Sunday, October 23, 2005


Where beauty is worshipped for beauty's sake as a goddess, independent of and superior to morality and philosophy, the most horrible putrefaction is apt to set in. The lives of the aesthetes are the far from edifying commentary on the religion of beauty.

Aldous Huxley

I am still trying to think this through.

Thought: Beauty is inextricably tied to morality and philosophy. If we consider this as an assumption then the next sentence just serves the same idea by saying that the lives of those sentient to beauty are far from instructive on the religion of beauty. The crux of this, I am not sure what to call it - argument, statement lies obviously in the idea put forth initially that (if simplistically put) beauty without brains does not last and withers away. If beauty is worshipped for beauty's sake, i.e., worshipped just as an art form without being embellished with philosophy and morality then its akin to a cat's meow but without a cat. I am still having trouble crossing the chasm on this bridge of 'morality and philosophy'. I definitely see that beauty by itself just as a pure art form cannot and will not last for all to see and revel for a long time. It has to be associated with an 'edifying commentary'. I am having a little trouble associating beauty with morality.

I am still going to mull this over.

Any thoughts? Anybody?

Update 2:
Let me draw a simple analogy to religion and add in the same breath that I am not religious.

When the Gods are worshipped for worshipping sake, most probably because one has always been told to worship God (whatever the reason, it falls outside the scope of the argument that I am trying to present), people (at least people like me) start to question the givens in this religion. With unanswered questions comes doubt. With doubt comes decay in the once strong belief system. With decay and an absence of an equally strong second set of beliefs, putrefaction sets in. It is the same in the case of beauty - it is not lasting, it is not captivating enough when seen and appreciated just for what it is in the present frame of reference. For eg., when you watch a beautiful sunset at a beach, your eyes might pop out at the sight of it. When you try and describe it to your friend and try to tell him/her about the wondrous riot of colors, the streaks of motley hues of red in the sky, gold shimmering on the waves - what do you think happens? They might excited for the first time. What about the second time? and the third? How long do you think they are going to share, in their mind's eye, this wonderful image of a sunset at the beach?

Back to the religion analogy, the aesthetes in this case are high priests involved in worship. Do their lives, in any manner, serve as an edifying commentary on religion? In my opinion, not at all. So what is it what keeps me interested in religion, continue to foster my belief in God? Theology? Maybe. Why? because it is the philosophy of religion. It rationalizes, tries to explain and answer your queries. It puts religion and its underlying foundation of a system of beliefs in a different perspective. The change in perspective is what makes it self-sustainable and not the aesthetes themselves. Would you remain interested in God and religion and recite the same prayers over and over because the priests (aesthetes) do? or would you be interested in religion if you were to read vedic texts, upanishads?

Back to the sunset at the beach example, if you distill the essence of nature's beauty into lets say, a poem (or an essay) wouldn't that be more self-contained and sustainable than all your explanations? - the functional being a change in the frame of reference, "philosophizing" beauty. Or would the fact that you are sentient to nature's beauty generate continued, sustained interest on the part of your friends.

I rest my case.


Z said...

Is this a debate on aesthetics or philosophy or morality ? I guess its abstract, the meaning changes with perspective.
Morality can contibute to aesthetic value so would immorality. someone said immorality because it adds “imaginatively experiencing morally defective attitudes (morally problematic) can deepen one’s understanding and appreciation”. When we are discussing the moral character of artworks, we should not exaggerate the extent to which those who respond to them have fixed moral views, or suppose that increased understanding will necessarily lead to moral betterment.

Tejaswi said...

The lives of the aesthetes are the far from edifying commentary on the religion of beauty.

To even think about what Huxley is trying to say, I need to know what the above sentence means. The second "the" is complicating things for me. Does it mean that people who live by aesthetics, and their lives, are not edifying commentaries on the "religion" of beauty?

I am looking for some syntactic explanation.

On a related note, I wonder if its worth wondering about syntactically convoluted quotes while there are simple, elegant, and profound quotes all over the place.

Emperor Frost said...

its a case statement for the religion of beauty. I will elaborate a little later.

first up, welcome to my humble abode. I do believe we have met once (?). Hopefully you will continue to loose your way to my blog.
I think philosophy goes way beyond the semantics of syntax. Having said that, I do agree with you some of the "greats" are so hard to read and understand primarily because they make it a point to be "misunderstood".

I have added into the same post my second take on the troublesome quote.


Myriadmaiden said...

My weak, decaying mind has trouble comprehending the context - what IS "worship of beauty" ? Is it deep appreciation? If so, why can't it be devoid of philosophy? I agree that if the beauty needs to be appreciated by more than the original 'worshipper'(?), there needs to be a transportable medium by way of commentary, but beauty as a lone entity is appreciated by all of us without philosophising it, I would think. Morality - I'm not even going there - I don't think it has anything to do with beauty. Pray explain the context. If too much has already been said, let it rest.

Emperor Frost said...

well, you have made the point yourself - everyone enjoys beauty as a lone entity (in their own way) but does that mean that you can serve as an "edifying commentary" on beauty? I think philosphy captures the spirit and the range of emotions that makes up beauty, its understanding, perception and appreciation so that it can be more "transportable" and more meaningful. You can take any example you want - art, literature, poetry, religion - none, I repeat - none of these fields are devoid of philosophy. When it comes to morality, I think it has to do with differing philosphies indicating differing underlying emotions and perceptions - a sort of right and left wing (and possibly many more) philosophy, if you will.

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