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Beauty Web Papers On Serendip

My Secret "Circus of Dr. Lao" Philosophy

Alice Kaufman

Beauty is the transcendent realization that the universe is amazing and being alive is extraordinary. It can exist in an idea, an experience, a thing or a sense. I seem to focus on the assuring and personal and impersonal puzzles that I then make personal. The biggest theme I found was that all of these things make my world seem to expand in an exhilarating way.

The Richard Thompson song Beeswing is beautiful. Thompson's singing voice is smooth and low, the guitar is delicate, and the lyrics are insightful. My mother introduced me to the singer, songwriter, and song a few months ago. She loves it, because it speaks to her, I suppose. It is beautiful to hear because not only is it a lovely noise, which would be enough, but because it makes me understand why my mother could not stay married to my father. Their divorce was painful at the time, but relatively very dramatic, and life goes on. I grew older, and gradually saw things in both of my parents that are ugly. But the song Beeswings shows my mother's perspective on independence, even if it causes pain. So I can empathize with my mother, and sympathize with my father, because life is complicated, I will never truly know my parents' story, and ultimately, that is alright. And the song makes me feel this way, and is therefore beautiful.

My friends at school are beautiful. When I am with them, I feel like I am loved unconditionally as myself. They each have very good stories to tell about their lives and families. Their stories give me perspective, and their laughter gives me strength. It sounds absurdly girlish, but I can brush my friends' hair for an hour without getting tired. There is a soothing rhythm to the pull of the brush, the smooth strands of hair, and the over and under motion of one hand and the brush. I can love these people; they have flaws, but their flaws are lovable as well. These are people I can lie on top of an open sleeping bag and under many blankets with, four abreast, late at night watching X-Files, trying to stay warm in a freezing dorm room. Feeling other people I care about on either side of me through flannel is so soothing. I feel like the world may be confusing, and I may be ignorant of many, many things, but there is a place for me in it.

The most beautiful place I have ever experienced is on my family's farm in central Kansas, at dusk in the spring and early summer. The sky is huge, and often a portion is dark red. Sometimes it is a soft purple, tinged with orange. There are countless intense color patterns, but all of them are big. The sky is not just above you, it is to every side of you, like an IMAX movie, but in 180 degrees. And beneath it, in spring, is green wheat that blows in the wind. The wheat looks like long, uniform grass blades, with one side a bluish green, and the other a more silvered sage color. And the wind blows, and the ground is tickled in waves to show its lighter color. One side of the sky is still deep blue, made even bluer by the other colors in the sky. There are rarely clouds, but when there are, the clouds are not fluffy and white cotton balls; they are tinted with the colors of the rest of the sky, and on the rest of the sky's scale. They look like the paint and texture of cathedral walls. In early summer, the ground is mainly a burnt golden color, with the wheat husks grown and dried. The wind still blows, but the ripples in the color are dark now, a deeper burn nearly brown when the wheat stalk bends towards you. There are a few trees, not very many and not very big, whose leaves and spindly branches are outlined by the low sun, and made black. My father is there, probably dusty and probably quiet, which I've finally gotten used to. My brother is there as well, whom I squint and grin at.

But there is something to be said for small places, too. My favorite place on another person's body is the place where the neck meets the shoulder. My nose and mouth can rest there, feel the warmth from skin, and smell and press into the person, and no longer feel like I'm just myself and alone. Maybe this feels beautiful because we are most often alone, or maybe we can never be with another person in a way that isn't tempered by bodies or even language. But this spot is beautiful because it makes me think that it isn't necessarily true; there are so many realms of experience that I do not know (many of which I simply never will) that it seems possible to be connected to something outside of myself. It is almost an emotional argument for a higher poweróconnection is so important, surely I'm linked up with something great.

Some things are beautiful because their complexity seems to offer a small example of the complexity of greater world. The miniseries 'I, Claudius' is beautiful to me not just because I saw it with my roommate whom I cherish, and not just because it is vastly entertaining to me in a melodramatic way. The series has a story spanning generations, more imperial intrigue than anyone could ask for, with tied up family trees, betrayal, and slowly evolving political spheres. The fact that all of this mad soap opera keeps all of these characters and each of these plot points straight is what I find particularly beautiful about it. There is no order in the story save the passage of time and character's motivations, and yet there is a logical, understandable flow to it, and with my help, it all makes perfect sense. I am happy to be able to see it, and feel lucky that I can listen to such a fantastic story.

Certain texts are also beautiful to me because of their complexity. The most recently read example I can think of is Lt. Gustl, by Arthur Schnitzler. It is a stream of conscious novella about an Austrian officer. Since it is written solely from the perspective of the protagonist, the reader can quickly note that he is defined by the military, social conventions, and animal instinct. It takes critical reading, however, to understand that he is a frightened, empty, soulless man full of Freudian hang-ups before Freud even wrote about them. The character has so many things inside of him, in his thoughts and Schnitzler's construction of him, that I know I will never understand everything about him. Another example is Nabokov's Pale Fire, both one of the saddest, most complexly written, and undeniably funny books I've ever read. The story takes the form of an epic poem written by one man, now deceased, and long and involved annotation of the poem by another. Thus there is the plot of the poem, the story the poem's editor shares, and ultimately the story of what actually happened in the events surrounding the poem's creation. Not only are all of the plots compelling and written with distinct and likeable voices, the entire concept was just mind boggling to me. Both texts have an insight into humanity, which follows my criteria for beauty as revealing the strange nature of my world.

My world is shown to be physically strange through the beauty of randomness in modern physics. Certain events, like radioactive decay, cannot be predicted by any models we currently have, and many physicists believe that even with infinitely powerful computers and models that can take in all of the variables that could influence it, we still won't be able to predict when a little electromagnetic wave will come flying out of a particular radioactive atom. This is so exciting; even though we try to order our world, there might not be any order at a very small eventóthe nature of the universe just may be a little kooky and irrational. It may sound depressing, I suppose, that some underlying forces of the universe might not be guided by anything, but it's such a testament to our reality that we can create order. There's always the possibility that there are hidden variables that make the timing of these seemingly random occurrences make sense. But what a reality altering thought if there isn't. It is a metaphysical kick in the pants, forcing me to think about accepting new truths.

In the same way, the very simple math proof 1=.9 (repeating) is beautiful. It takes little to show. A decimal number said to be repeating simply continues on into infinity, never becoming the next number in a higher place value, but continuing to grow in infinitely smaller quantities. We can easily accept that 1/3=.3 (repeating), and 2/3=.6 (repeating). We can also accept that 1/3+2/3=1, and .3 (repeating) + .6 (repeating) = .9 repeating. But if we substitute the fractions with decimals, as we already agreed that we can do, we get .9 (repeating) = 1. Of course, if one wrote out .9999999999999999999999... one can see that it is practically equal to 1. But by the definition of the repeating number, it is not one. And yet we have shown that it is. A higher math student may find a flaw in my rudimentary proof, and some would argue that .3 (repeating) is merely an approximation of 1/3, but it doesn't matter. Math has many such proofs, and is able to loop back in on itself and show a guaranteed falsity to also be a guaranteed truth. Something that is not is. And this paradox, in math or life, is sublime and beautiful.

It is possible to feel that the world is incredible and strange simply by concentrating on the idea. Beautiful things, however, make me feel this way without any effort.


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