They spoke of beauty in art and I thought of beauty in life; and the two far apart. And I thought, only in epiphanic moments do the two converge, when aesthetic marries manifest order, and we are startled, again, with the insight of ethic.
Traditional Eurocentric beauty appears to be characterized by containment, order, symmetry, and a sort of asexuality. Western patriarchal notions of art and religion transcend its norms of sexuality (which is more utilitarian than not) in a tendency toward a religious ideal removed from the reproductive, the necessary and the mortal/transient. Under this rubric, the sexual act mimics the imposition of ideal order
upon the manifest world; male/male or male/female copulation would recreate and perpetuate the order of power in the world. Female/female union would upset it, as this would generate not power but force that is neither bilogically procreative nor ideationally recreative of the order of power in the world. The female force is a self-centred force whereas the male force is other-centred; one seeks to move the ‘not-me’ centripetally, the other seeks to subdue all that is centrifugal. Consider the Virgin, Hera the bride, and Diana the virgin huntress. And then consider the Apollonian ideal of masculine beauty, the worshipful in the public realm, beyond the domestic and the necessary, acme of the splendor of ‘god,’ of power.
One notices two trends in the changing perception of beauty in the Western Eurocentric tradition:
1) A movement from the privileging of order (in beauty) to the privileging of power (the manifest splendor of the ordered material)
2) The exteriorization of beauty–
from soul to objective manifestation;
from something to be looked up to (‘beautiful’), to something to be looked down upon (‘cute’, ‘pretty’);
where the outer reflected the inner (aesthetics, religion and sexuality linked to each other), to simulation, simulacra, manifestation
standing for an order (aesthetics) that no longer needs to exist to be assumed (note the pattern within the pattern: a strange reversal of
the Platonic order, where the prior order did not need to exist to be assumed to be true).
In this evolution of beauty, the catastrophic has flourished where the sublime has been lost (therefore fear and awe reign in disproportion to the orderly perception of things, and disorder rules aesthetic perception).
Someone asked of the august speakers, "What is it about an archive that is beautiful?"
At that gathering, as the scholars battled it out, I answered thus to myself: Memory, the ordered remains of our days. The thing apart, the constant field of flowers. An archive is like a constellation, mostly seen. A single artifact, like a star, is worthy of appreciation and study; different and differently worthy is a group pf stars, a field of flowers. The unified order of the world, and yet the notation of each sparrow’s rise and fall. Plenitude is not more satisfying, because more is not necessarily more than one. Yet there is something about the material memories of parallel times that is seductive to the human wish for perennial things. Both archive and artifact, memorial and palimpsest, define more perfectly the edges of the known and the unknown for the ‘I’ that is a moving crutch in time. They are the incarnation of something known and heard about–history, memory, orality, lineage and loss–the imagined imperfect reflection. The artifact, as the archive, is magical because it allows itself–as well as its order, place–to be glimpsed out of time, like the golden deer. Revelation, incarnation, manifestation, is beautiful, and archives appeal to the desire for both order and knowledge, which are related to beauty.
If they asked me again, "What is it about an archive that is beautiful?" I would say now, "Time."