Last week, for the sake of lighter conversation, we discussed our own images of beauty. And I could sympathize with the lot, from Masha's 'scent of bread' to Mr. Pond's Princess Mononoke theme song. I never really listed mine, but if I had, the list might have included fog among the darkly spring-green hills, the feel of warm sun and cool water, 'The Forest Again', polyphony in a Gothic church, Psalm 139, the scent of lilac blossoms, a good sweet Riesling, bravery, compassion, Dante's Paradiso, peace lilies, chickadees, the human face, the Liturgy of the Hours, and innocence. Among other things.
Masha ends her piece with a lovely statement:
"I find [beauty] in these things because they touch something beyond themselves, and I love them for it."In other words, if I understand correctly, she'd go along with the philosophers who counted the Beautiful as one of the transcendentals, along with the True and the Good. Well may she do so. I would.
Mr. Pond expounds upon that idea:
"Nor do I think—or can I think—that beauty is equated with happiness. Or with seriousness. Beauty can be heartbreakingly terrible. Beauty can be silly. Beauty is capricious and winsome, Beauty frustrates and eludes us and then rewards us with a sudden unexpected burst of laughter.And later, describing the Mononoke theme,
There was, I think, a deeper intent than the pragmatic when painters drew and poets sang of Beauty as a woman."
"I don’t claim to understand it quite, but I don’t think beauty is ever quite understood."Agreed, wholeheartedly. To a certain extent we can put beauty in strict scientific or mathematical terms; the eight notes of the scale may be beautiful sung in solfeggio, but not if they're all pounded at once on the piano. But the disciplines of logic will have a harder time explaining why we weep over Beethoven's ninth symphony. And if they succeed, I'm not sure I want to know about it.
Beauty is difficult to define or categorize because it is greater than the sum of its parts. Perhaps, then, it might make for interesting discussion if we come at it from the side of mystery, and attempt to describe what beauty is not.
I'll begin simply by positing that beauty is not, in and of itself, wicked. Admittedly, wickedness loves to hide in the beautiful, as that's how it sells itself. And I love fantasy literature in part because it allows us to strip away that base marketing tactic and separate the evil from the beautiful, showing the former in all its horror and the latter in all its purity. Beauty, if I'm right, does not carry evil by nature.
And now I'll look forward to what Masha and Mr. Pond have to say.