few times and really take it in. Another fantastic music video is Svefn-g-englar. These two alone are a redemptive force in the medium of music video, a medium in which I otherwise have little faith.

A few minutes ago, I watched a video for their upcoming album. I was not a little shocked and frustrated when the video appeared to be mostly about a group of people who spend the entirety of the presentation in the nude. I'm not quite certain how I feel about this on the whole, but a few questions and thoughts came to mind.

Where is the line in the sand as far as nudity goes? Where is the mark that says, "This far, and no further"? In Madeleine L'Engle's Penguins and Golden Calves, she talks about the juxtaposition of the human body: how it can either be an icon (that which leads us to meditation on God) or an idol (that which draws our eyes away from the light of his glory). For me, the body itself is a wonder. Just today, as I sat on the bus with people spanning at least four races, I was struck by the wonder of skin. That it should be opaque, that it should function as it does, that it should differ amongst us, is all a grand and wonderful mystery to me. We, as a part of creation, are the words and the paint-strokes of God, a toss-up of color and cut. But skip ahead to the viewing of the body in the intimate expanse of nudity, and I cannot often see it beyond my own idolatry. Perhaps the nature of the male gender to be visual in identification is a strike against me. Perhaps my own faults and disposition are strikes against me. To be honest, I don't know.

A professional photographer friend showed me some photos he had taken. His focus was on the clarity of the image captured. He was proud of his work. He was proud of the fact that you could distinctly see individual water droplets on each model's body. I shifted uncomfortably and tried to appreciate his work and his profession as I watched the stills for magazine covers and beach retreat advertisements pass in front of my eyes. He is much older than I, and has been married to his wife for much longer, but he revealed that he has his difficulties as well in that line of work.

Another dear friend with whom I spoke mentioned the sanctity of the human body. Even the naked body of someone of the same sex, he said, is something which should be treated with a penultimate degree of respect. Call me old-fashioned, or call me what you will, but this is a holy sense of secret-keeping with which I can happily agree. I have done my share of dormitory shower rooms and such, but the idea that everyone's body is sacred warms my soul. The idea of seeing a person naked feels a bit like cutting down an old tree to count its rings.

Sigur Ros has a history of nudging the primal longing for beauty within us. Their music will often brush up against that feeling that brokenness sometimes (perhaps even always) overlays truth. I am quite aware that the European notion of nudity and the American notion of nudity are two different things (though one is drifting slowly towards the other), but I don't know if I can watch that video again. The artist in me is governed by a priest, and the priest by a doorkeeper.

All that said, I think feet are simply amazing, and I like the outlines of metatarsal bones.


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