EP&M Online April 1 Essay

Michael Curtis

        Having these past forty years of life the appetite to taste of pleasure and delight – and having tasted – I consider myself to be something of an expert on the topic.  Alas, with humility I must confess a dilettante's knowledge only.  Though had there been a course of studies, or even a course of lectures on the topic I would in earnest have enrolled; where-after, this essay would have been inscribed, Michael Curtis, Doctor of Beauty.  As it was, I but take my place among those billions who credit the subjective eye as beauty's measure.  Yet, I have indulged in empirical and experimental occupations; too, I have between experiments reviewed the few aesthetic texts that fell in my way.  So, I can maintain, because of my inclination, my interests, and because I was born under the sign of Venus, that: I am both in fact and in deed something of an expert on beauty.

        Living in a scientific age, and being a scientific man, I have, as you might expect, conducted physical experiments on both the object and the subject of my topic.  In one such, described below, I operated upon the two simultaneously.

        Upon an evening many years ago, following a formal reception, I and some of my more dubious acquaintances retired to drinks and cigars.  When, in the course of events, mostly forgettable, a member of our party, encouraged by the waitress's rear elevation, began to hold forth on her loveliness in a manner not here quotable.  Several friends – who admitted to some degree of expertise on the subject – did not agree with his assessment; they claiming the anatomical feature to be either too low, too wide, too soft, or simply not to their taste.

        One fellow could not quite hold that softness was a detriment to beauty; whereupon, he suggested several instances that showed softness to be a prerequisite to beauty, and went on to sight, among other things, his pillow; whereat, it was commented that the sight of him laying his opinion on her behind might in fact be beautiful.  But then as to this, most agreed that mere pleasurable association did not constitute actual beauty.  And as to the pillow; each in his own way found softness to be rather more pleasing than beautiful, or more desirable than beautiful, and a few preferred hard pillows, or none at all, then some began to speak of sheets; whereon, the conversation quickly disintegrated because the company could not come to terms.

       Returning to the waitress's rear elevation, as we soon did, the object being always in view, each associated or attempted to make synonymous some word or phrase with this female feature; as though by incorporation or with pedigree their theses on the subject might win the point.  As for myself, I continued in the way of Chamberlain, not venturing publicly too much this way or that, though privately admitting that this derriere, though in the realm of beauty, was not its paragon.

        As the drinks flowed rapidly on, the seas of contention rose and were accompanied by a storm of opinions striking lightening at random and throwing echoes of thunder about the room.  At this juncture, the object of contention with a considerable degree of dignity removed herself through a swinging door from the contemplation of the company with what could only be described as an exclamation point.  This did, as exclamation points tend to do, finished the argument.  And all would have been well with the world if our story were here concluded.  But no: Men, being creatures who can not gaze upon the object of a pristine valley without plopping a cabin on it, are not content to rest within the parameters of a void.  And so it was that he who first gazed upon the dubious hills of the waitress's landscape and wistfully offered his less than original assessment of their aspect put in that: "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." 

        Well, if ever there was a calm before the storm, this, I can tell you, was it.  What seemed for the moment pure passivity became upon the next a most unnatural chaos.  Arms, legs, shoulders, elbows, knees, and teeth all flew upon this disturber of the peace, he the beholder of beauty, as if to tear out the object of his eye; which as the frenzy grew in intensity and violence they actually accomplished.  Yes, the eye of the beholder, when wedged by a particularly eager and crowbar-like finger, literally flew from the socket like a well met punt over several upturned tables and chairs to land upon the bar.  Even the rape of the eye could not satisfy the lust of the company; what, with the inducement of beauty, the waitress's rear elevation, and other unarticulated imaginings, the torrent of aroused tempers and flesh like a tidal wave spilled out of the bar into the noisy traffic of the street where-from I saw no more of them that night.

        So here I was, struck almost dumb by the intensity of the dialogue on beauty; alone, except for the eye of the beholder staring lidless up at me, and the tender of the bar, who, being accustomed to the heated philosophical discussions of youth, was with perfect equanimity picking up the place.

        Now, as I said before, I am a modern scientific man, so in the way of modern scientific men I calmly put off the primitive barbarity that had recently had its way with me.  Then I proceeded in the manner of scientific men to examine the object who claimed to hold beauty.  I don't know how many of you have actually seen an eye reclined as it were upon the luxury of a bar without the face that usually accompanies it; those who have will understand what I mean when I say, "Wow. Cool."  You others, well, you can imagine.

        Back to the eye.  There was nothing in its outward appearance to suggest the wonder that it held inside.  There were no marks of distinction that one would find on a packing crate or on a shopping bag.  Yet, here it was, the container of beauty.  The container of beauty, rather, this container of beauty, was for the most part an orb milk-white and squishy; green-brown at one pole, while at the other pole red, black, and green with tiny calamari like tentacles. 

        Looking about its surface for some likely place to force an entrance with the spoon I recovered from the floor, I found myself to be in something of a quandary.  The tentacles were to be avoided as they caused me to go queasy inside; and I could not quite bring myself to enter at the lens of beauty who seemed, even in this state, to glare upon me with a regal dignity.  So I settled for the side that seemed to be the left, although I can not be sure because it is difficult to know which side is up on an eye unbodied.
        The spoon, when touching the surface, wanted some strength to actually push itself into the flesh, and this was soon effected with a gentle degree of care.  Here, I paused, to spread the skin aside and have my first look inside, but there was nothing to reveal itself as beauty, just, well, oozy stuff.  I continued on for some little time with care but no effect; more oozy stuff.  Then throwing caution to the wind, or rather, my spear into the belly of the eye, I described with a ripping stroke a line around its equator, whereon the eye fell open.  Scientific men come to expect disappointment, and for this I might have been prepared, but the positive sincerity with which beauty's location had been proclaimed sent me into paroxysms of expectation whose only conclusion could be dashed hopes.  Yes, there was no beauty here.

        Now, this is not to say there may not be beauty in the eye of some other beholder.  There may in fact be.  And you may, in the course of your experiments upon other eyes, find it.  Then if you do, your name will be forever linked with beauty when beauty is discussed and celebrated, as for instance is Einstein's in relation to physics.  But from what I know of eyes, and what I saw of this eye, it leaves me little hope in the likelihood of beauty being found in the eye.

        Where beauty will eventually be found I can not with certainty say.  Perhaps university scientists with the inducement of grants will discover it; perhaps philosophers will at last determine that reality does not exist, but that beauty does; perhaps historians will conclude that the Spirits of the Times will lead to beauty; perhaps psychiatrists will in analysis return us to the embryo of beauty: Perhaps, perhaps not.  Clearly, beauty does not exist in the eye of the beholder.

        I began by proclaiming myself to be something of an expert on beauty, which now I suspect you have come to doubt.  Yet, if you consider that when in knowing what a thing is not, that you are closer to understanding what the object in question is, my reputation should be somewhat restored.  And that you have, and so I am.  The question remains, "Where is beauty."

        If beauty is not within the eye, about the eye, or without the eye, and if beauty is not subjective, where in the facts of a crowded existence can it be?  If I were a degreed doctor I might be able to tell you.  But, being just a lover of pleasure and delight, and one who is not fond of violent disputations – as you have seen, I will leave, with best wishes, the object to your contemplation.   

Samples of Michael Curtis's poetry and sculpture may be seen elsewhere on EP&M Online.