Perambulating the Bounds

Monday, March 05, 2007

Terry Thacker is one impressive guy

Terry was on a panel discussion at Downtown Presbyterian Church yesterday, the topic was sacrifice and the death penalty in keeping with this year’s DIG show theme. It was a good group, moderated by David Dark, and the other panelists (other than Terry, who if you don't know is chair of the Fine Arts department at Watkins) were Rocky Horton from the Lipscomb art department, Harmon Wray, who directs a program in Faith and Criminal Justice at Vanderbilt Divinity School, Josh Perry, a medical ethicist from Vandy, Jewly Hite, who writes for the Scene some and other places, plays music, and is getting a degree at the Vandy Div School, and Stacy Rector, the Exec Director of TCASK, probably the main groups trying to get rid of the death penalty in Tennessee. It really was too big a panel because one wants to hear what all of these people have to say.

So everybody had something interesting to say, but Terry took things to a different level, contrarian up to a point and erudite. I can’t do justice to his remarks, but he challenged religion for purveying dead, codified forms. He sees art as having the role of breaking down those dead forms to recover conversation and intimacy. It is the role of art to replace these monolithic systems with truncated forms that allow room for the conversation, and this is the foundation for polis (very pleased to hear him reference polis, not sure if he had Olson in mind). True religion, and art, want to destroy the things that get in the way of genuine polis—Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed when they stopped functioning in the way a city should as a human system. Art confronts the dead forms with semiotic violence, deploying a “mobile army of metaphors” in Nietzsche’s words (quoted by Terry, not something I came up with). He also touched on a great quote from Heidegger, to “joyfully dance outside the house of Being.”

The panel (and people in the audience who spoke) seemed uniformly opposed to the death penalty, and there was a lot of agreement that support for it is just mystifying. Terry turned that discussion upside down by forcing an acknowledgement that there is a reason why the death penalty is so compelling, even though its stated purposes (deterrence, closure for victims) start to spring leaks as soon as they are subject to scrutiny or facts. Using the insights of someone engaged with art, he pointed out that the death penalty has a symbolic purpose that is still powerful, although it qualifies as an ossified symbol that no longer serves its purpose. The only way to challenge its hold on society is to break it down on a semiotic level. This struck me not as being a naïve assertion of the power of art to change people’s hearts, but a fairly pragmatic invitation to join a necessary sort of culture war that started from a clear-eyed assessment of social truths.

This is not the first time Terry has said things that caused me to sit and take notice.

Again none of this is take away from the other panelists. In particular, I was pleased to see Stacy participating just because I’m very glad she’s taken over as Executive Director of TCASK. She’s smart and articulate, and I have the sense that she will bring something of a pastoral spirit to the problem (she’s an ordained Presbyterian minister). I also think it reflects well on the Presbyterian Church that she has found her call for now in this role. It’s a good place for a collective prophetic voice.


  • Terry Thacker is perhaps the biggest jerk I have ever had the misfortune of spending time with.

    He didn't trip on his ego while speaking ?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:26 PM  

  • I realize this is an ages old post, but I can't not take issue with someone calling Terry Thacker a jerk!

    Come now...

    By Anonymous nick stolle, at 10:39 PM  

  • romans, supports the death penalty. Having said that surely society still sees the need to put down some of these demons that terrorize our childrens dreams and jade their future. Or maybe we prefer to pay for their housing for the rest of their life. I think it is an insult to the word to not follow through when it is a clear case for capital punishment.

    By Blogger gdc, at 6:27 PM  

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