Ironically, at this point, I love to gaze at the cursed just for the sake of novelty, because one gets so tired after a while (thirty plus years) of manufactured beauty, or a beauty that is leveled in a status quo that makes all individual characteristics melt into a background of remorseless homogeneity. Of course there is a homogeneity in ugliness as well, there are only so many ways in which the human face or body can be mutilated, malformed, distorted, or remain unfinished - as if cast from the womb too early, frozen in a state of primordial flux. I prefer the similarity of beautiful faces and bodies because I am an aesthete by nature and appetite, by personal choice as well, and I have never developed a taste (distorted from the "natural" - which is probably not natural at all, but conditioned - in itself) for deviations from my culture's standards of beauty and my own. I try to, just to expand my range of sensations and thoughts, my reflections on my experiences. I seek the beauty - abstracted from the aesthetic, touching other meanings of its symbolic import - at the bottom of malformation, of distortions of the flesh. It is of course impossible for me to expand my basic definitions (self-created at this point, but not exactly springing originally from socialization, they are distinctly personal) of beauty in how I immediately react to it, sympathetically, at a low or base level of consciousness which I seemingly can not control. I call this level of consciousness "instinct" but this is just a convenient definition or way of pointing at it, it might not be actually an instinct at all. This is my way of placing it beyond reproach, or conscious control, so that if I am criticized for what may appear to be a shallow interpretation of beauty, I can always just say that is something that I was "born with" or inculcated with, something that I adopted at a very young age and which was transmitted to me either by my environment, the people surrounding me, or the culture I was raised in.
The truth is that I reject most shallow observations or interpretations of "beauty", as "beauty" is itself such a random and indeterminate concept that it can swallow every interpretation in the world, six billion of them, and still pass through matter effortlessly, walking through cultures, other concepts, aesthetic philosophies, ages and different cultural traditions coming into being and then passing away. As a supposedly meaningful concept it is in fact absolutely empty, waiting to be filled by changing tastes, priorities, patterns of belief, reflection, thought, etc. Its label or external symbol remains the same, in the domain of language, but its internal meaning, that which it signifies, is so random and relative that it seems to be open at both ends, sliding through cultures and civilizations like a sieve. As a concept, it holds nothing. It communicates nothing except the shadow of a possible meaning, the external carapace of a symbol without the life within. It holds meaning and then collapses, or transforms itself as if it had a will of its own - one can posit life by watching it, but this is just an illusion, something it gains by reflecting the worlds it encounters.
My own personal definition of beauty is both an internal reaction to experience or sensations, based in desire and an aesthetic appreciation of form (there are, much like in the concept of intelligence, several interpenetrating capacities for interpretation and reflection within this single theme or idea), and an abstraction from experience with the additional weight of other's opinions, as I have studied aesthetics, which means that I have tried to fit my own concepts into the interpretations of other people who were reflecting on what they understood or could communicate about their own culture, or what they felt like communicating at the time. One could also say that my appreciation of beauty is a basic skill or capability of interpreting and judging experience, built from birth into an apparatus for filtering sensation. Like other structures of the mind, it is created by either natural function or self-willed, individual, autonomous reflection, and as it comes into being it also begins its own process of eternal becoming. It remains unfinished forever, but this does not stop it from being used. My aesthetic faculties live off of their own products, they shape themselves every second by the experiences which they create and the reflections they cause to appear in my consciousness based on these experiences. They are truly autonomous in that they seek to define that which moves them, and then endlessly repeat these experiences in a search for basic forms beneath the multiplicity of overwhelming (to the highest conscious states) sensations. The irony, of course, is that these basic forms are already accepted and arrayed in patterns and structures of interpretation, they both shape and aim the aesthetic faculty and filter its products. This is the same as saying that the aesthetic faculty, first (supposedly) formless and inchoate, unexpressed and undesiring (if only in the first moment of its creation), ceaselessly causes itself to come into being by gazing in a mirror - the results of its interpretation of reality, which is a reflection of its own essential form. It recognizes itself in experience and the endless procession of sensations experienced by the consciousness, it finds its own identity in that which it is able to reflect and desire. Is this faculty unconscious and alienated from its own form? Must it always seek out itself in what it desires? Does it have a hidden helix inside that it can not touch, but which controls its interpretation of reality? Is the life of the aesthetic faculty the expression of this helix or commanding code and the self-discovery of its identity? One has to wonder: if it is truly alienated from itself, eternally, and never conscious of its own form, how does it know what to look for in experience? How will it know when it has found itself?
If I gaze on ugliness, then, and for the purpose of these arguments let me say that I am mainly speaking about human ugliness, which is the disappointment of the aesthetic faculty in its search for a perfection of form, then I am expressly denying the desire of this faculty, this capacity of interpreting my experiences, I am starving it and frustrating its desire for self-becoming, for its endless process of being. My will has this ability to switch between different capabilities of filtering and deriving "meaning" from my experiences. I can alternate the aesthetic faculty with the moral, for example, or combine them in opportune moments. And while I instinctively withdraw from ugliness (especially its most potent forms, that of hideous mutilations and congenital malformation), I often feel the structures of my moral faculties entering the space left absent by the aesthetic, as if this internal shell of consciousness had to be filled by one capacity or another, one means of filtering and interpreting experiences or another - I could not simply witness or experience what was happening in front of me as an object, the subject and willing, conscious being inside of me naturally offered one faculty or another. I can only serve as a mute, unthinking (recording) witness by consciously withdrawing my faculties of interpretation, although this state of being, more likely than not, might just be an illusion, a trick of the consciousness. I can hide my own judgments from myself, as anyone else can, I can press them down into unconsciousness or subsume them beneath the instantaneous interaction of my consciousness with time and experience (the moment, immediacy), the present, but I am sure they are still watching silently and determining their own meaning. They must be, because their products appear in dreams - and in these dreams I recognize myself in their creations. This, then, is an interesting intersection of the moral faculties with ugliness or the absence of the aesthetic in its flight from experience, and it helps to further determine avenues of the exploration of consciousness in regards to different kinds of judgments when encountering a disruption of form in reality, which is another way of saying a disappointment both of the aesthetic and ethical capacities for deriving meaning from experience. In the absence, then, of the aesthetic, it seems to ethical falls into place "naturally", and a certain disgust of the ethical can not be separated from a flight of the aesthetic. To be even more abstract and precious, one can wonder whether this "disgust" is in itself a reaction of the ethical to the experiences or sensations that have been placed before it, or an internal reaction to its unwilling entrance into consciousness (having to substitute for the aesthetic, which in a personality like mine is the most common form of conscious filtering) which is reflected outwards into experience and which colors that which it will then interpret. This, once again, is another example of the creation of individual, internal states of being and interpretation which - for the "half-solipsistic" - are the sole basis for the consciousness interacting with the external, with reality. It is also a demonstration of the ways in which the consciousness seeks to escape its own domination and life, its own ever-present reflection upon itself, which it of course can never do. Those who believe it can are, in my opinion, simply desiring something which is impossible, as far as we know: the living extinction of the self or consciousness, death in life. How many of the interpretations and judgments (immediate, escaping even the most careful and selective watches of the consciousness or will) of the mind reflecting on experience and the external are just the result of internal faculties and structures colliding with each other? As obvious as this is, there are still those who would deny the individual and subjective nature of all possible experience, but these decisions reflect their own desires. As with anything else, one must look for the motives behind such theories.
I must add that I am almost never moved to pity when I see ugliness in reality, in the flesh of another person. This is because I simply can not sympathize with it, I can not empathize with malformations that I do not share and can not share, as I was not born with them. I simply escaped them through a chance occurence. They are as foreign to my consciousness as a sensation outside of my body's ability to sense would be, it is a reserve of consciousness or a state of being and existence which I can not touch, even though I have tried, reacting to my own culture's ideas of the necessity of these experiences (which seem to be mainly influential in their discovery of hypocrisy and illusion, of disconnection and alienation), and reacting to cultural stereotypes of duty and necessity, of the internal characteristics of social empathy and shared meaning. As with most of the other constructs of social value, these themes or ideas of "shared" experiences and a persuasive, all-pervading, ennobling empathy are utterly false and inefficient when it comes to personal meaning or individual experience outside the realm of the ideal. They are illusions, and my sympathy would be an illusion as well, as it would spring from a desire to avoid guilt and social ostracism, not an essential sensation of shared experience or a response (sudden, instinctive) of empathy - it surely would not express a desire to "do my social duty". I have no duty towards ugliness at all except to eradicate it after I have learned from it. This is not an ethical judgment, but an aesthetic one. Of course beauty and ugliness are relative, but the expression of what is relative and individual inside of me, the expression of my will reflecting its own desire and my consciousness's understanding of the world I am in (which is always changing, but is no less solvent and immediate or pressing because of that) is the purpose of my life. If I have an individual duty towards myself to satisfy my own desires, then I surely also have an abstract duty, free of the social, socialized, or shared meanings of culture, to surround myself with beauty instead of ugliness and distortions of form. I will not act morally or ethically in order to achieve this, meaning that I will not make a crime of malformation and seek to press it into nonexistence by destroying the ones (I will not call them unfortunate, that is once again a moral identity) through which it appears, but I will surely act aesthetically to remove myself from their presence and power. The ones who claim that ugliness is the natural state of the world, I believe, ask too much from human limitations and the already-degraded status (or cultural concepts) of existence and reality, of possibility. If ugliness is the state of the world, it is because we have allowed this to happen. If ugliness is the "natural" state of reality, in this fallen condition, it is because we do not ask anything else from our consciences. I have no duty whatsoever towards that which does not bring me anything but pain.
24 December 2004
NP: John Coltrane - Blue Train, Deathrow - Deception Ignored