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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Shrinking Women

On Beauty and Being Just

Two quotes from Elaine Scarry in her book 'On Beauty and Being Just'.  With thanks to Kate Brennan


The beautiful, almost without any effort of our own, acquaints us with the mental event of conviction, and so pleasurable a mental state is this that ever afterward one is willing to labor, struggle, wrestle with the world to locate enduring sources of conviction— to locate what is true. 


Homer sings of the beauty of particular things. Odysseus, washed up on shore, covered with brine, having nearly drowned, comes upon a human community and one person in particular, Nausicaa, whose beauty simply astonishes him. He has never any- where seen a face so lovely; he has never anywhere seen any thing so lovely. “No, wait,” he says, oddly interrupting himself. Some- thing has suddenly entered his mind. Here are the lines:
But if you’re one of the mortals living here on earth, three times blest are your father, your queenly mother, three times over your brothers too. How often their hearts must warm with joy to see you striding into the dances— such a bloom of beauty. . . . I have never laid eyes on anyone like you, neither man nor woman . . . I look at you and a sense of wonder takes me.
Wait, once I saw the like—in Delos, beside Apollo’s altar—
the young slip of a palm-tree springing into the light. There I’d sailed, you see, with a great army in my wake, out on the long campaign that doomed my life to hardship. That vision! Just as I stood there gazing, rapt, for hours . . . no shaft like that had ever risen up from the earth— so now I marvel at you, my lady: rapt, enthralled,
too struck with awe to grasp you by the knees
though pain has ground me down.
Odysseus’s speech makes visible the structure of perception at the moment one stands in the presence of beauty. The beautiful thing seems—is—incomparable, unprecedented; and that sense of be- ing without precedent conveys a sense of the “newness” or “new- bornness” of the entire world. Nausicaa’s childlike form, playing ball on the beach with her playmates, reinforces this sense. But now something odd and delicately funny happens. Usually when the “unprecedented” suddenly comes before one, and when one has made a proclamation about the state of affairs—“There is no one like you, nothing like this, anywhere”—the mind, despite the conŠdently announced mimesis of carrying out a search, does not actually enter into any such search, for it is too exclusively Šlled with the beautiful object that stands in its presence. It is the very way the beautiful thing Šlls the mind and breaks all frames that gives the “never before in the history of the world” feeling.

Odysseus startles us by actually searching for and Šnding a pre- cedent; then startles us again by managing through that precedent to magnify, rather than diminish, his statement of regard for Nau- sicaa, letting the “young slip of a palm-tree springing into the light” clarify and verify her beauty. The passage continually re- starts and refreshes itself. Three key features of beauty return in the new, but chronologically prior, object of beauty. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

This small photo strip...

Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

I have been meaning to post these photos for a while now. A few quick snaps from a trip to Malaysia from earlier this year. Two orphaned orang-utans in rehab and some night market shots.

Washington - NYC - Salt Lake City

Hey y'all,

Some quick shots from a recent work trip to the States. Managed to catch up with some good friends in Washington and NYC - (Antonia - thanks for taking me out on U street. Lucie La Gentille - Merci de m'avoir hebergé et mercy à Camille aussi d'avoir supporté mes renflements!).

It was a fly-by visit. But it was great to get out of Australia for a little while and remember that there's a big old world out there and that, everywhere, there's someone getting on with the business of living.

Things learned on this trip:
  1. It's scary how similar Washington feels to Canberra. It's a public service town with interesting work that attracts a certain type of person. There's a desolation to the streets after 8pm that reminded me of home. People ride bikes everywhere and people say things like, "I like New York as a place to go on weekends, but I'm not sure I could live there you know? I mean... I canoe on weekends now!" 
  2. Tap beer in Salt Lake City is legally required to be less than 4% alcohol. It's like a town with only light beer on tap. The horror. 
  3. Americans come in for a fair amount of external criticism. Stereotypes abound that they are stupid, vain, lacking culture, fat, lacking in any sort of global perspective and shallow. As with all stereotypes, if you spend more than five minutes with someone, they turn out not to be true. Although I did have a few interesting experiences, (like when someone asked me if I was irish (what?), there were many times where I thought that we (Australians) might do well to learn from the American stereotype. For example, I met a  man who literally exploded with excitement at how cool he thought Washington was and how lucky Washingtonites were to live in a city with so many great culinary delights. I tried hard to imagine an Australian showing a foreigner around Sydney Harbour and being as excited about the beauty of Sydney. I doubt it would happen. Instead I think an Australian would probably wait for the foreigner to say, "this is  amazing" and then reply, "yeah… it's alright I guess", which is a little sad.  I mean, why not be excited? Being apathetic might mean you never risk being vulnerable, but there was something endearing about this overly-excited American man. He loved his city. Sure, there may be better places in the world, but he loved it nonetheless. He put his opinion out there and was proud. 
  4. New York - I don't get it. Everywhere is a line, nothing is discovered for the first time, everyone has done it before you, people work long hours, apartments are expensive and small, there's a constant sense of needing to prove your better than everyone else you meet, and yet, when it came time to go, I was not ready. 
  5. Australian print media is shithouse. I worry about the breadth and depth of news that is available to the average Australian. Every morning I read the paper: The Wall Street Journal, THe Washington Post or the New York Times. It wasn't just the selection of stories that was broader - raining from stories on the nuclear weapons deal with Iran to in depth analysis of the anniversary of the Gettysburg address - the writing was vastly superior too. On arrival back in Australia I did a quick check of the front page of the Daily Telegraph. The headlines read: Dr Harry's tragic loss; Dannii v Kylie - Talent Show Sister Act; Mauled - Australia Zoo Attack; and a small story titled Grins of the Father, about a Bishop who smiled during the royal commission hearing into child sex abuse. Over on page 18, the world news section included two stories about how a bikini removal caused a car crash in New York, and a story on a Parisian couple who had carried out a suicide love-pact.


< NYC >


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Eleanor Dunlop - Disguise

Heard this song on the radio this afternoon and could have sworn it was Juanita Stein from Waikiki. Surreal similarity in the voices.