What Is Beauty?
  • "Beauty is a world betrayed. The only way we can encounter it is if its persecutors have overlooked it somewhere." -- Sabina, The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

    “Beauty is a world betrayed. The only way we can encounter it is if its persecutors have overlooked it somewhere.” — Sabina, The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

    A reader writes:

    Dear Sir: Forget your politics. What is beauty? Is it anything?

    — Lily Alderman

    Dear Lily: It is everything. Beauty is the esthetically pleasing, it is the lovely. Aristotle wrote: “Beauty depends on size as well as symmetry” (ahem, ahem). But beauty is symmetry. Beauty is congruence. It is the bah-bah in black sheep. Beauty is not, finally, inexplicable or ineffable, but it is elusive.





    Darwin noted that a streak of stew in a man’s beard is not beautiful, but he pointed out also — and sagely so — that neither the soup nor the beard is inherently non-beautiful.

    Beauty requires, among other things, that sensory data bring with it a very specific kind of emotional pleasure — one which awakens “the contemplative in man,” as Kant said — such as you might feel, for instance, when you see a beautiful piece of architecture, or the Northern Lights, or hear a profound song. Beauty even encompasses melancholy.

    Beauty is the symbol of symbols. Beauty reveals everything, because it expresses nothing. When it shows us itself, it shows us the whole fiery-colored world. No object is so ugly that, under certain conditions, it will not look beautiful; no object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.

    Said Oscar Wilde.

    Beauty, properly defined, is part of the science of axiology, which is the study of values. Axiology, in turn, is a sub-division of aesthetics. The science of beauty is called aesthetics.

    But that’s all purely academic.

    Here, Lily, is the only thing you really need to know about beauty:

    Sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds:
    Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.



    Politics, on the other hand, may be unavoidable but it’s far from beautiful:




    Related: High Cheekbones




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The sawed-off shotgun of literary pulp.

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