Odd Questions that Bother Me at 3 in the Morning

I don’t know about you, but I don’t always sleep that well. Staring at the ceiling at three in the morning can be a dangerous thing. My mind doesn’t work at an optimum level at that time of night (it doesn’t necessarily work at an optimum level at the best time of day either). At any rate, odd questions surface while inspecting the ceiling for cobwebs and inspiration and phantasms cast by moonlight and shadow.

I won’t bore you with any of the questions except for one: is beauty and absolute or subjective concept? I’ve been thinking around and over and under and about this idea for years now. It continuously plagues me. Both of the two possible answers have huge implications. If beauty is absolute, then our choices as partakers of beauty and creatives is brought into question (and this has deeper and even deeper consequences). If beauty is subjective, then our choices don’t mean anything (and that has deeper and even deeper consequences as well).

I recently spent several hours discussing this question with several friends. It’s one of those conversations where you almost have the answer, or the beginning of an answer, only to find it slip through your fingers at the very last minute. The fox, perhaps, cannot be caught in this hunt, but disappears over every successive hill with a flick of his amused tail.

More on this later.

3 thoughts on “Odd Questions that Bother Me at 3 in the Morning”

  1. Your mind might not work at optimum level at 3:00 AM, but your X-ray vision sure seems to, if you can see cobwebs by moonlight.

    On the question of beauty, William Hogarth certainly thought it was an absolute. He wrote a whole book about it (which I’ve never got a hold of yet) where he proposed that there is a particular “line of beauty”, sort of a flattened S-curve; I suppose he figured that everybody ought to be bowled over by the sight of it.
    Me, I’m not so sure. Before I could even make a stab at answering your question, I’d have to contemplate what “beauty” even is. Amused fox tails, indeed.

    Incidentally, all the best people lie awake at 3:00 AM. Or get up, sit in the chair by the living room window with a glass of wine, look out at the stars and think profound thoughts. I’ve had some major insights that way.

    1. Hogarth sounds familiar, but I don’t think I’ve ever read him. Is he dead?

      I’m starting to think that the place to begin is simply the idea that people think things are beautiful (regardless of agreement). We certainly agree that there is a concept called beauty. Some think a Monet is beautiful, some a Pollock, etc. The disagreement, on first blush, seems to point to subjective beauty, but I think the mere fact that we all think SOMETHING is beautiful lends itself more to objective beauty. Widespread agreement=objectivity. In other words, we all agree that 2+2 is going to equal something (not necessarily two, for sake of argument). The answer to the equation is not important. The fact that we all agree that the equation exists in the first place hints at objectivity…

      I think I was unnecessarily opaque in that previous paragraph. Sorry. I need to re-word that argument.

  2. That’s what I mean by needing to define it. Is “beauty” just something that humans find attractive, i.e. that we are drawn to? If so, then definitely, every human finds something beautiful. I think there’s even some kind of majority consensus as to what that is, and in many cases it has something to do with survival (images of sickness and decay are commonly thought un-beautiful). But, yes, opacity notwithstanding, I think I sort of get what you’re trying to say.

    Oh yes, Hogarth is very dead, has been for almost 250 years. He was a Brits painter, best known for his social satire work. You probably recognize some of his pieces: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Hogarth. The self-portrait in that article shows the “line of beauty” on that pallette in the front left.

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