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.