Saving Beauty Saving Ourselves

Beauty is said to reside in the eye of the beholder. A thing of beauty catches our attention. We stand in wonder and awe in front of it. Philosopher Byung-Chul Han asks: is beauty a mere distraction? Does it take us to the truth? or does it take us in another direction, in the direction of folly? Do we have to save beauty? or is it we who have to be saved by beauty? It appears to me that it is we who stand in need of being saved by beauty. We seem to have lost our sense of the beautiful given the pace of our world. We seem to have no time to stand and stare. Life is fast based and the world appears to be flat. Perhaps, we need to reawaken our aesthetic sense to save ourselves.

Everything is beautiful in an ontological sense. But we do not appreciate everything. We appreciate the things that satisfy our aesthetic sense. The structure, order and symmetry of some things please our senses and we experience delight in their presence or experience. Can we delight in imperfect things? Philosopher Byung-Chul Han thinks that true beauty is in imperfections. Our world is full of imperfect things. imperfect things lack completeness. There is an emptiness in imperfect things. imperfect things are empty in this sense. We neither live in Plato’s perfect world of Ideas nor his world of copies. Han regards the empty space as beautiful. To him, empty space beautifies everything it surrounds. Empty space is a site that oozes with unlimited energy. It triggers an experience of aesthetic catharsis. To Han, an empty space is filled with Tao.

Empty space is like the silence between the musical notes without which no music is possible. In fact, silence completes the music. Void completes beauty. What will happen if we erase the empty space? What will happen if we wipe out the silence from music? What will happen if we do not have a contrasting otherness? This will render everything as same. What will happen when otherness dies into sameness? Maybe we can then be ourselves. The is no other who is an obstruction to our freedom. We are fully free? But such freedom without the other who is the condition of our freedom is a self-enslavement. This condition reaches its climax on Facebook. There is no dislike button. Life has to be given the same response. We have to press only the like button on Facebook.

We are drowned in ‘ a culture of the like’ in all its sense. We like to see our faces. We like listening to the sound of our voices. We love to see our shadows and listen to our echoes. We have become narcissistic subjects. We like the smoothness of sameness. Sameness does not appear negative to us as it otherness does. It, therefore, does not threaten us. We feel safe. It does not have depth or nuance. But we tend to like it. Hence, We wish to erase the otherness. If at all there is other, it has to be simply the other of the same. The same is the benchmark for otherness. sameness then converts otherness into consumable difference. This is why perhaps identity politics wins. The self in us has become narcissistic. It remains thirsty and waits to devour every shade of otherness. Hence, we stand in need of being freed and rescued from drowning in the ocean of the same. Sameness is death to us. We love our death. We seem to enjoy our death drive. It is time we step out of this cave of thanatocracy. Only beauty can save us from death. But while devouring otherness, we destroy beauty. Hence, we have to save the other, to save beauty and thus save ourselves.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao