Beauty, Beauty, Beauty
Today is the exception that proves the rule for me, as I am about to participate in my first, and perhaps only, meme.
Thank you Rethabile, and the suggestion of this meme. His own response to it was so striking, layered, and thoughtful, I just had to carry it on, in kind. Simply, the meme is to complete the thought, "The great imperative of my life has been . . .".
Thanks to John Keats' famous equation about truth and beauty being about all ye need to know, I have to a degree abandoned the truth search. It's just too difficult, murky for me, and I find myself agreeing completely with Joan Didion's view about those shouting their moral truths and acting on their moral imperatives:
You see I want to be quite obstinate about insisting that we have no way of knowing – beyond that fundamental loyalty to the social code – what is “right” and what is “wrong,” what is “good” and what “evil.” I dwell so upon this because the most disturbing aspect of “morality” seems to me to be the frequency with which the word now appears; in the press, on television, in the most perfunctory kinds of conversation. Questions of straightforward power (or survival) politics, questions of quite indifferent public policy, questions of almost anything; they are all assigned these factitious moral burdens. There is something quite facile going on, some self-indulgence at work. Of course we would all like to “believe” in something, like to assuage our private guilts in public causes, like to lose our tiresome selves; like, perhaps, to transform the white flag of defeat at home into the brave white banner of battle away from home. And of course it is all right to do that; that is how, immemorially, things have gotten done. But I think it is all right only so long as we do not delude ourselves about what we are doing, and why. It is all right only so long as we remember that all the ad hoc committees, all the picket lines, all the brave signatures in The New York Times, all the tools of agitprop straight across the spectrum, do not confer upon anyone any ipso facto virtue. It is all right only so long as we recognize that the end may or may not be expedient, may or may not be a good idea, but in any case has nothing to with “morality.” Because when we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something or need something, not that it is a pragmatic necessity for us to have it, but that it is a moral imperative that we have it, then is when we join the fashionable madmen, and then is when the thin whine of hysteria is heard in the land, and then is when we are in bad trouble. And I suspect we are already there.
Didion wrote that more than 40 years ago, and if anything, we are in a much deeper bad trouble now--or so it seems.
Thus, these big "truths" inevitably are predicated on self-serving interests, matters of convenience, really, and so I have grown to be rather distrustful of them, whether spoken from the palatial gardens, the Oval Office, the pulpit, or the set of Oprah.
But what I do get is the beauty thing, and it scores my various identities and orientations: poet, husband, professor, parent, ugly American, inconsistent liberal (cold libertarian and weepy proletariat), environmentalist, devout agnostic, amateur scientist, Boise State football fan, and more. Beauty is the great imperative in my life. Whether formulated in the elegance and difficulty of Einstein's theories, evident in the flight pattern of the Swallow-tailed Kite, woven in the textiles of 13th-century Persia, sounded in the improvisations of Sidney Bechet, choreographed by Martha Graham, or expressed by dear Father Walt Whitman, whether local or cosmic, wheter sacred or profane, beauty is that one good, hopeful thing we can create, recognize, and revere. Beauty allows me to shed my skin, to love others, to love the world and the stars.
Oh yes, I know that beauty has its decadent side, its narcotic and numbing effects, but I generally think of those quallities as being only so much ornament, and not quite the real thing. And so beauty exacts from us the demand to be intelligent, discerning, sensitive, open, humble, and responsive--and without those disciplines, humors, and spirits, we are in deep, deep trouble, far worse than what Didion has described.