Archive of Week Twelve Forum
On Beauty and Being Just

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turning to justice
Name: Anne Dalke (
Date: 04/08/2005 18:25
Link to this Comment: 14388

We make another "turn" this week, into questions of the relationship between beauty and being just, between beauty and being fair (not that we haven't been working up to this, with our discussions last week about the unfair, unequal playing field of life).

Anyhow: on with the game. Please read the essays by Gebara and Scarry in your packet-supplement (add'l copies in the box outside my office, if you don't have 'em) and post your thoughts here by Monday @ 5.

Name: Flora Shepherd (
Date: 04/08/2005 22:04
Link to this Comment: 14391

When first reading the Calli article, I wasn't quite sure what to think about the whole idea. However, after reflecting on all of our discussions thus far, I think that I would be very pro-calli. The part that most convinced me is the section that describes a child with burn scars being elected president. I have one friend who became physically disfigured, and it is so painful to see how how much her life changed after the accident. I don't see why anyone should suffer because of society's social stigma against "imperfection." It's easy to say that we should accept responsibility for our actions, etc, but that's just not how human beings operate. There is definitely an instinctual reaction against the disfigured. I think that we are now starting to decide, as a class, that lookism is dangerous and should not be so tightly connected with beauty. There is so much other beauty in the world, why would we keep this dangerous social stigma around if we could get rid of it? Yeah, there's plenty of other ways we could discriminate against each other, but if we start eliminating them, maybe eventually suffering will be relieved.

Beautiful from the terrible?
Name: Flora Shepherd (
Date: 04/08/2005 22:16
Link to this Comment: 14392

Seeing as I already submitted a beautiful text that many found terrible, I thought I would share this site with everyone. It's a group of artists called the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists. Primarily composed of three artists, they are kind of re-inventing taxidermy. One of them is a formally trained taxidermist, and another one is "vegan taxidermist" who only uses stuffed animals. They all have a "waste not, want not" mentality and so they use roadkill, euthanized animals or other similarly gained carcasses in their work.

They've kind of taken the art world by storm. Taxidermy associations think they're corrupting the taxidermy reputation. Some artists thinking their work is just disgusting. I find the idea fascinating. Some of their work is very disturbing (see: the animals eating their own legs), but I find a lot of it very beautiful. Especially the Fiji mermaid, the siamese animals and the winged squirrels and cats.

What does everyone think? Did these artists sucessfully turn something ugly (dead animals) into something beautiful?


alternative aesthetic!
Name: Anne Dalke (
Date: 04/09/2005 16:06
Link to this Comment: 14397

Did these artists sucessfully turn something ugly (dead animals) into something beautiful?

Well...not by my lights, not by a long shot (but then we all know by now that subjectivity's key here, and that it's the job of the next generation to turn upside down the "standards" of the last...!)

Case in point: I actually came to the forum this afternoon to post something expressing an entirely different aesthetic than Flora's rogue taxidermy--a passage from the novel we're now reading in "the other course": Virginia Woolf's Orlando (1928), who begins by asking herself

what this beauty was; whether it was in things themselves, or only in herself.... (145)

and then goes on to say,

There was...something one trembles to pin through the body with a name and call beauty, for it has no body, is as a shadow and without substance or quality of its own, yet has the power to change whatever it adds itself to. This shadow now....[composed] innumerable sights she had been receiving...into something tolerable, comprehensible. Yes, she thought...I can begin to live again. (322)

Coming across these passages, I find myself mulling over what still seem to me two different aesthetics, of desire and desirelessness: Is the beautiful that which draws us on/out/beyond ourselves, pulls us off-center, makes us long for what we cannot reach; or is it one which makes us "relax," contributes to a sense of "stability"?

Elaine Scarry's book On Beauty and Being Just suggests a way of bringing this tension together: in being pulled out of ourselves by something beautiful (=symmetrical) we may find ourselves moved towards the symmetry of justice (=equality). That would make our "acculturation into what is beautiful" not at all a matter of narrowing of taste, but rather an expansion of empathy. And in those terms--well, Flora's dead animals do begin to attract me (a little, just a little!)

But the aesthetics which Scarry says "call" us to justice are classical: symmetry, balance, harmony. Following Paul's description of a bi-partite brain structure, I've been intrigued by the possibility that we might acknowledge a difference between the formal coherent pleasures of conscious processing, and the incoherent immersion of the unconscious portion of the mind, between an aesthetic which is calm, closed, comforting, satisfying, and one which leads us uncertainly beyond such satisfactions....

So how about this? A beautiful thing is a plateau were things look (momentarily) understandable (so, in Woolf's terms, we "can begin to live again"), but which also "opens the door for something else"--and is powerful precisely because it holds this sort of promise. In this context, I'm also remembering something (else) Mark Lord taught me in the Beauty Symposium last winter: that the beautiful asks us to function on two (or more?) levels/layers, gives us the capacity to be in more than one world @ a time.

This involves our ability to hold simultanously in mind (only? at least?) TWO almost-there-patterns, a process that is only interesting as they are solving, not after they settle. Beauty nurtures our capacity for ambivalence, for simultaneously holding in mind different emotional/perceptual experiences, for moving back and forth between rational choice and visceral reaction....? (Flora, Alice: what aesthetic guides physics today? Is it the search for "broken symmetries," the presumption that we live in a universe that was once symmetrical, is now broken, and whose originary/primal/lost symmetry we are trying to recapture? If so--how Platonic!)

One other thing I also hope we can keep in play as this course "winds down": that sense of immersion, of interplay and congruence between us and what we are working on/playing with and this still-vexed matter of "developing a discriminating palate": how much of our talk about beauty is guided by acculturation/socialization into already-recognized forms? And how much might our understanding of beauty be expanded if we thought of it as breaking out of such forms?

Beauty and justice
Name: Rachel Usala (
Date: 04/09/2005 20:43
Link to this Comment: 14398

I found "On Beauty and Being Fair" a little unrealistic. It argues that the natural tendency of people to seek out symmetry could be applied to social justice. The idea that "beautiful things give rise to the notion of distribution, to lifesaving reciprocity, to fairness not just in the sense of loveliness of aspect but in the sense of 'a symmetry of everyone's relation to one another'" has not really played out in society. Don't we thrive on diversity? What are the "beautiful things" that encourage generosity? If anything it is the ugliness of poverty,etc. that motivates me to work for change. For example, when I see a homeless person, I want to help, but when I am comfortably dining at Bryn Mawr with plenty around me, feeding the hungry doesn't enter my mind. My "social empathy" is jumpstarted by asymmetry and injustice, not "beautiful things."
The article goes on to say that "people seem to wish there to be beauty even when their own self-interest is not served by it." This also seems to be an overgeneralizing statement. Haven't we just been discussing how people manipulate beauty for their own advantage over other people? Isn't the very beauty standard of our society built on the fact that only a select few are able to attain it?
I guess what really bothered me about the article is that "beauty" seems a superficial reason to pursue justice. If beauty is a culturally refined thing and ever changing, then isn't a justice motivated or guided by beauty going to likewise change and shift, sometimes in a way that is unjust by the standards we hold now?
Justice should be pursued because it is virtuous, an absolute good, not because it is beautiful.

Screw Symmetry
Name: Flora Shepherd (
Date: 04/10/2005 00:25
Link to this Comment: 14401

***One of the problems that Iım running into is that the word symmetry is over-used nearly as much as beauty. As a result, there can be several different interpretations of the term. But I hope my implications for the word are clear. ;-) ***

So after reading through this weeks articles and Anne's post, I've decided that I am no longer comfortable associating symmetry with a larger sense of beauty. The theory doesn't work for me. Maybe it's my inner physicist talking, but the whole concept is just scary. A perfectly symmetric world would be perfectly balanced between all things: the beautiful and the terrible. And I think that would be an awful place. From my understandings of symmetry in the physical world, I 'm going to try to explain why it would be horrible applied to the moral/aesthetic world. Iım going to try to explain a qualitative concept in quanitative terms, forgive if it's confusing.

(This argument has probably been written by a philosopher before. I apologize for my ignorance. And it kinda has something to do with what Gwen brought up about economics.) Many people are familiar with the concept of conservation of energy. The idea is: that in one system there is only a finite amount of energy. So, you have to get your energy from something else. If you want to move a ball you have to expel energy to push it.

Now, think about conservation of beauty. Say thereıs only a finite amount of beauty in the entire world. That means that at any given time, all the people/things/events in the world have to split this beauty up evenly. Now, we know from experience that the amount of beauty is not evenly spread at any given time. How many times have you run home in a great mood only to find your roommate cursing out her computer? But, in this symmetrical argument, everytime you do/have/see something good, you're taking that goodness away from someone else, because thereıs only a finite amount. For every millionare scamming seniors of their savings there would have to be an innocent person on death row. Everytime I am happy, that means someone else is crying. That's the sort of far-reaching implications I find in symmetry. Ying and Yang.

And there's nothing beautiful about it, unless the goal is to try to distribute everything evenly. Maybe one day, each part of the world will have an equal amount of beauty and an equal amount of non-beauty at all times. But that just makes no sense. After all, everything would be the same. The world would have none of Scarryıs ³wake-up calls² because all beauty would be equal in all things. This sort of beautiful symmetrical world doesnıt work for me. Maybe our models of the world can be symmetric and beautiful, but I doubt the whole universe, including thought, coudl possibly have a symmetry we could comprehend. If it did, whereıs the excitement? Whereıs the beauty?

All of this thinking has left me with my favorite definition of beauty. Itıs, very simply, whatever gives one pleasure. Granted, there are many kinds of pleasure, but that just allows for an equally large number of beautiful experiences.

Name: Brittany ()
Date: 04/10/2005 04:30
Link to this Comment: 14402

Though I agree with Elaine Scarry on her most basic thesis---that justice is "beautiful"---I'm not sure I buy much else. First off, I think she's using the wrong *term* entirely.
When Scarry says "justice," she means our twentieth-century, equal-rights, humans-deserve-humanity form of justice. If we reach at all far back into history, "justice" becomes an eye for an eye (it still is, in some countries). And technically that's what the term implies: a sort of universal equilibrium. A world governed solely by justice would strictly abide by the (usually scientific) principle that "every action has an equal and opposite reaction." Therefore, our justice---that which Scarry finds so beautiful---isn't very just at all. Locking a criminal away for life for a murdering rampage isn't justice. It's mercy. And personally I think mercy is *more* beautiful.

Scarry even admits this on page 94: "of the revolutionary triad--liberty, equality, fraternity--it is fraternity... that underwrites liberty and equality, and hence also fraternity that underwrites liberal theories of justice." Justice, in its purest form, shouldn't be underwritten by anything. It's absolute---the scales are balanced perfectly. But fraternity, this feeling of sisterhood, prejudices us to tip the scales in the direction of respecting humanity. (Thus, many countries have abolished the death penalty, even for murderers.)

Moving on, though, my other big criticism of Scarry's argument is her basis itself: the two "complaints" which she cites on pages 1--3. They are: 1) that beauty distracts us from the pursuit of justice, and 2) that the human gaze is destructive to a beautiful object. Maybe this is a generational difference speaking, but to me, these statements seem obviously false, and the "logic" Scarry uses to refute them simply common sense. Well of *course* beauty is distracting, but a) so are a million other things, and b) beauty has no especial vendetta against justice; it's equally distracting in other spheres as well. And of *course* the vase isn't going to suffer when we look at it admiringly. It's a *vase!* Honestly, a lot of Scarry's article seemed like an exercise in logic to me: self evident and ultimately pretty useless.

Though I did like this bit (I think it ties interestingly to Lauren's definition of beauty): "she describes suddenly seeing a kestrel hovering; it brings about an 'unselving.' It causes a cluster of feelings that normally promote the self... now to fall away... all the space formerly in the service of protecting, guarding, advancing the self... is now free to be in the service of something else."

not vexed and an anology for how to have more
Name: Sharon (
Date: 04/10/2005 09:56
Link to this Comment: 14405

Anne wrote above about this "still vexed matter" and mused on a couple dichotomies within which to consider beauty. In contrast, I discovered in the two readings for this week, two statements describing beauty which perfectly (i.e., completely) express beauty without hemming it in. At least, for me, for now, and I haven't been able to think of any beauty experience that can't be included within these descriptors. How about for you?

From Ivone Gebara (p.25): "Beauty, by contrast, comes from the interior. We know it is present because we feel something that transforms us."

From Elaine Scarry (p. 69) : "...the moment of perceiving something beautiful confers on the perceiver the gift of life; and now we begin to see that the moment of perceiving beauty also confers on the object the gift of life."

Both statments include the aspects of relationship and connection which seemed to be characteristics of beauty that emerged in many discussions. It's the emphasis on beauty's ability to transform and give life reciprocally to beauty-perceiver and beautiful thing which I find just perfect.

Flora showed how undesirable a symmetry requirement of beauty can be when the symmetry inherent in the first law of thermodynamics, the conservation of energy, is applied to beauty. I thought of another fundamental physical principle, the second law of thermodynamics: The total entropy of the universe increases. This law in contrast is asymmmetrical. It's not hard to find the promise in applying it to beauty: Universal beauty increases.

And that is not unlike what both authors write about, how appreciating and caring for beauty in one place can make it more likely for beauty to be seen and cared for elsewhere.

Name: Liz Paterek (
Date: 04/10/2005 17:08
Link to this Comment: 14425

On thinking about beauty and justice in the world in genernal I can't help but wonder why we can't use our neocortexes to get past our initial reactions and predjudices. If we so greatly pride ourselves on being a society of educated and intelligent inidividuals, why should beauty motivate us or effect how we rule but the truth is that it does. We say "justice " is beautiful, but justice throughout history has favored the wealthy or aristocratic. Look at the earliest justice and one will see that in the law's of ancient Rome or in Hammorabi's code that different people are treated differently. I see justice as always corrupt and not necessarily thriving for fairness in all cases. We are humans and we are flawed and beauty in its many forms cannot be harnessed to benefit our judicial system. We must acknowledge that it exists but not succomb to it. We must realize that our standards for justice are never completely fair and are always subject to alteration, for better or worse, we must know that justice itself perhaps has the potential to be both beautiful at best and putrid at its worst.

Name: Amy Martin (
Date: 04/10/2005 19:49
Link to this Comment: 14430

Although I related to Scarry's notions about how the beauty of something helps us relate to it, give it value, - how beauty forces something on us and makes it important, I had to question how her notions of distributional beauty would really make the world a more just place. I just couldn't help but feel that she was being so optimistic about the good in the world, and the human desire to protect justice as we protect beauty. Unfortunately, I see many historical examples of complete disregard for beauty...The first thing that came to mind were the multitude of values that we let trump beauty. I couldn't help but think of the current administration's complete disregard of the world's natural beauty/ natural environment...Although in class we've discussed the almost universality of thought that there is beauty in nature, that beauty doesn't seem to be give any kind of justice just because it is beautiful.

Despite my issue with this part of Scarry's argument, I really related to her ideas that Sharon posted about, the idea that beauty requires us to attend to the aliveness of the world.

Name: Marissa (mpatters)
Date: 04/10/2005 21:11
Link to this Comment: 14433

While I did agree with a few of the ideas that Elaine Scarry brought up relating justice and beauty I was very turned off by the style of writing and the frequent repetition, almost word for word, of ideas and sentences. While I understand that it could be for effect, hearing the same ideas in barely different words does not make them any more believable.
I did like a lot of the comparisons and "proof" that was given in the chapter. It seems as if the author really tried to focus on beauty from a justice standpoint and it was very interesting to hear what the philosophers and historians had to say about the topic. I am interested to hear what connection the class finds between beauty and justice.

Beauty...a Path to Salvation and Justice?
Name: Alanna (
Date: 04/10/2005 23:39
Link to this Comment: 14439

According to Gebara, "our salvation depends on grasping human transformation as a journey toward justice and toward beauty." She then goes on to define salvation as a "dreaming of justice and beauty [...]." Yes, "dreaming" is right. Gebara's essay sounds very sugar-coated and obvious to me. Of course it makes perfect sense that if we as a world strive for and achieve justice, we will also achieve beauty. Great, point well said. So well said, in fact, that Gebara seemed to have forgotten to mention how exactly we should go about achieving beauty and justice in a world where injustice is the norm. While many of us yearn for a world in which justice reigns supreme, the reality of the situation is that there are many out there who don't believe in striving for a just world, those who prefer to live by killing, stealing, lying, cheating, etc. As long as we live on a planet where people don't all share the same ideals about striving for justice and beauty, we will never hope to accomplish what Gebara insists is necessary for our salvation. While Gebara's idea is quite a noble one, it is also an impossible one.

In response to Scarry's essay: again, there is nothing wrong about beauty. Beauty is actually a good thing on all levels. The potential links between beauty and injustice are only possible because people corrupt beauty. People take beauty and turn it into something ugly. Beauty isn't unjust, and it shouldn't have to be. I think people in general need to re-think their own attitudes towards beauty, and they need to try to see beauty simply as beauty, and to not see beauty as power, self-worth, manipulation, etc. Wow, just think...if we ever did accomplish that, I think Gebara's "dream" would actually be a dream come true...

Name: eebs (elchan)
Date: 04/11/2005 11:54
Link to this Comment: 14446

i really enjoyed gebaras piece. i thought a lot of what she said made sense, especially how "the world of profit lures us to the pretty- an exterior quality that moves us to buy and sell things". i got the impression that she was generalizing people as a rather shallow creature. although i dislike being labled as "shallow" i must admit, i do look for the pretty sometimes when i am making a decision on a purchase or whatnot. as for scarry's piece, although i thought she made a couple of good points (not that i necessarily agree with them) she tended to be repetitive and a little dry. i also thought that her thinking was a little unrealistic to apply to the 'world of profit' we live in. both the pieces got me thinking, its true, the beautiful do survive not only because people try hard to preserve beautiful artifacts, but because beautiful people (in my opinion) portray themselves as more... fragile (?? maybe its not the right word) so that others will look after them, be nice to them, etc. everyday i see instances where beautiful people use their gift to get ahead. i find beauty used in this manner to be an effective way to be more efficient. for example, if your employer is a beautiful person, you would want to work harder to be noticed by him/her or to please him/her. it isnt about having a romantic relationship- i just think people try harder to look better/efficient/intelligent/etc in front of beautiful people. ive also given a lot of thought when scarry says "great math skills, a capacity for musical composition, the physical aglity of a dancer or speed of an athelete-entail luck at birth". beauty is also a result of luck at birth. if everyone else can praise the other types of luck at birth, a person's physical beauty should also be praised.

beauty and justice
Name: Alice S (
Date: 04/11/2005 14:36
Link to this Comment: 14448

I have to say that these articles gave me a very different perspective of beauty. I enjoyed both pieces, and I found this view of beauty, well, beautiful, for lack of a better word. I do think it is a bit idealistic. Whether that is a good or a bad thing i am not sure.

I really connected to the opening line of Gebara's piece that said, "to understand justice is to think about injustice...often it is injustice we experience and witness that makes us cry out for a different world." This made me think of some of our conversations in class about unattainable standards of beauty. If we did not have a standard, we would not have the motivation to fight for something better.

I am not sure that either Gebrara;s or Scarry's argument can hold true in the real world, once again because they are so idealistic. But I think it takes optimists to make change, and I thought their notion of beauty and justice, and the idea that seeing injustice can help create beauty, was a very provocative idea, and one that maybe someday could evoke change.

Gebara and Scarry
Name: Meera Jain (
Date: 04/11/2005 15:06
Link to this Comment: 14449

I really liked Gebara's piece (maybe because she was quick and to the point), she puts a huge emphasis on finding beauty in simple things that can help everyone around us. "We are esstinally talking about ways to build better relationships"- these relationships are founded on the basic principle of loving and finding the beauty in others. By being critical, "ugly", judgemental and attached we lose the progress to defining justice. It is true that beauty will ultimately save us, because if most of us find something beautiful we tend to examine it and cherish it more closely and thereby can save it or save ourselves.
I don't necessarily agree with her thought on a friend being equal, "someone whose eyes I can see, whom I can talk to directly, care for and love." I think we sometimes get so caught up in outdoing the person next to us, especially in a beauty definition that we don't treat people with that beauty and respec they deserve.
Beauty does come from the interior for many people, (I can't lie that sometimes it is the exterior that first attracts me) but once I get to a glimpse on the inside and I like what I see I tend to find it more beautiful that I would have initially. This brings me to Scarry's argument that I am still trying to clear up.
Scarry says "beauty occupies our attention and distracts us from real things" but for example if I enjoyed the presence of a person and didn't necesarrily find them beautiful I am NOT distracted by them but more drawn to their personality than looks. It makes me examine and like them even more! I do agree with her in that the human pleasure comes from looking at beautiful things, we should NEVER give up this right otherwise we are giving up one of our five "senses". Additionally, I am not sure if only non-living objects are able to be stared at, because even flowers, humans, babies can benefit from the staring and feeling they get from being considered beautiful.
Can we try and sort out Scarry's 2 main points that she points out will be contradicting in her paper?? She lost me a slight bit..

The Injustice of Beauty
Name: Muska (
Date: 04/11/2005 15:48
Link to this Comment: 14450

I was very interested in this week's readings because I had never thought of beauty in the context of justice or fairness. In fact, I thought the whole concept of beauty was based on a spectrum. Defining something as beautiful required defining all the things that were not considered beautiful. In fact, it seemed as if the concept of "beauty" benefits from a system of injustice. The only way one thing can be categorized as "beautiful" is if there is something else categorized as "ugly."

I still don't know what beauty is...
Name: Alice Kaufman (
Date: 04/11/2005 16:23
Link to this Comment: 14452

The Gebara and the Scarry pieces were unsettling; I need to think on them. My gut reaction, though, is that this theory won't work, that something is wrong with this argument, it's too simple, that people are not naturally nice. But I'll see what people say in class before I try to flesh out an argument against it.

So in the interest of posting on time, I'll write on the definition of beauty, which we started talking about in Anne's section. Simply evoking a response seems too broad a definition. Requiring the event to be new or startling limits timeless themes like relationships that most people would call beautiful.

On a tangent, and at the risk of accidentally quoting a pop song, I was thinking about love in the same way; it sounds ridiculous, but I honestly couldn't describe love a year or two ago. I still can't describe it, but now I realize exactly what feeling it is. Before, if you had asked me, I would have said something vague, like an 'attachment.' This isn't to say that I didn't love before (or maybe it is...maybe I wasn't mature enough, or was too busy with stress and hormones in adolescence) but I've finally realized what the damn thing is. That feeling of wanting to protect and at the same time release my brother, mother, (in a complicated way my father,) and my closest friends to the world--oh, I get it. What a moron. Why didn't I make this language connection before?

My definitions will very probably change later--I won't stay 19 forever. But tThat's what I'm hoping will happen to me with beauty. I know I experience it; I just can't quite place it yet. But I think it's an emotion, like love. Beauty is somethink I feel, not a characteristic in some outer thing.


Justice and Beauty
Name: Krystal Madkins (
Date: 04/11/2005 16:29
Link to this Comment: 14453

I thought that it was interesting to once again see earlier sentiments echoed this late in the class in regards to symmetry being a key component to something being beautiful. I thought that the Scarry argument that beauty means symmetry, fairness, and/or equality which means justice which means that beauty is necessary for justice was confusing and a bit of a stretch. I felt a little confused by this week's readings. I thought that the issue of beauty not being as applaudable as some other attributes because it is 'natural' and doesn't have to be worked for is still faulty logic and I was happy to at least see that pointed out in the Scarry article. Another argument I found intriguing was the idea that something that's beautiful causes you to want to be more just to something of the same type that is less attractive. I feel like this is also true/reflected in other cases. For example, when fighting against racism or homophobia...if someone meets someone from a minority and sees something appealing or likable about them, they are more likely to give other minoirites, who are not necessarily as compatible with them, a chance or take more effort to get to know them. I still had a problem with both articles because they seemed to want to ignore physical beauty. Why is physical 'superficial' beauty still so maligned? Gebara's article says that "beauty is our birthright" so why can't a beauty that is physical be as appreciated as the intangible beauties (justice, equality, love, etc.)? I do like the argument that in order to understand justice we need to understand injustice. It implies that in order to appreciate 'ugliness' we need to have beauty. Why isn't ugliness attacked instead of beauty (at least by the morally upright and 'intelligent' circles)? It seems that by removing one you'll end up getting rid of the other because they can't exist without the other; so why not attack ugliness because without ugliness there wouldn't be beauty and the outcome (absence of beauty and ugliness) would be the same as if beauty were attacked. :) Maybe I just need to take my nap already.

Sounds like Sailor Moon
Name: Mal (
Date: 04/11/2005 16:30
Link to this Comment: 14454

The Ivone Gebara piece really confused me. I think it was well written, but Iım not sure what she is trying to say. I donıt think she explained toughly enough why she thinks beauty will save us. Its not that I donıt understand what she means by beauty, in fact I like what she has to say about that, especially when she talked about the difference between the words ³pretty² and ³beauty². I just donıt see how seeing the beauty in our souls can give us justice. I donıt buy it. Also, her language is to flowery. When she says on page '25': "It is rooted in the love of justice and beauty", the first thing I thought of was Sailor Moon, which is an anime about magical girls who save the world. She needed to make more concrete points.
I think that the Scarry piece brought up some good points about beauty. I especially like when she talked about the beholders having the power. I think being beautiful can gain you power, especially in our current society, which is something I feel we have talked about. She also bought up the connection between beauty leading the way for justice. I still donıt see it. How is me loving my mother, which is a beautiful experience, going to help me be more just. Maybe someone will be able to explain it to me.

Justice + Beauty
Name: Liz Newbury (enewbury at brynmawr dot edu)
Date: 04/11/2005 16:34
Link to this Comment: 14455

I don't particularly find Scarry's argument very appealing, and downright round-about. For instance, I've always thought that the human gaze was necessary in order to find something beautiful, in order to quantify it as such. So what if me finding a vase beautiful would mean that it would open my awareness to the preciousness of other vases -- isn't this what we want? So look for beauty in one item, and then extend our awareness from there to find beauty in other things?
But one portion that I did find to my taste was this concept of finding a group of people who were unaware of their own identities -- that were behind a veil of ignorance. It reminded me of the calli proposal, in a way, but with a twist. With the calli, you couldn't see beauty. With this 'group' of people, because they were blank slates/neutered/veiled, they were willing to accept beauty in as many ways as possible, even if there was a chance that they would never get to experience this beauty. Which I think is something key to human nature -- we're willing to admit that so many things other people find beautiful -are- beautiful in the hope that one day we too will discover beauty for ourselves.

Gebara's article I think really hit home for me, too, because she offers a clear definition that distinguishes pretty from beautiful, and how justice combines with these. This also hits on a few things we've been talking about in class -- how there's more to appearances, how beauty is at a different level than just aesthetics. I also liked how she linked justice and beauty: "If justice is fundamentally about creating right relationships, beauty is in many ways the incarnation and measure of the integrity of those relationships." Gebara's way of looking at beauty is a very philosophical, Plato-inspired viewpoint.

Beauty and Being Just
Name: Jaya ()
Date: 04/11/2005 16:48
Link to this Comment: 14458

Although I was expecting a lot out of these articles, I felt like I was left with some good points by the authors that didn't have very strong arguments to back them up. I am also still not convinced as to how beauty is just; these articles just didn't do it for me.
With Gebara's article, the author says that beauty will ultimately provide us salvation- I'm still not exactly sure how it would save us and what it would be saving us from, or more importantly how beauty was a provider of justice. I do agree with her in that beauty is touched by all of our senses and can be defined by experiences wholeheartedly, however. The paragraph where she describes beauty- about beauty being an event in history that makes us cry or laugh, music that opens our hearts, a child that beckons us to smile, etc.- was very similar to my first posting on the online forum about what we consider beautiful. I'm happy that someone addressed the simple experiences that could be considered beautiful (something I haven't seen explicitly mentioned all semester)- another way that simplicity as a whole relates to beauty.
As for the Scarry excerpt, I found myself constantly drifting off, or being really confused by her wording, and once again I felt like she'd make great points and then have arguments that just didn't seem to fit in with her initial point. For instance, she talks about staring and how it is a version of the wish to create- a point that I considered original and became really interested in initially. However, she goes on about the paralysis and pain that one goes through when he/she sees a beautiful person, making references to the works of Plato and Dante, which kind of goes against her initial idea of beauty providing pleasure for the person staring. She also left behind really good developing argument about how people create drawings and art to replicate/create this beauty. Moments like that I'd just scratch my head confused. Once again, it could be just me missing the whole big picture.

Scarry is Scary
Name: Catie Davidson (
Date: 04/11/2005 16:58
Link to this Comment: 14459

Scarry was a challenge to understand and I'm still working on it but what I did get from her article is that the justice in beauty comes from the relationship between the perceiver and the object being perceived. What a person finds beautiful, he or she brings alive, gives value to, has the desire to protect the beauty of the object to ensure its continuity.
She talks about the inherent nature of beauty... a human's appreciation of the blue sky... preference for flowers to no flowers...etc. She argues that perceiving an object as beautiful is important because this beauty and our treatment of this beauty is applied to other objects that may not be beautiful that we associate with the beautiful object. So, what scarry proposes is that the beauty of one object is transferred to another object that may be less beautiful.

She mentions that the problem with the perception of beauty is present when perception involves emotion. When an object is admired for its beauty, that object is judged. The perceiver recognizes this object as pleasant, and although scarry argues that the beauty the perceiver experinces is transferred to other objects, judgements are also made, and "ugly" also exists. The fear in judging human beauty comes from the idea that those perceived as ugly will not have the same chance to exist at the same level as those perceived as beautiful because they are not able to be as competitive.... they are disadvantaged.

When we describe unpopular or undesirable groups in society, we call them disadvantaged. Often times, the most effective way for these groups to bring attention to themselves and gain support is to inform people of the "beauty" in their cause to add more power in their part of the equation to have more influence in life's equilibrium.

I think another big question addressed here is the ethics of beauty. The fairness and unfairness of different ways of judging beauty. But since It is almost 5:00... ill save my thoughts on this for tomorrow.

Name: Mo Rhim ()
Date: 04/11/2005 17:18
Link to this Comment: 14460

I found the two articles did a poor job of captivating the reader (or just me perhaps) and creating a compelling argument. In the Gebara article I was put off by the number of cliched arguments, metaphors and the final argument that I felt completely neglected the more complex nature of justice. The article addressed justice in abstact terms and often dropped it to pursue some flowery prose about beauty and its healing effects. In the end I felt that to talk about justice and to go further in making some sort of prescription as to how justice is achieved or met, it takes more than loose examples and a passive reliance on beauty as a saving force. I liked some of the things that she had to say in an abstract or theoretical way but in the end I was left uninspired or moved by her argument which relied too much on string of old sayings and "truths" without further elucidating them with more explanation or discussion. I found that it was just too easy to say that the process of historical salvation "is rooted in the love of justice and beauty." What about beauty makes us care or wakes us up and what is a "right relationship" that justice tries to create?

While reading the Scarry article I found myself in a similar position that some others have also mentioned in their postings: I was lost. The language was verbose and unnecessary in many of the paragraphs. Her arguments were also not thought out well and circular in many instances and ultimately did not add to my understanding of beauty or its connection to justice or "fairness." The first part of the chapter I felt was not well constructed and I found myself flipping through the pages not knowing where she was headed or for what purpose. I also did not feel that her arguments were substantiated by clear evidence or even a fundemental argument. I was intrigued with the question (though perhaps not her discussion) of lateral disregard and if the notice or perception of beauty diverts attention and care from the other laterally placed objects. I immediately thought of how distracting or not the skin and exterior beauty of people and or objects are in terms of the whole being or experience.

Beauty does not need to be symmetrical in its treatment or in its use or distribution. The person perceiving the beauty should not have to dole out appreciation of beauty equally or in a just or fair manner. In terms of beauty there does not need to a "symmetry of everyone's relation to one another" (I realize that this is not a direct reply to Scarry's argument or article, but rather a tangent that was inspired by a portion of her chapter). It is about individual perception and experience.

Ultimately I found Scarry's almost too methodical, but messy argument and presentation of beauty and the relationship to justice. Though some parts were interesting and certainly got me thinking about things, I could not get into her argument that seemed so based on the perfect fitting of pieces in a puzzle: symmetry, proportion, equality and lateral disregard. I do fundementally agree that there may be some similarities in the scientific explantion and dissection of an experience of beauty coming from an appreciation for the symmetrical with the generic notion that justice means also a type of symmetry or same treatment between people, but I still don't quite make the same argument that she does because I think the beauty and justice are both too complex and morphing to be pinned down so precisely.

1's and 0's
Name: Kat McCormick (
Date: 04/11/2005 17:27
Link to this Comment: 14461

Read the both article has helped me to clear up some of the dichotomies in our own course thinking that I was having trouble putting my finger on (i.e.- Sharon's thought that we've actually been talking about appearances- what is "pretty" rather than what is "beautiful", and Gebara's assertion that "the beauty that will save us is, above all, not pretty." )

Also, reflecting on all the earlier posts has brought out another two distinct ( i think) schools of thought- and inspired by Anne's attempt at unity of two (or more) "almost distinct patterns", I guess i'll try and attempt to do the same:

I'm very intrigued by the Flora/Sharon conversations about effectively inserting beauty into the laws of thermodynamics... and although these laws were ultimately written about thermodynamics, and thus thier application to beauty seems a little, well, ungrounded to me- they provide such a nice model of (yet another) dichotomy: that of beauty being fixed in amount (beauty=symmetry=justice=equality) versus that of beauty being unbounded (Beauty somwhere means more beauty elsewhere). Muska seems to be in the same camp as Flora, stating "the concept of 'beauty' benefits from a system of injustice. The only way one thing can be categorized as 'beautiful' is if there is something else categorized as 'ugly.' "

Also, I was wondering if it is possible to tie together these conflicting ideas with other dichotomies that we were discussing in Anne's group on thursday: Surveyor vs. surveyed, neocortex vs. frogbrain, relational vs. isolated, constant vs. transient. Help, I'm seeing binary!-

BUT- interestingly, Flora and Sharon do come to a consenus on on aspect of beauty: that long sought after and ever-elusive definintion:

Flora: "my favorite definition of beauty. Itıs, very simply, whatever gives one pleasure."
Gebara, quoted by Sharon: "We know it is present because we feel something that transforms us."

So, maybe there is a way out of this after all?

Gebara's one page arguement was more convincing then Scarry's Endless Tirade
Name: Tanya Corder (
Date: 04/11/2005 18:41
Link to this Comment: 14465

First of all, I just want to say that I loved Dr. Bıs argument that the universe is becoming increasingly beautiful because of increasing entropy ­ from the beginning of the cell to trees, flowers, humans, etc. Itıs very reassuring to know that youıre living in such a universe, and I loved that you shared that.

Now on to the reading. Some interesting points that I picked up from Scarryıs essay were these:

-The beauty of the extraordinary draws you attention to universal truths about the ordinary. Put nicely: ³It is as though beautiful things have been placed here and there throughout the world to serves as small wake-up calls to perceptionŠ²(81).
-Recognizing beauty bestows life unto the perceiver and the object admired.
-Admiration of beauty tends to be more dangerous to the perceiver than the subject gazed upon.
-Beautiful objects prompt action on its behalf (paintings, poems, care of it) and this leads to the problems of lateral disregard

One of the more original points in regards to this class was when explained the theory of dividing the aesthetic into two realms: the beautiful and the sublime. Beautiful is described as harmless aesthetics and the sublime as ³powerful aesthetics.² In either of the cases, beauty is describe as too much of an extreme and has caused it to be regarded as a troublemaker leading to injustices.

However, she seemed to be arguing in favor of beauty as a tool for helping us recognize injustices as opposed to a proponent of injustice, her conclusion seemed to contradict her argument. She claims beauty draws our attention to symmetry, provides ³generous sensory availability,² and allows us to take in pleasure while still remaining ³lateral² or ³decentered,² and all of these aspects allow us to recognize injustice by drawing our attentions and allowing us to recognize equality/symmetry. Although her arguments hold some weight, her conclusion describing how beauty has led to fair and equal measures does not take away from the fact that it has led to numerous more unjust ones. Sure, ³the vote on the sky² has caused environmental awareness, but what about the Holocaust or genocide in Sudan? Is that not severe injustice as a cause of beauty preference? And which is greater: the justices brought about by beauty or the injustices as a result of lateral disregard? It seems to me that it is the injustices. I admire her attempt to stand up as beautyıs attorney, defending it to the point of making it a victim, ³A fugitive bird unable to fly, unable to land²(86), but I still think its crimes are pretty severe and Iıd vote guilty.

Gebaraıs essay was clearly stated and beautifully expressed. It made me feel relaxed and appreciative of beauty. I like how she stated, ³Beauty comes from the interior,² because I had almost forgotten that in after reading the previous piece. I liked also how she stated a call to action: ³ Our task is simply to believe in the redemptive qualities of doing justice and living beauty. Our saving gift is to insist on both.² How nicely put!

Name: Katy (
Date: 04/11/2005 18:58
Link to this Comment: 14466

I was frustrated by this week's readings. The idea of justice being beautiful is hardly revolutionary for me. Most people consider justice to be a *good* thing, and a common theme in this class (that I've picked up on, anyway)is that people often assign the term "beauty" to that which is "good." It feels to me that, through these readings, I was only reminded more and more of how jaded the term "beauty" really is (not just in class but in the English-speaking world as a whole). I was particularly frustrated by the Garbera article, which again asserted that beauty and justice are intertwined, yet said virtually nothing on what we must do and how we must use beauty as a tool for eradicating injustice. It was just talk, not to mention talk that would make intuitive sense to any twelve-year-old. It was just the age-old "real beauty is on the inside" rhetoric that most of us have heard our entire lives. It taught me nothing new or ultimately profound.

One and the Same
Name: Lauren (
Date: 04/11/2005 19:35
Link to this Comment: 14468

To me, beauty and justice have always fallen into a category of similar virtues which loosely includes, truth, freedom, peace, happiness and love which are these nebulous ideas which so many people spend so much time talking about and thinkng about and writing about but never really seem to understand. They are clearly important, but no one can seem to say exactly why. Perhaps it is because they are all so relevant(?) in our lives but in such a way that we are only aware of in retrospect that it is hard to give them shape or definition. After all these weeks we still haven't been able to really agree on a definition for beauty, and I believe that these other words are no less complex. I guess that it seems logical that they would be related because they all seem to be symbols of what constitutes "goodness," and all are both intricate and complicated in the same kind of way. There is no doubt in my mind that the concept of justice is beautiful, justice in action is certainly not something which can be called perpetually beautiful. Plenty of hideous acts have been performed in the name of justice, but whether or not these are "truly just" is something that I need to think about a little more.

Truthful Beauty?
Name: Amanda G. (
Date: 04/11/2005 22:33
Link to this Comment: 14480

In "On Beauty and Being Fair", Scarry mentions that beauty "ignites the desire for truth." Despite the fact that her work was confusing, this statement made me think. Would it necessarily be true? Stereotypes that I have heard are that a) beautiful people are too dumb to lie or b) that beautiful people are conniving. I understand that these stereotypes are ridiculous but it makes me question our society that allows the stereotypes to exist. How exactly does beauty "ignite desire for truth"?
I went to a small prep school for high school where we wore uniforms and stood when adults entered rooms. All the girls were size two blondes and the boys looked like Abercrombie models. It sounds "beautiful" but really it was boring. It also made me realize that it appearance and "beauty" do not correlate to whether someone is good or bad or truthful or not.

Interesting quote about justice
Name: Kara Rosania (
Date: 04/12/2005 15:26
Link to this Comment: 14520

I found this quote that I really like about law and justice, and the way criminals should be delt with. It's a bit on the idealistic side, but I think idealism is crucial in order for societies to evolve in a positive way. Here is the quote:
We shall look on crime as a disease, and its physicians shall
displace the judges, its hospitals displace the galleys. Liberty
and health shall be alike. We shall pour balm and oil where
we formerly applied iron and fire; evil will be treated in charity,
instead of in anger. This change will be simple and
‹Victor Hugo
I think all acts that are done with the intention of hurting someone, even if that someone is a criminal, are ugly. When crime is met with punishment, it only compounds the ugly that exists in the world. The only way to make the world more beautiful is to try to lessen the amount of ugly acts that take place. This can only be done by treating the problems specifically and contextually, as you would a disease.

increasing the amount of beauty in the world....?
Name: Anne Dalke (
Date: 04/12/2005 16:37
Link to this Comment: 14523

lessen the amount of that different than increasing the amount of beauty?

Anyhow, in service of the latter, here's an update on what the remainder of the semester (now, in consultation w/ you all) looks like (for ease of reference, see also updated syllabus):

4/14 In Goodhart Music Room: music, dance, and the martial arts--
sharing some other beautiful forms,
and discussing what it feels like both to create and receive them,
including (perhaps) Conversational Beginnings and
On Sitting Down to Read "On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again" Once Again.

4/15 Fourth (5 pp.) essay (due in hard copy and on the web): on the political implications of beauty

Weeks Thirteen-Fourteen
4/19 Julian Robinson, Preface, "Traditions of Adornment," The Quest for Human Beauty: An Illustrated History (New York: Norton, 1998): 9-56.
[In class:] selection from The Gods Must Be Crazy. Dir. Jamie Uys. Videorecording, 1980. 109 minutes.

4/21 (selections from) Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street. New York: Vintage, 1989.
Whitney Chadwick, "An Infinite Play of Empty Mirrors: Women, Surrealism and Self-Representation." 3-35.
Janice Helland, "Culture, Politics, and Identity in the Paintings of Frida Kahlo."396-406.
[In class:] selection from Frida Kahlo. Dir Julie Taymor. Videorecording, 2002. 123 minutes.

4/26 [In class:] selections from A Beautiful Mind. Dir. Ron Howard. Viedeorecording, 2001. 135 minutes.
Life is Beautiful. Dir. Roberto Benigni. Videorecording, 1997. 116 minutes.

4/28 A Beauty Surround, created by all....

5/16 Final (5 pp.) essay and Portfolio Due

Name: ()
Date: 04/12/2005 16:37
Link to this Comment: 14524

Name: amy (
Date: 04/12/2005 18:58
Link to this Comment: 14530

That we find a crystal or a poppy beautiful means that we are less alone, that we are more deeply inserted into existence than the course of a single life would lead us to believe.
John Berger

the quote has nothing to do with what we've been talking about recently...but I thought it was fitting .

Name: ()
Date: 04/14/2005 00:30
Link to this Comment: 14561

Kara's Victor Hugo quote---and the attempts we made on Tuesday to try and create a "beautifully asymmetrically mercifully just" society---inspired me to post another Hugo quote. It's basically his attempt to imagine a justly-beautiful society a la Tuesday's discussion.

"Let us understand each other in regard to equality; for, if liberty is the summit, equality is the base. Equality, citizens, is not all vegetation on one level, a society of big blades of grass and little oaks; a neighborhood of jealousies emasculating each other; civilly, it is all aptitutes having equal opportunity; politically, all votes having equal weight; religiously, all consciences having equal rights. Equality has an organ: free and compulsory education. The right to the alphabet, we must begin by that. The primary school obligatory for everyone, the higher school offered to everyone, such is the law."

Practical? Who knows. But I love Hugo---he's wonderfully, sadly, beautifully idealistic.

Beauty & Justice
Name: annabella (
Date: 04/14/2005 14:57
Link to this Comment: 14567

I found Scarry's argument to be right on. I agree emphaticly that beauty and justice are completely intertwined. Beauty does not depend on justice, but justice would not exist without beauty.
Beauty is not man made. It was on Earth long before man was, and will be here long after we are gone. But justice is man made, at least the type of justice we are referring to when we talk about justice between people and peoples. That is entire man made, and without a vision of beauty in the mind of the one picturing justice, it would not be a possibility.
The fact that so many of my classmates felt that Scarry was not realistic
is a little scary for me. I think it actually speaks to the problems currently arising in out nation today. If our leaders are thinking that beauty and justice are not only not connected, but also completely seperate entities, then justice can become ugly, and beauty impotent.
Justice requires beauty to keep the scale in balance, and beauty inspires justice, just by being beauty. I agree with Scarry that when one experiences beauty, they feel inspired, and in this state of inspiration, a just world is not only possible, but worth the effort to bring about.
I ask my classmates to get more specific on what about Scarry's argument is not realistic...specifically.
I experience a general feeling of sadness at the thought that the emerging adult generation could possibly feel that beauty and justice can in any way be seperated, or exist without each other. In a world like that, much can get very ugly in everyday life, before the truth about beauty and justice will again reveal itself.

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