Tuesday, August 9, 2016

On Beauty: A short intro to Chapter 2 of Night on the Invisible Sun from 2008

I have many objections with this piece as with all the Intros that I wrote to the chapters of my first novel, but I shall not correct them, rather let the difference lay bare and one can see the novice mistakes and the change in thinking as my later works arrive, 'if they arrive' might be a more apposite designation.
The Birth of Venus by Boticelli 
Intro essay to Chapter II
On Beauty

Some would argue that wisdom derives from and is the proper application of truth, and that truth will ultimately set you free, and some might even insinuate that all truth, regardless of how awful the consequences of that truth is: is beautiful because it is eternal—ultimately some would say that beauty is the goal of all truth because the otherworldliness of said beauty cannot be moralized or contained by the vicissitudes or standards of this world. That truth sets one free is not so suspect—even the criminal will at times admit after being caught that he is now at peace because he no longer has to live a lie, and he will further admit that the proper penalty affixed to the crime is a relief for him to serve, but beauty? the end goal of all truth is something altogether different and harder to prove.
Indeed, many refer to the truth as the “ugly” or “awful” truth. So, what would beauty have to do with truth? Simply this, it is beauty that helps truth become universally accepted and transcendent in nature. Truth, on its own, is restricted by the laws that define it, but beauty does not adhere to any laws. It is in this vain that a devout Christian, drawn to the aesthetic in life, can not only enjoy, but also revel in the writings of a known antagonist to Christianity such as Nietzsche, so long as the writings appeal to a sense that does not judge moral grounds. That higher sense is beauty. If Nietzsche’s writings are beautiful, then they supersede the usual pretext of truth. Much in the same vain, Christ’s life can and does appeal to the atheist. Perhaps they find no value or reason to adhere to His teachings, but the beauty of His mortal ministry and the catharsis from reading about His suffering for mankind arouses an aesthetic sense of the beautiful within them and causes them to love Christ for reasons entirely different than a believer. Along those same lines, people generally attribute to Satan all that is ugly, repugnant, and rebellious in nature. Assailing him with all kinds of deriding and denigrating remarks, helps them keep Satan at bay because as long as he remains ugly, there is no danger that the masses will seek to understand or emulate his plight. Then along come the Greeks, and with them, a very dangerous myth. Applying the myth of Prometheus to Satan is so damaging to a Christian world because it beautifies the plight of that miscreant, and in so doing, a person cannot help but pity the audacity of the fiend who sought to overthrow and challenge the very God of heaven. By making the story of his rebellion beautiful and noble, it threatens to destroy the ignominy of his act. The power of beauty: on the one hand, it buoys up the believers in Christ and persuades them to continue with their shoulder to the wheel of adversity, so long as they know that their Savior, the beautiful champion of all adversity, has already tread the winepress of the wrath of God, why can’t they withstand the fire of affliction but for a moment, when they know that the grand mansions in celestial realms await them; and on the other hand beauty dissuades someone from walking such narrow paths and enjoins them to wander about the broad fields of sensuality and ego, and rallies them around their aesthetic reprobate who wrongfully remains chained to the rock by those vindictive gods. Either way, when a world is so full of suffering and pain, the ultimate truth or use of beauty would be the one that brought some sort of meaning to all that useless pain, and no myth or reality can cause someone to brook the onslaughts of suffering in this world quite like that of Christ. True, all this might be a source of deflection, a myth created to console the sufferer from the uselessness of suffering, but it works. And whether Christ lives or is a myth, his life was beautiful—something more important than the truth itself. Even modern man will not outgrow the need for such beauty. Indeed, these catastrophic times of ugliness send us reeling for such beauty. No, modern man will not outgrow the need for beauty: it qualifies his actions and justifies his life. In Norman Maclean’s masterpiece, his father, the strict preacher, the family rock and teacher of great verities, subtly explains to Norman how beauty justifies life when truth might damn it. Norman’s father asks him to tell him once more all he knew about his brother Paul’s death, and Norman, perhaps perplexed a bit by the request, relates again that all he really knew about Paul when it comes down to it was that he was a great fisherman. To which, His Father reverently teaches Norman that Paul was much more than just a fisherman, “He was Beautiful.” And it was that beauty (which Norman later on in life learns what his father meant) that helped Paul transcend the moral laws of this world. So beautiful was Paul’s life that even the strict dogma of the Presbyterian preacher could not condemn or confine him. Modern man might scoff at such silly transcendence, but they doubtlessly will see the beauty in Paul’s life (aided by the beautiful prose of Norman Maclean—it was his way of showing that transcendence) and long for such moments of justification in their own lives. The loophole in law is venerable beauty; once something appeals to our intrinsic values, it supersedes Nature or Man’s extrinsic set of laws. So powerful is the pull of beauty that a man will marry a woman he does not even love and at times downright hates, just because she awakens the aesthetic, evokes the responsive need to be by beauty’s side. Amoral beauty is not confined simply to what man attributes as good in life. Melville (and it would take a writer with the insight of him) saw this double nature, these two faces of beauty, and through his cosmopolitan comments that the sublimity of beauty can be repudiate by the simple case of the rattlesnake. When one encounters such beauty—that is the symmetrical coil, the fierce cadence of the clattering tail—the natural reaction is one of recoil and fear; it certainly does not evoke the same reaction to beauty as a quiet sunset might. By not confining itself to just the sublime, the transcendent, the good, beauty simply cannot be categorized nor explained, and whatever virtues man wishes to attribute to it, it simply will not adhere to those. Beauty is one of the least understood and most ambiguous and relative things man will come across. My whole point of these ramblings was simply to state that to find something beautiful does not make that thing more true or falser, it simply means it appeals to the aesthetic needs of man. And whether true or not, once the aesthetic is awoken, it causes an emotional stir in man that is not quieted until some sort of action has taken place, many times that action is in direct opposition of our moral set of laws. But such ruminations and speculations can be saved for my old age. 

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