Beauty and fantasy

December 28, 2017

Like ethical values, beauty is nowhere to be found in the territory that can be mapped by metaphysics. There is no such thing as the property of being ‘beautiful’, that can be assigned to any object or event. Objects and events can have specific proportions and rhythms, they can be made of certain materials or take place in a certain space or time, but none of these aspects make them beautiful. Indeed, beauty is not of this world, in that it can never be found in any of the material and immaterial things that populate it. Yet, although not of this world, beauty is in this world. It traverses it like a guest – an invited guest, to be sure, and one that is hard to please enough to convince them to stay for long. Though no thing is beautiful, certain things have the ability to open up a passage through which beauty can enter. It comes announced by soft, buzzing voices, like news of the arrival of a king, transported to the village by a procession of whispers. But when it arrives, it does so with pomp and splendour. Even the beauty summoned by small things, even the quiet beauty that sometimes visits moments of silence, has something majestic about it. Its arrival into the world elevates us, descending as if from a staircase, forcing our gaze to move up, to stretch as far as it can to catch a clearer glimpse of the coming sovereign. But even though the sovereign can come near us, at times even embracing a spectator that stands in reverent stillness, its face can never be seen. When adequately invited by certain objects or atmospheres, beauty enters like a cascade. Its bright flow illuminates and reflects fragments of our world for an instant, and suddenly drops them into the basin at its feet.

 

This is why beauty is close to fantasy, at least as much as to imagination. Imagination builds and polishes the crystal mirror of the world, so that beauty might come out of its splendid otium to visit us, if only to look at its own reflection in the world. And in exchange for our service as its mirror-makers, beauty offers to us its own mirror made up of fantasy. A liquid, flowing, unstable mirror in which we see ourselves again as if haunting our own world, and our own world as a presence haunting the mystery of pure existence. Think about looking at a beautiful statue: when beauty emerges, any attempt at apprehending it results in a waterfall of details, each of them so linked to our own thoughts, feelings and memories to appear as if conjoined to them. That curl on the left check of the statue – is it the same curl that I saw early in my teenage above that girl’s ear, is it the same shape that returns behind my eyelids when the unfathomable fact of existence suddenly touches me? But that curl vanishes mid-thought and another fragment appears, opening another loop between memory and awe.

 

In mystic circles, fantasy is often discarded, since it serves the pure satisfaction of our desire to see ourselves for what we are. It is unlike imagination, which strives to satisfy the primordial sadness of the Mystery, wishing to see Itself reflected in the world. And indeed, there is much to say in favour of the importance and perhaps of the primacy of imagination over fantasy. But the latter shouldn’t be underrated. After all, it is the main tool for us to be able to see that paradoxical combination of eternity and becoming that we and our world are. Whenever the world is capable of summoning beauty, and we are capable of looking at it while leaving it undisturbed, we see reflected in it that shimmering of fragments of the world, which is the very symbol of the world itself. Each of them remains manifest only for a moment, yet its immortal ghost lingers in our memory. Through its mirror of fantasy, our guest beauty tells us simply: ‘The world haunts itself’. Present for a fraction of time, immortal in its ghostly form, eternal it is existence: this is the destiny of the world and of every being within it. And beauty tells us, it is a good destiny. And even if we might come to doubt it later, in that moment we cannot but agree: it is a good destiny.

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