Monday, November 8, 2010

Beauty and Charles Dickens and Whether or Not I Will Attend a Symphony

I've been learning more and more these days about beauty. I remember having a discussion, over a year ago, with some fellow Catholics who asserted that beauty isn't subjective, though I'd thought I'd thought it was. (I say "I'd thought I'd thought" because I'd never really thought about it.)

A few days ago, I discovered two articles on a shelf near my toilet. Ironically, considering their nearness to the toilet, both addressed the topic of beauty. One is "Presenting what is beautiful: The joyful duty of Catholic Education" by Andrew Seeley. The other is "The High Cost of Ignoring Beauty" by Roger Scruton. The crux of each article: beauty isn't subjective.

Subjective means existing in the mind; belonging to the thinking subject rather than to the object of thought.
Objective means based on facts; unbiased.
Much of my recent delving into the Classics of literature has led me to question which writing is objectively beautiful, or good? I don't understand how the beauty is determined. Same question when it comes to areas other than literature: art, interior decorating, hairstyles... If this all makes sense in YOUR head, this determining of objectivity - please explain it in my comments section or call me at home immediately!

Anyway... though many things are still confused in my brain, I have determined that if something has been deemed beautiful... I want to give it a second look. I want to find truth. I want to get smarter. And I want to experience beauty! In literature, art, interior decorating, hairstyles, education, child-rearing, religion, relationship, etc.

I gave it a go by having a book group Saturday night. We discussed The Merchant of Venice, by Shakespeare, and drank wine and ate a cheese ball. I got a lot out of it (the discussion and the cheese ball). Most of all, I decided the extraordinary effort I made to understand the play was worthwhile. It was satisfying to uncover the plot and the themes, and it was enriching to decipher Shakespeare's eloquent language and even to chuckle a time or two at his humor.

I asked my friends what they thought about the whole beauty thing - and if it was worth some work to experience beauty (i.e. reading a book slowly; re-reading it; looking up a hundred words; examining commentary...) We agreed that it was. We also realized that some forms of beauty are easier to enjoy for some people than others. A symphony, for example, might be objectively beautiful, but I think it sounds enormously boring to sit through! For someone else, a symphony is delightful, but Shakespeare is enormously boring to sit through! Are we willing to try out the thing that has been determined to be objectively beautiful even if it sounds dull? My answer is YES! I'm looking for a symphony to attend soon. And if I have to drink a lot of coffee beforehand, so be it! By the end, I hope I've come to appreciate something of beauty. Not just in my opinion, but in Truth.

Even before I attend the symphony, I have to contend with the fact that next up on my reading list is Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. If you know me, you know that I am not a fan of Dickens. I complain every Christmas about how much I dislike A Christmas Carol. And earlier this year I tried, and failed, to read Little Dorrit. But thanks to my new-found insights into beauty, its objectivity, and the effort needed to uncover it, I have resolved to read A Tale of Two Cities. My own teen-aged handwriting all over the inside covers of the paperback is proof that I read at least part of it in high school, but I don't remember it. Surprisingly, I'm nine pages in and really enjoying it so far.

A quest for beauty, even at high cost, might be a marvelous quest. Hey, I'm reading A Tale of Two Cities! If I can do this, I can go to the symphony. And if I'm willing to go to the symphony I might... MIGHT have to give Little Dorrit a second chance as well. We'll see about that.
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