Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Ugliness Will Save the World

It's become a cliché among my set to declare that "Beauty will save the world" (to paraphrase Dostoyevsky). The way it's invoked has some truth, but ignores the subtleties of beauty and its opposite, and how the beauty we recognize doesn't map simply to goodness in a fallen world.

I say further: Ugliness Will Save the World.

I say this not merely rhetorically, but phenomenally. Ontologically speaking, ugliness as such has no existence; it adheres as a privation in things that have a positive existence. But we do not experience evils as simple privations, negations. Rather we experience evil as positive a reality—something we encounter. This experience can repel us from ugliness to seek beauty—it is one of the ways that from evil the Almighty draws good.

True beauty is not a superficial matter. As then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in his August 2002 speech at Rimini,

So it is that Christian art today is caught between two fires (as perhaps it always has been): it must oppose the cult of the ugly, which says that everything beautiful is a deception and only the representation of what is crude, low and vulgar is the truth, the true illumination of knowledge. Or it has to counter the deceptive beauty that makes the human being seem diminished instead of making him great, and for this reason is false.

Further, at times we experience as ugly what is in fact beautiful in itself but so greatly beyond us that we fail to recognize it. This is an additional category of the ugliness that will save us. I think this is similar to what Cardinal Ratzinger was talking about in the discussion of Christ's beauty that wounds us.

To take the contrapositive, as it were, of the quoted paragraph, we must promote the notion of beauty as the radiation of truth and goodness, and we must not hide from the ugliness that bursts the circle of man's self-contentment and moves him to look Beyond.

There's a lot more to the talk and I recommend reading it entirely. The last paragraph is a great reminder of the critical context of the Dostoyevsky maxim.

Another insightful discussion of beauty: Beauty: So Much More Than We Think

1 comment:

TheOFloinn said...

I am reminded of Chesterton's comment that the truth of "Beauty and the Beast" is that sometimes you have to love someone before he can be lovable.