Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thoughts on the Beautiful and Sublime: A Reply to Thursday.

Commentator Thursday put up quite a good post on the subject of the beautiful and the sublime. I thought I'd offer him a reply.

Whilst I am a conservative, I've never been a big fan of Burke. Burke's meditations on beauty, as his meditations on politics, seem to display more description of the fact rather than an understanding of the subject. His describes conservatism more than he understands it; likewise on the subject of beauty.

To a certain degree, I subscribe to the Platonic idea of Forms, and the more perfectly a thing resembles the form from which it partakes, the less flawed it is. Everyone, I imagine, has seen the comedy skit of the beautiful woman who enchants the man until she smiles,revealing her rotten teeth, at which point the man becomes repulsed. The "flaw" in the woman quashing the sensation of beauty. In fact it's quite interesting to speculate as to why there even is such a thing as perfect teeth. Why does a certain arrangement and colour of teeth give us pleasure and deviation from that ideal lead to the sensation of progressive repulsion?

It would appear, at least to my mind, that the mind has pre-concieved notions of how things should be or if you believe in the supernatural, the mind the has the capacity to recognise things as they are meant to be.

This capacity to recognise "perfection" is a sense of the intellect. In the same way we can feel pleasure from our physical sense organs, stimulatating the intellect through sense data, i.e sight can cause pleasure to arise in the intellect. Beauty is the pleasurable sensation felt in intellect's apprehension of the perfection of form. Ugliness, it opposite.

Thinking of beauty this way explains things which a first would seem incompatible. A gargoyle, which is physically repulsive, has its beauty insofar as it conforms to the perfect form of a gargoyle. War, something so horrible and destructive, can also generate a sense of beauty insofar as it is a perfect example of war. This why we can speak of things as "terrible beauties", things that are bad but perfectly bad.

The appreciation of beauty is also contingent on the intellect, that's why we say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The ignorance or refinement of the intellect determines the conditional status of the perception of beauty. The cultivated man and the moron will disagree with regard to the nature of beauty as the dullard's intellect, through either deficiency or habituated neglect, is incapable of apprehending the perfection of form. To a dullard, beauty is reduced to its most primitive form; sexual. The refined man wants more because his intellect is habituated to demand more.

With regard to female beauty, I think its wrong to think that there is one type of female beauty, in the same way that one can err in thinking there is only one type of perfect colour. In order for a woman to be beautiful she must approach perfection as a woman and in the specific features that distinguish herself. Audrey Hepburn with a scar on her face does not equal Grace Kelly with a pimple on her nose. Rather each woman becomes more beautiful as she approaches the perfection of herself. The less flawed a woman is the more beautiful she becomes.

This of course leads us to the concept of the sublime. The sensation of the sublime become more apparent as the subject apprehended by the intellect approaches perfection. Then not only does the intellect percieve the subjects perfection of form but the subject in question is apprehended in its entirety. Mountains are meant to be thought of as dangerous, oceans and the night skies vast, the desert barren. A man standing on the beach alone infront of the vast sea is meant to be feel both beauty, awe and terror as the see is capable of inspiring all these things. As the the thing apprehended by the intellect approaches more perfectly it's form, it also becomes more efficient in transmitting to the intellect its nature. Marilyn Monroe "oozed sexuality" because she closely approached one of the forms of female sexuality. The intellect could apprehend her sexuality without effort. Thefore objects which are meant elicit fear become more efficient in eliciting the effect the more perfectly they approach the form of the thing they are meant to be. Tiger cubs progressively elicit more fear as they become adult tigers. It follows therefore that some of the fear associated with beauty arises from the nature of the thing considered beautiful.

However, there is another aspect of beauty that needs to be considered, and that is once beauty is apprehended, men seek to keep it in their gaze; they desire to posses it. Failure to achieve it is a cause of grief and pain. And just as beauty is a positive sensation arising from the sense of the intellect, fear is also a sensation of the intellect based upon the intellect's perception of potential loss. A fearful man is a man who percieves he is in a position where he can potentially lose something. Be it his material possessions, pscyhological well-being or his life. Once a thing lost, grief sets in. Grief is the intellect's sense of loss. It follows therefore the more beautiful a woman a man desires, the more fear their will be at his approach, since he wishes to gain what he finds beautiful. It is in the intellect's appreciation of the fear of rejection from whence the fear associated with beauty arises.

There fore the fear associate with beauty can arise from fear projected by the nature of the object apprehended by the intellect and by potential of pleasure that loss of that object.

The Bilble says that no man can see the face of God and live. For years I thought this meant that God would punish a man for looking at him, but I was wrong. Dante gave the first clue to my intellectual error. When Dante first gazes upon Beatrice she tells him to turn away from him, as her beauty will kill him. The film, Somewhere in Time deals with the same theme, of a man so capitvated by the beauty of the woman he loves that he simply wills himself to death.(Yes, I know its soppy) It think it is this mechanism that kills men when gazing upon God. Seeing him we will fall in love with him instantly and not wish to live on this earthly vale any more. The judgement of God will be in that moment where he decides whether to accept us or not. The terror for a moment will be horrifying since the potential loss will be everything. The damned will be those whom falling in love with God upon seeing him will be rejected. Their grief will be eternal. The terror of beauty is in its possible rejection of us.


Tupac Chopra said...

The damned will be those whom falling in love with God upon seeing him will be rejected. Their grief will be eternal. The terror of beauty is in its possible rejection of us.

Could someone please send a memo to Clio? Thank u

Thursday said...

I can see why a Platonist wouldn't like Burke. Anyway, here is Burke on why perfection isn't the cause of beauty:

Thursday said...


There is another notion current, pretty closely allied to the former; that perfection is the constituent cause of beauty. This opinion has been made to extend much further than to sensible objects. But in these, so far is perfection, considered as such, from being the cause of beauty; that this quality, where it is highest, in the female sex, almost always carries with it an idea of weakness and imperfection. Women are very sensible of this; for which reason they learn to lisp, to totter in their walk, to counterfeit weakness, and even sickness. In all this they are guided by nature. Beauty in distress is much the most affecting beauty. Blushing has little less power; and modesty in general, which is a tacit allowance of imperfection, is itself considered as an amiable quality, and certainly heightens every other that is so. I know it is in every body’s mouth, that we ought to love perfection. This is to me a sufficient proof, that it is not the proper object of love. Who ever said we ought to love a fine woman, or even any of these beautiful animals which please us? Here to be affected, there is no need of the concurrence of our will.

The Social Pathologist said...

Burke commits an intellectual error in that piece.

He does this by establishing a "false hierarchy", he establishes a hierarchy of values which he places strength as a perfection and weakness as its privated form. But is a blade of grass less perfect than a rod of steel because it is weaker than it?

The perfect woman is meant to be weaker than a man, whilst an imperfect woman is weaker than a woman is meant to be. Privation of form can also occur through excess as well as deficiency, that's why a physically strong woman is seen as masculine and not feminine.

This same intellectual error is curiously enough preached by socialists and feminists. They see any form of subordination as unnatural, particularly with regard to marriage. In the Christian conception of marriage, the wife is subordinate to the husband, this of course drives many people nuts because they think that the subordinate position implies and hence privated position, which it does not. As all the Gamers will tell you, a woman is most happy when he man assumes a natural superior position, she is unhappy with equality.

Likewise a man who is subordinate to God is happier than a man who feels he is equal. God is not a Socialist. A man who thinks he is God's equal is privated. Burke's error is that he doesn't understand the way God wants things to be.

Beauty in the distress is the most affecting beauty

Here he gets it wrong again. the affection we feel is a combination of beauty and grief. Beauty in distress is Beauty under the threat of privation. It affects us because we are pained to see the beautiful privated. A beautiful woman who is mutilated elicits far greater grief than an ugly one. We protest at the destruction of beautiful homes whilst give no thought to the loss of ugly office towers. Just as fear is associated with the judgment of those we consider beautiful, so is grief associated with beauty's loss. The damsel in distress moves us because we wish the privated form righted, it is in our nature.

As children of God we are born to emulate our Master; we are moved by suffering, especially that of the perfect. It our nature to wipe away the tear and make things anew.

fickletickle said...

"The damned will be those whom falling in love with God upon seeing him will be rejected."

What does that mean? It looks like it means something but the English grammar doesn't add up.

The Social Pathologist said...

You are right, the grammar is crap.

The damned will be those whom falling in love with God upon seeing him will be rejected.

Should read,

The damned will be those, whom falling in love with God upon seeing him, will be rejected by Him.

Part of the pain of Hell will the pain of loss. i.e the loss of God.

This shouldn't be imagined as the sense of loss felt when a relative or good friend dies, rather the loss is of a different category. Not only will the loss be the loss of someone we want to love, the loss will be the loss of the source of all that is beautiful and Good.

Imagine falling in love with the most beautiful woman in the world. Not only would you love her but you would be prepared to die for her as a result of that love. The only worse then than annihilation would be her rejection of you. Hell is like that state of being, only worse.

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