EP&M Online April 1 Essay
EYE OF BEAUTY
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
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.