Sadi writes a long book review essay about the nature of beauty. Questions to think about:
Can a person contemplate the physical form of a woman without linking it to sexual attraction? Is sexual attraction an appropriate metaphor for discussing beauty as a philosophical concept?
When one collects (jugs for example), one is aiming toward inclusiveness rather than an aesthetic standard. A Platonist seeks the perfect jug (and is overly critical about which jugs meet these standards). A collector finds delight in imperfect variety rather than innate perfection. Collecting is a substitute for creating (or being) beautiful. A collector likes to add things. A Platonist likes to remove things.
Profound thought by Uma Thurman. “I am no more beautiful than your typical waitress.” People contemplate Uma’s beauty because it is in a context where we are supposed to regard her image from a purely aesthetic point of view. If we did the same for a waitress at a restaurant, one might resemble a pervert.
Intimacy and reciprocation. I can admire a beautiful woman in a magazine or at an airport, but I find a girlfriend vastly more appealing. Why? 1)Boyfriend/girlfriend context permits unrestricted ability to see beyond a beautiful surface, 2)boyfriend/girlfriend enjoys your admiration and 3)boyfriend/girlfriend reciprocates the admiration. (Sartre wrote about this somewhere).
The novelty of beauty. If the experience of beauty is heightened upon first glance, what are the implications for romance and marriages? Contrast the joy of reading a novel for the first time and the joy of rereading something. First encounters can be breathtaking; further encounters can provide better insight into the essence of why something was beautiful to begin with.
Photographs and Models. 95% of the photographs taken of people look positively ghastly (that often is a byproduct of a camera’s limitations). The reason is that most of the time (if we divide time into milliseconds), people look ghastly. Beauty flows through time and depends on special effects to highlight the realism.
I once described a 18 year girl I knew as beautiful. My mom said, “Bobby, all 18 year old girls are beautiful.”
Can we really lose beauty? Lovers leave, sculptures crack, video footage is erased. But there are other sculptures, other videos to watch, other people to love. When we lose a beauty-object, we are losing an aid for recalling the original experience of beauty.
Desire for repetition. We need to differentiate between beauty (an immanent quality of a particular thing) and pleasure (the human reaction to beholding beauty). Beauty doesn’t really change over time, but the pleasure we feel from experiencing beauty certainly does.
Unearthing Beauty. Beauty is easily forgotten and misplaced. Great poems from different centuries, different languages, different books. Same for paintings, sonatas and sculptures. The joy of being the first to rediscover a work’s beauty is unparalleled. Many people lack the time or the inclination or to seek out these artefacts. That’s why artists and critics need to make unearthing lost beauty a top priority.
Can one live without beauty? Don’t fool yourself. Just as one doesn’t need sexual satisfaction to survive (ask Holocaust survivors or handicapped people); why then should one need paintings or songs? Beauty is a welcome addition to anyone’s life, but it is only one part of the hierarchy of needs. One can choose a life without beauty; there are social workers, missionaries and caregivers. These people don’t object to beauty or the healthy pursuit of it. They just don’t have time or need for it. Beauty’s only value lies in making it easier to withstand banality.
Beauty mocks. First, it reminds the admirer of imperfections or inadequecies. Honest artists admit that artistic greatness sometimes annoys the living hell out of them (See Amadeus). I have a gorgeous photo of an ex-girlfriend who ultimately rejected me. When I come across the photo, I almost feel revulsion at once being so susceptible to this girl’s charms (I recall the Man from “That Obscure Object of Desire” dumping a bucket of water over a girl he lusted after). Those who deface beauty or despise it are indirectly paying homage to its power and majesty.
Beauty is one of those concepts meaningless to discuss in the abstract. Sadi is talking about poetry, I’m talking about nice butts, and the Marquis de Sade is talking about the beauty of cruel bloodletting. Discussions about beauty are ultimately not about beauty at all. They are about love, entertainment, happiness, individuality, visual symmetries, innocence, youth, morality, sexuality, emotions, eloquence, insight and even commercialism. If you say something is beautiful, you are merely pointing out the kind of things you need to continue making life worthwhile.
If I were blind and deaf and had my tongue cut out and my body were numbed by freezing cold, would I still be able to experience beauty? Would I still be able to contemplate the idea of beauty? Would I still be able to imagine beauty? Beauty cannot be exclusively an intellectual pursuit. It must arouse some feeling or sensation in you based upon direct experience(See Nagel’s, What’s it like to be a bat?”)
Why are babies beautiful? Is it just that biological maternal instincts kick in whenever you see one? The subjective nature of beauty makes it next to impossible to declare objective, meaningful criteria for it. That is actually good. If beauty were simply an intellectual construct, it would grow tedious.
Elderly people are the most hungry for beauty. They are aware of a time in the not-so-distant future when beauty will no longer exist for them.