Wednesday 21 April 2010

Beauty pt.1

By asking the question of beauty and then fixing our gaze on art are we not selling ourselves, as human beings, far short? Beauty is unimaginable and it is personal. Deeply, deeply personal. I am reminded -- this word is key -- of a childhood memory. Why, I don't know. But I am. I am reminded of my grandfather's war medals. Some day I will inherit them. What could these strange lumps of metal mean to me? More or less a socialist! More or less a pacifist! A child of the '80s no less! They mean to me a great deal, in fact. Not that I was aware of this until a moment ago. Not until I shed a tear writing this... I am reminded of the dusty box in which they were kept, underneath old papers of what meaning I do not know. In this memory my father is showing them to me and whether by instruction or intuition I know where they came from and how important they are. If this happened precisely as I recall ... I don't recall... -- it is unimportant. The moment is saturated with sentiment and no little pathos. My father had, on the whole, a poor relationship with his -- ours is far better but to a large extent distant. This recaptured -- or should it be reconstructed? -- memory turns sharply on one point: though my father was frequently ashamed of his father with his conservatism, his casual racism, simply his age, there is no mistaking that in this moment, in this memory, in his eyes he is so, unmistakably, inarticulably proud. From father to son and father to son, did Freud ever explore this inarticulable sense of pride? And what consequence this memory 'politically'? Surely I am bound by distanciation in time and space from the blood soaked battlefields of the prior century on which these aforementioned strange lumps of metal gained meaning to reject all manner of attachment to these celebrations of nationhood and bloody murder dressed as sacrifice? Are we not iconoclasts? Are we not out to expose false idols? To show the strangeness of these strange lumps of metal? To show how power grows, disseminates, encapsulates, inculcates, totalises? As if we could... How am I to understand this memory buried so deep yet springing to mind so suddenly and now so presently? What was my Proustian trigger? Not tea, not cake not falling backwards off an uneven cobble stone! Causality is clearly a ridiculous notion in this case. What can I say except that this is beautiful? Terrible but beautiful. Oddly shameful but beautiful. Impossible but beautiful. Tragic, riven with tragedy, but glowing with beauty -- a dark beauty, a beauty only barely apprehended through blurry, tearful eyes. It is precisely my inability to make any kind of sense of this ridiculous event that makes it beautiful. I am, it seems, attached at my core, at my gut, to war, nationalism and history. Who knew?! How am I to approach a beauty so fragile? Will it not shatter purely by the force of my approach? This seems likely. And is this not beauty itself? By definition elusive?

Will, then, beauty save the world? I feel on the basis of this brief and self-indulgent introspection I can answer this question most clearly: beauty is no army; it cannot be mobilised; it cannot be deployed; it cannot be disciplined. Yet beauty emerges from all these things! From war, from the state, from discipline (though certainly not these things alone -- but from all things)! It has attached itself to me -- a most unlikely victim! And, as this is a state of politics, I am quite sure that I am not alone. No, beauty cannot save the world because the world can only be made with tools that endure and shape our grasp. But the world is beautiful -- and we might often wish it was not. It is and this is nearly all there is to be said about it. Beauty is not a saviour but it is a reprieve. It is an island, not a continent. Empathy, not essence. It is a moment, not a world. A picture, not a story. And lest this become a sermon, let us be thankful just for that.