Monday, June 29, 2009

On Beauty (Michelle)

As Jillian so rightly pointed out, the blog has been quiet for awhile now. And that is fine; sometimes, writers need quiet, and this writer, at least, did and still does. The Internet, with its manifold blessings, can be quite a source of unnecessary chatter, and I have been fleeing its many voices. I am in a stage where signing onto Facebook makes my skin crawl, where "going invisible" on Gmail gives me express pleasure...and where airing my views on the blog seems a highly unattractive prospect. Even if I do really only have 3-5 readers, give or take 0.7, who are really friends whom I don't mind confiding in at all!

But here's the thing...I didn't decide to start writing in this space because I wanted lots of people to hear me, but on the off chance that something I had to say, or something I stumbled across and passed along, might be worth being heard by someone, some day, because the barometric pressure was right, because it was raining, because there was a beetle crawling on the window, or for some other equally arbitrary reason. It was the idea of Whitman's spider, flinging "filament, filament, filament, out of itself / Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them...Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul."

And that purpose has not gone stale --- in fact, it is the fresher because I feel a certain dread of all the blanched fields of information and opinion and banal fact available on the internet. Because I am more certain that I'm offering what I'm about to offer because it is a good, a beautiful thing, and I don't offer it because I need someone to know that I offered it.
Perhaps this sounds insufferable, but I don't mean to be. I just figure, if I find something nice, why not pass it along?

So, reader, I just read a fantastic book: On Beauty and Being Just, by Elaine Scarry. It's one of those rare books that is quiet to read, that shuts out other voices with its still, careful reasoning. It's philosophy, or literary criticism, but either way, I found it incredibly refreshing and moving in many places. Scarry treats issues such as the implications of beauty that fades (and feelings brought about by it); the connection between beauty and justice; the way beauty is a pact between object and beholder which imparts life to both.

Here is a sample from the beginning of the monograph:

Beauty brings copies of itself into being. It makes us draw it, take photographs of it, or describe it to other people. Sometimes it gives rise to exact replication and other times to resemblances and still other times to things whose connection to the original site of inspiration is unrecognizable. A beautiful face drawn by Verrocchio suddenly glides into the perceptual field of a young boy named Leonardo. The boy copies the face, then copies the face again. Then again and again and again. He does the same thing when a beautiful living plant --- a violet, a wild rose --- glides into his field of vision, or a living face: he makes a first copy, a second copy, a third, a fourth, a fifth. He draws it over and over, just as Pater (who tells us about Leonardo) replicates --- now in sentences --- Leonardo's acts, so that the essay reenacts its subject, becoming a sequence of faces: an angel, a Medusa, a woman and child, a Madonna, John the Baptist, St. Anne, La Gioconda. Before long the means are found to replicate, thousands of times over, both the sentences and the faces, so that traces of Pater's paragraphs and Leonardo's drawings inhabit all the pockets of hte world (as pieces of them float in the paragraph now before you).

Even the physical book is quite beautiful as it's currently published --- on lovely thick acid-free paper, with a smooth cover bearing a painting of various birds' eggs. Because a book on beauty ought to be materially beautiful if at all possible --- I don't think that's too shallow and worldly to say.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

At Long Last (Jillian)

Things have been pretty quiet on this blog for quite some time now. So, I thought I'd begin again. Today's item of notice: according to the Daily Telegraph, the one millionth word is about to be added (officially, I assume) to the English language. The candidates include: "noob", "defriend", and "greenwashing." Huh. Interesting how language evolves and, apparently, expands like the universe.

I love words, don't you?


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