Thursday, December 14, 2006

More On Beauty

I was going to write a post today about Plato and Forms and Ideas and Archetypes and make a comparison between Plato's Idea of Beauty and Elaine Scarry's ideas on beauty, but I got sidetracked. Scarry writes for several pages about Matisse and palm trees in his paintings. Frankly this was tedious. She analyzes the paintings but there are no pictures of the paintings only not very well executed rough pencil sketches that tell me nothing about what the painting looks like. On a whim I decided to look up the paintings and I found more than I bargained for. First, I found the origin of On Beauty and Being Just was as Tanner Lectures on Human Values and you can read Scarry's On Beauty lectures online. I also found Professor Brown's Philosophy of Beauty class notes at the University of Maryland. He was kind enough to include the Matisse paintings in the notes. It appears Scarry was one of the main texts, but there were others and I look forward to spending some time looking over the notes after I finish reading the book. Most surprising, however, is a Wikipedia article on Zadie Smiths' book On Beauty that notes Smith's book takes its title from Elaine Scarry's essay On Beauty and Being Just. All I ever heard about Smith's book was how it was modeled after Howard's End, I heard nothing about the Scarry connection. Howard's End is on my 2007 reading plan and you bet your biffy I'll be reading Zadie Smith's book now too. Have I mentioned lately how much I love the internet? I have to say that I feel much better about Scarry's take on the truth, beauty; beauty truth thing I was having problems with last time. At the end of the essay "On Beauty and Being Wrong" which I had not reached yet, she specifically says that truth and beauty do not have a 1 to 1 relationship. they are not identical, but they are "allied":

It is not that a poem or a painting or a palm tree or a person is "true," but rather that it ignites the desire for truth by giving us, with an electric brightness shared by almost no other uninvited, freely arriving perceptual event, the experience, as well, of error. [...] It creates, without itself fulfilling, the aspiration for enduring certitude.
I can go along with that. One more Scarry quote:
No matter how long beautiful things endure, they cannot out-endure our longing for them.
That strikes me as being very Proustian. As for Plato, he'll have to wait until tomorrow.