Monday, June 16, 2014

The Beautiful Ugly

I recently read an article from the BBC News on Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock), and how he is so attractive BECAUSE he is not beautiful, especially as we know beauty or attractiveness these days. Based on today's standards of the matinee idol, he is downright weird looking. And therein, is he appeal. He is compelling, unusual. Granted, he has the blue eyes (and the British accent does not hurt), but he looks nothing like what Hollywood has praised in leading men. Think Paul Newman, Brad Pitt, Chris Pine (chronologically). Benedict has eyes set wide apart, a rather gaunt, pale appearance. No tanned, buffed guy here. The article states that "in a bleached-blonde, botox-browed Hollywood, he (Benedict) is the antithesis of everything we're supposed to find attractive".
The article goes on to describe what the French call "jolie laide", which directly translated means "beautiful ugly". In Edgar Allen Poe's Ligeia, one of the characters says that there is no exquisite beauty...without some strangeness in the proportion."

18th Century philosopher Immanuel Kant draws a distinction between things that are evidently beautiful, because we can see that beauty, and things that are "sublime"! He notes that the sublime demands an intellectual response.

Kant was a German philosopher, born in April 1724, and living until February 1804, a central figure in modern philosophy.  He argued that reason is the source of morality. In his essay "Answering the Question: What is Enlightenment?", he defines it as shaped by the Latin motto, "Sapere Aude", or "Dare to be Wise!"

In 1764, he wrote "Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime", his contribution to aesthetic theory, which is further investigated in his 1790 "Critique of Judgment". He discusses the logical status of the "judgment of taste", an esteem for an object for itself, a disinterested pleasure, and an understanding of beauty from the standpoint of common sense.  He makes distinction between an object of art as having material value subject to the conventions of society. Pretty heavy stuff for the 1700's.

And so, I think we should look for the sublime, and forget the beautiful. At least what we consider the beautiful in this 21st Century, because it is marred by the conventional, the recognizable, of "trendiness", of the easy to acquire. "Celeb-beauty" lays everything out on the table; there is no mystery. The trend lately is to reveal everything...dresses that leave absolutely nothing, or nearly nothing, to the imagination. It's rather boring. It is the not knowing that holds our interest, and that is sublime.

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