Friday, December 08, 2006

Beauty and Philosophy

I've always been a bit grumpy about the whole "truth is beauty, beauty is truth" thing. I can understand the first part about truth being beautiful, because it is, though I don't usually think of it in those terms on a day-to-day basis. But how could beauty be true? I'm not so dumb that I don't know that beauty can be used to hide a lot of ugliness and even lies. And there are things that are not beautiful that are true (but because they are true they are beautiful?). I've never been comfortable declaring it a balanced equation. On Beauty, however, is helping me think about it in a different way:

The beautiful, almost without any effort of our own, acquaints us with the mental event of conviction, and so pleasurable a mental state is this that ever afterwards one is willing to labor, struggle, wrestle with the world to locate enduring sources of conviction--to locate what is true.
She's talking about the kind of beauty that makes you stop and stare, that you can't not stare at, the kind, if you are like me, that makes you hungry, makes you want to absorb the beauty into your body and the only way you can think to do that is to eat it. But because you can't actually eat a painting or a person your stomach growls and you, I, end up needing to eat something, preferably sweet and rich, to try to satisfy the hunger. That's the kind of beauty I understand Scarry to be talking about. While I can't say I have ever struggled to locate what is true because I saw something beautiful, I begin to understand a little better what the truth and beauty equation is about. On another note, I've finally decided to start my philosophy project. If you are wondering what the heck I'm talking about I am not surprised. Well over a year ago, because of reading Montaigne and now Emerson, I decided I was going to do some reading in philosophy to try and have a better understanding of the big thoughts and the people who thought them. I bought a book, The Passion of the Western Mind by Richard Tarnas, and I've been trying to figure out when would be a good time to embark of this project. Maybe after I'm done reading Emerson. But after Emerson I really want to read Thoreau. But after Thoreau I want to get the picture. So I picked up the Tarnas book last night and read all the introductory stuff where Tarnas lays out his purpose and the whys and wherefores of the book. The book is meant for people who don't have a philosophy background, which is good. But he got a little preachy when he talked about why it is important to know the history of western thought and how one should approach reading the book. He encourages a "sympathetic metaphysical imagination," reminding us that people from long ago had some ideas that we might think pretty crazy. I'm a little worried that he thought it important to say that. Anyone with a half-way decent education understands that people used to think the earth was flat or you could turn lead into gold or witches could cause hail storms. I am hoping Tarnas doesn't feel it necessary to do much hand holding. If he does and I simply can't bear it, I have Bertrand Russell on stand-by.