The following is a response to Morgan Meis’s letter posted yesterday.
Thanks for throwing down this particular gauntlet. Yes, we adopted Dostoevsky’s phrase from The Idiot, where one of the characters attributes the saying “beauty will save the world” to the eponymous hero of the novel, Prince Myshkin.
I’m well aware that any slogan or mantra can quickly become a stand-in for real thought, for Jacob-and-the-angel wrestling with difficult, complex subjects. Neither I nor the extended Image community is immune from that sort of danger.
We acknowledged that a while back when we published an entire symposium on the topic of “The Word-Soaked World: Troubling the Lexicon of Faith” in issue #75. The purpose there was to interrogate and “trouble” frequently invoked terms (art, faith, mystery!) that had become anodyne through thoughtlessness and over-usage.
And just for the benefit of readers wanting to pursue these issues further, I would point out that I’ve dealt with some of your challenges in essays like “The Wound of Beauty” and “The Tragic Sense of Life.”
Given the large amount of historical baggage attached to the word beauty, it is never going to be a word that we can use without qualms and qualifications. That’s why T.S. Eliot once wrote:
We mean all sorts of things, I know, by Beauty. But the essential advantage for a poet is not to have a beautiful world with which to deal: it is to be able to see beneath both beauty and ugliness; to see the boredom, and the horror, and the glory. [Read more…]