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November 13, 2016
On Beauty and Being Just
by Elaine Scarry
For me, reading is a nourishing activity. When I need revitalization, I find a book of poems that corresponds to and expands upon how I’m feeling. It is a way of seeking beauty in words that simply fit, without explanation, in a time of confusion, pain, contentment, or even just stasis. Lately, I’ve been reading quite a bit of poetry. And I began to think about this impulse, as well as the necessity of art in times of political ugliness, through Elaine Scarry's text “On Beauty and Being Just.” Scarry writes: “Wittgenstein says that when the eye sees something beautiful, the hand wants to draw it. Beauty brings copies of itself into being…” Scarry furthers her argument by discussing how beauty is particular, specific. Then she goes on to make the argument for justice: “Beautiful things give rise to the notion of distribution, to a lifesaving reciprocity, to fairness not just in the sense of loveliness of aspect but in the sense of “a symmetry of everyone’s relations to each other.” I think poetry can help us to consider complexities of voice or position while we attempt to find less oppositional ways of relating. And yes, perhaps after some time when we (or at least I) feel less wounded, we can begin to consider the symmetry of everyone’s relations to each other. The “elasticity of beauty” might encourage us to be more caring and generous in our relationships, even with those who are unkind or those we disagree with. It may also help us to continue to put beautiful things and ideas out into the world, to replicate. If you’re having a hard time finding a place to start, I recommend looking for beauty in the gorgeous and complicated words of these women: Audre Lorde, Anne Boyer, Warsan Shire, Ariana Reines, Rupi Kaur, Maggie Nelson, Carol Bergé, and Bridgette Bates. Beauty is life-giving but we must seek it out.
(Written in response to Nicholas Frank's statements on beauty in the essay Now More Than Ever Part II).