The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne(1)
Several civilizations about the beauty, for example relative to the craft of Architecture (2), have argued reasonably that its essence is bonded to utility. I have, reasonably, preferred to doubt. I don’t find any utility in to listen a melody or choose the silence, to see a sunset, to feel the taste of apple lipstick in other lips, to palpate a stone wall, to glimpse a forgotten silhouette, to understand a mathematical axiom, to evoke an absence, or to remember the rubbish when trying an orange. Inevitably, fatally, it should be something more.
The notion about utility or functionality explain partially the concept of beauty: the unsatisfied function communicated by the part (a faulty lock, an incomplete keyboard, a missing leg) would contaminate the whole of ugliness(3). As consequence the use, and the time given to that use, would be the measurements to quantify the beauty. Under that premise the arts, blind to any utility, ignore the beauty. Even Architecture is vain if we admit that a hole in the ground or a rustic fabric upon our heads is enough to live and survive. But we see a Doric column, a Latin inscription, a familiar face and we cannot avoid to intuit a message, a memory located in the nostalgia; the suspicion of something that wants to reach an ideal. In both cases the object perceived (artificial as a theatre piece or natural as an eclipse) is tensioned itself to the point to almost come near to a state we suspect it can fully be itself. A state that we cannot express completely because is expressed in the perceived object but we liked to say and usually is simply invoked as beauty. But is still truth that functional and useful objects seems to us naturally beautiful. Then it has to be a common property in utilitarian objects and the apparently not utilitarian ones that take part of the elusive and abstract idea of beauty.
The utility, again, is determined by the satisfaction of a necessity; but it’s not necessarily true, not completely. Satisfy a necessity doesn’t mean satisfy the lack of the things we haven’t, because at the beginning the humanity hadn’t neither the music, nor religion (but it had the faith), nor the writing. Deep inside we know that what is not owned is not needed: it’s desired (desire that to the Buddhism is the origin of suffering). That that doesn’t exist, according to Louis Kahn, is that which leads us to the expression of beauty that lies in the desire to express and that creates for us new necessities: the mountain that we venerate doesn’t need us to exist; but for the mere fact to exist it creates in us the need to see it because it justify our existence; we desire that beauty that doesn’t require us but without which we couldn’t live anymore. The primary necessities (to eat, survive to the environment) are extensive to every living being; the secondary ones are humans. They are the difference between merely to exist from to live; to exist and to know that oneself exists (4). Then the desire would be the shared origin that brings the idea of beauty; it should be an uniform and constant idea. But in not few occasions what is beautiful to a person it’s not for other one; and what is commonly beauty for a group de persons it’s not for the same reason for every one of that group. Not even in one only person the beauty is constant but it changes across the time. So it’s not enough that the object or subject enter in contact with the human desire, that generates the necessity, to be considered beautiful. It must to be, besides a common property in the object, a determinant characteristic in the subject.
According to Chomsky (5), to write a text, let’s say Venustas, Utilitas, is not a way of communication; the communication and expression are elusive ideals to the language. We write for the simple reason that we need to write. It’s a necessity of personal expression. The necessity that at the beginning (primary) is shared for every living being; next it belongs to the specie (fueled by the desire), and at the end it is intimate and personal. The contact of everyone with the object perceived beauty is the contact of one with oneself; in this level is when we perceive less what it is and instead we perceive what we want to feel. The object or subject is beautiful because that is a characteristic of the self, therefore perhaps it induce or inspire us to love such an object or such a person. As many things it’s just a point of view of the observer. To se a specific look of dark eyes or a specific tint of a sunrise in a certain way is to see all the sunrises and all the looks that have been and will be; and also is to see for first time a sunrise or a specific look that never have been and never will be another the same never more. These properties are akin too to the objects or situations we create and find in dreams (although they’re not always beauty). Borges understood that the meeting of the subject with the contemplated object (6) sometimes generate an emotion translated in a wonderful mystery that couldn’t be yet explain, mystery that we call beauty; beauty that in turn is a confession of something we don’t understand but we have faith about its existence; beauty that in the end is an evasion of the language, one of several words to not say ignorance. The complexity rely in discover the unknown element of the beauty, that elusive complexity that probably for being so close to the essence of our specie can’t be defined by recent and artificial means as are the words. Perhaps that explains why I can’t explain that I like a particular smile in special…
Inevitable, fatally, it should be something more.
(1)Chaucer upon a writing of Hippocrates: ars longa; vita brevis. Quote by Borges in Introducción a la Literatura Inglesa.
(2) Beauty as a human concept. We don’t know how it would be the beauty for other intelligences. Pure shapes as the Moon or the Mount Fuji, or pure colors as the found in a rose are pleasant to us for its immediacy. Other intelligences as dolphins could be more sensible to more complicated shapes and for that more probable to find pleasant shapes that our minds would perceive as chaotic.
(3) Ugliness that could originate from the need that we feel to close an unfinished circle. Ugliness that also born from the broken routines. Poe in his essay On Imagination would say that the matters that work and blend the imagination are the Beauty and the Deformity.
(4) The idea sketched by Heraclitus (fragments LXXXII and LXXXIII) about the hierarchized beauty as found in animals, mankind and, at last, in Gods probably configured Plato’s theory exposed in the dialogues Symposium and Phaedrus where love discovers successive levels of beauty till the archetype, ultimate idea that is bonded with the idea of Eternity.
(5) Entrevista con Noam Chomsky, Revolución en la lingüística. editorial Salvat Barcelona, 1973.
(6) Borges used to quote to Angelus Silesius: Die Rose ist ohne warum; sie blühet weil sie blühet (The Rose is without a ‘wherefor; she blooms because she blooms) and also to Whistler: Art happens. Although beautiful thoughts Borges would like to prefer (some time) that to reach the beauty is indispensable a tenacious conspiracy of several why so that the rose be the rose.
Ok, Are you still there? XD, if the answer is yes then this is an essay I wrote in Spanish in November of 2006. I though it would be nice to publish it to English. The society from I come is quite utilitarian so in a certain way this is a rebel yell against the need for an explanation for everything and the current opposition to anything whose one motivation is just hedonism ;-)