wk3 reading response

On Beauty and Being Just– Elaine Scarry

What is beauty, and what can it do [for us and for the world]?

Beauty exists in the eyes of the beholder and can be found in objects and people we can relate to.  It simultaneously is very personal and universal.  It is both external/physical and internal/characteristic.  Beauty reflects the composition of our past and present, as well as informs our future.  Our perspective allows beautiful things to momentarily come into and out of focus, obliging us to contemplate, think and discern.  We become proactive in a continual process of education and fair judgment.  “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,” [Scarry, p 52].

To be conscious is to be moral.  Beauty requires a constant awareness [perceptual acuity], and search for truth.  “It is as though beautiful things have been placed here and there throughout the world to serve as small wake-up calls to perception, spurring lapsed alertness back to its most acute level,” [Scarry, p 81].  Beauty reinforces, and is reinforced by, our being cognizant, alive and part of this world.  Beauty also carries with it the power to change.  This change happens through what Elaine Scarry refers to as radical decentralizing.  Scarry sums up a lecture given by Iris Murdoch in 1967:

“How we make choices, how we act, is deeply connected to states of consciousness, and so ‘anything which alters consciousness in the direction of unselfishness, objectivity and realism is to be connected with virtue… the single best or most ‘obvious thing in our surroundings which is an occasion for unselfing and that is what is popularly called beauty… creating the sense that it is our own adjacency that is pleasure-bearing.  This seems a gift in its own right, and a gift as a prelude to or precondition of enjoying fair relations with others,” [Scarry, p 112-113].

The power of radical decentralizing exists in the alignment of unselfish adjacency and pleasurable experience.  When someone comes across something beautiful, their perspective is changed, if only for a moment, from one that is self-centered to one that is much more appreciative and holistic.  Radical decentralization provides a window for a new way of seeing the world.  A changed state of consciousness might enable our enjoying fair relations with others- equality.

We show acts of selflessness and contribute to the world by taking part in one of two forms of beauty that exists: perpetuating beauty that already exists or originating beauty that does not yet exist.  We consciously replicate beauty [draw, take photographs, explain to others] for the sake of discovery.  Our quest for truth is a journey, in which the Beauty is never afraid to show us our mistakes or the misjudgments we make.

Above all, beauty is our connection to the world.  It is a measure by which we can determine our aliveness.  Vice versa, the aliveness of beauty is determined in part by our commitment to its preservation/renewal.

3 Responses to “wk3 reading response”

  1. ecboone Says:

    “The power of radical decentralizing exists in the alignment of unselfish adjacency and pleasurable experience. When someone comes across something beautiful, their perspective is changed, if only for a moment, from one that is self-centered to one that is much more appreciative and holistic. Radical decentralization provides a window for a new way of seeing the world. A changed state of consciousness might enable our enjoying fair relations with others- equality.”

    I wonder if your theory could be tested, or even if the opposite is true. Being in the presence of something ugly causes people displeasure therefore making then less tolerant of others and their surroundings. I think I’ve experienced this feeling to some degree on multiple occasions.

  2. lukebob37 Says:

    Speaking to the same comment as Lizzy. I would like to know whether a decentralization is a positive or a negative. In my prospective it is a negative because it causes us to be self-centered and not to see the beauty as it relates to other objects or individuals.

  3. cpeldridge Says:

    So I could start to imagine what E was saying about how “Being in the presence of something ugly causes people displeasure therefore making then less tolerant of others and their surroundings”. I, too have experienced that. If I had to imagine what Scarry would respond with, it would go something like this: you missed the beauty in what you just saw; you were concentrating on “this” and really, the beauty was “that”.

    Radical decentralization, by my interpretation of Scarry’s definition, is when one is taken out of their normal (and supposedly self-centered) context, allowing them to be more open to new things. How did you interpret it, LD?

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