Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Where did the beauty go?


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WARNING: This started as a set of reflections from the last few days, but somewhere along the line it turned into an essay and exit’ed as reflections again. I have been thinking about opening a blog for essays, as not to kill my readers (if I have any, Haha! :) with information and to keep it a bit more tidy. So if you want a lighter side of me (and less words) I suggest you click at some of the other posts. Though there is plenty of lightness in here if you look! I am now hungry, and after writing for 3 hours on this document I won’t bother correcting anything cause I need to sleep tonight. I might do adjustments later. My apologies for any written mistakes, I’m just interested in finding out where the beauty went… I’ve missed it.

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Before I moved from Norway I used to spend quite some time up in the mountains and roaming the woods at night. I’ve always been pulled towards the views and sceneries. I was checking some e-mails this morning and wondered again. I have a friend who had a pager back in the early 90s. If we went to someone’s house we wouldn’t have the chance to text someone to say we were outside the door so they could open. We had to ring the door-bell ourselves, and when we had gotten the address wrong it was always fun to see the reactions and conversations that would unfold. And if we weren’t sure about the address we’d have to try any house and see if someone knew our friend. But people were cool about it, everyone knew this was how it had to be. My friend’s pager was indeed a pinnacle of technological achievement. It meant he could call you back from a phone-box, paying with a “tele-card.” I didn’t utilize the opportunity much; I think his parents were more active users of their son’s availability. I just used to walk down the hill and pop by when ever I wanted to see him.

When I’m in remote places in the mountains all alone it always does something to me. I know we all are wired differently (thank God!), but I feel I get closer to God where there are no man-made disturbances to his creation. Though others I speak with gets this sensation when they spend time with people in caf├ęs and man-made places for socializing. The other thing is that I treat time differently when I return to the city. I don’t stress out as easily and stressful events don’t affect me as much anymore. I mean, if you walked 20 km yesterday, had to cross two rivers and saw mountain eagles soaring in circles over their nest there are limits to how much the rush-hour or your assignments in College will affect you. Closer to God, more calm.

No it’s not always a rose-garden, I’ve had my toes and fingers so frozen that I didn’t feel they were there, at one occasion I am thankful to God he answered my prayers and let me come home alive, once I checked out a wind-lip in the off-pieste and it broke under my feet and sent a hard packed piece of snow the size and weight of a little car sliding down the hill while I had to grab hold of the snow above with all I had to avoid going the same way. The latter example was hilarious though, but the first ones you try to avoid. Once I was walking through a half-dried-out river in the bottom of a canyon in the marshes under some pretty desert mountains. My shoes slipped on a wet rock and everything went so fast that I didn’t get my hands forth fast enough and I ran my head into another rock. Stuff like that doesn’t often happen to me and if it does I forget it as fast as it happened, but this time I was quite tired and it gave me the creeps for a few seconds. These are the stories that self-professed “city-people” remember, and those any journalist wants to have on print if they are covering mountaineering of various kinds. If there is trouble or a conflict it will stick longer in people’s memory when it is retold. They’ll loose out on the good bit. Like the time me and my pal stayed and slept 16 hours in a dry-toilet-shed in the middle of nowhere in December to seek shelter from the storm after sun-down when we should have been back in town. The wind calmed when it went towards morning and I went outside for a couple of walks, and the stars! Massive clouds braking up, and above them the most amazing scenery you can imagine. Or the time we lost the ski-track in snowdrift and fog way after sundown. Between us my friend and me ate 950 grams of meat, plus accessories like bread and cheese, plus cake after we found the cabin. We had to heat up the cabin and melt snow for water as normal, but the reward for the detour was on the mountain. The snowdrift was clearing up, the fog was retracting and we started to see more of where we were going, instead of just seeing it on a map with a compass to guide us. As we were walking I was aware that the light was intensifying around the mountain massive to my left. The moon went up over the ridge and we could see far and wide as the snowdrift and fog calmed. I could see some strange colours in the snow-crystals hanging in the air. I didn’t think much about it till I looked up again, and this is what I got to see: High up on the sky massive cumulus-clouds were breaking up looking like floating castles with gigantic towers lid up by the moon. Under them the lower clouds that surrounded the mountains were on their way back and framed the peaks in a white fog. But the best was the snow-crystals still hanging in the air. The moon shone through them and millions of little lights were all around. But that wasn’t even the good part, for from the ridge of the nearest mountain the moon painted a rainbow in the snow-crystals. A complete rainbow starting at the mountain’s ridge, sharply drawn towards the night sky all the way around till it landed firmly on the same mountain-ridge on the other side of the moon. I couldn’t care less that we lost the track!

What keeps you coming back for more? Beauty.

I have a friend who calls herself a “city girl.” We used to tell her to come to the mountains with us. I said she’d love it, she said she wouldn’t. An artist, she admitted that it would be a good thing to do for the sake of doing some photography. I had the privilege of ascending one of the highest peaks in Norway with her once, and she loved it. You don’t have to love spending hours digging snow-caves, sleeping under trees, getting your sleeping-bag soaked with wet snow or falling nose first over the handle-bar of your mountain-bike to like beauty. But it is probably the main force that drives us.

I did a couple of searches on Google and Yahoo for “beauty.” Mostly I got the web-pages of beauty therapists and saloons. On picture-searches, apart from a couple of dogs and cats greatly adored by their owners, it is-not surprisingly-a whole army of lingerie-dressed women out there ready to attack your world with “beauty.” And of course, it made a trekking guide happy to see some sceneries as well. Someone were out there and thought it was beautiful. And beautiful it will stay long after the current lingerie-army is resting safely in their graves. When God made the woman, He planned each individual one to be adored with lingerie (or without) by one man respectively. The lingerie-army is adding nothing to beauty, but breaking it down. It goes from being heaps of individually beautiful women with their life-stories to a uniform army of generic concepts of beauty in a world with instant access to everything. My friend’s pager less than 15 years ago granted him immediate access to nothing but the phone-number of who wanted to speak with him on the phone at any given time. Today our phones can receive highly compressed generic sounding mp3-files alongside the lingerie-army. Music has no sensation left where this is the listening pattern and the lingerie-army as they pose in their pictures, trades their individual beauty for a generic one.

This is not meant to be a social critique, I am not trying to sound like Theodor Adorno or Walter Benjamin. Nor am I trying to pick up “the gospel of Marx” and criticize the capitalist system. If the young Marx came into my living room I would throw him head-first over my balcony so he couldn’t go back in time and create the havoc that claimed literally millions of innocent human lives. But Marx utilizes what he criticizes when he claims authority over every invention created by private money. The access to such inventions will decrease with time in a Marxist system simply because no one-not even the government-earns anything on their new invention because there is no competition. It becomes like a pool of stagnant water, of a stagnant production-machinery in this case. The only alternative is a “Gothic Revival,” but one should think that we had put those days behind by now. The only option for current direction is forward.

Since we are in the Marxist corner already I will do my private little sidekick to the philosopher Max Horkheimer when he talks about the “unreconciled juxtaposition of faith and contradictory knowledge” (“On the Problem of Truth,” 1935). Much unreconcileable theoretical goods have been accepted as knowledge for the sake of political argument and it seems like Horkheimer’s camp inherits as much faith as any. And if it is not faith then it is a con. –Or at the very best, a misunderstanding or incomplete research. To explain myself I’ll use the equation: “If God exists.” I firmly believe He does partly because I see His works active in my own life. I will not treat this in any detail here to not get completely off the topic, but I’d love to write more in an essay or something in the future. If God exists He does not fear science nor philosophy –they simply seek to outline what He has created. Hence, He does not take any offence by the above equation. If God exists and He is who I believe He is, He made the world and all in it and every piece of life is upheld in Him at any given time. If God exists He reveals Himself. If God exists He reveals Himself in what He created, anything else would be a contradiction in terms if His creativity made the foundation of creation. If beauty is inherit in something created, Beauty is provided by God. It is a product of His creative mind.

Friedrich Neitzsche claims that the world and existence can only be eternally justified through its aesthetic value. One could ask what a man like Neitzsche would need to justify anything in eternity for. For if man himself cannot be believed to be an eternal being by the upholding provided by a greater power then Neitzsche seems to be dreaming and hoping that he is wrong. It actually gives me some sympathy for him. I would love to visit him with a cake or something and just sit at the stairs and look at the world. I’m sure he was suppressing something by the juxtaposition of his own faith in the eternal elements of justification and his almost complete rejection of meaning. Grrr… if I could only find out… But it’s too late, the train has left and he died 109 years ago. No cake if you’re dead!

In Isaiah 46 God says through the prophet (If you don’t believe, remember the equation “if God excists,” don’t quit reading for forgetting the philosophical frame):

5"To whom would you liken Me
And make Me equal and compare Me,
That we would be alike?
6"Those who lavish gold from the purse
And weigh silver on the scale
Hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god;
They bow down, indeed they worship it.
7"They lift it upon the shoulder and carry it;
They set it in its place and it stands there
It does not move from its place
Though one may cry to it, it cannot answer;
It cannot deliver him from his distress.
(NASB)

The gold and the silver both inherits the beauty for which it is utilized for the manufacture of an idol. There are millions of beautiful and interesting women, but love and friendship is new each time, whether now or in a hundred years. We can picture the mountains in our mind, but nothing is like living it. No artist can shape a rock as wonderfully as a river can, given the years, no matter if you hit your head against it.

I extended my search in best BBC “Click” style and typed in “Where did the beauty go?” A person was commenting on where the beauty went in art. –Cause previously it was about beauty and now much of what was coming out was just meant to be shocking and ugly the author meant. Yesterday I was at one of my occasional walks through Leeds Art Gallery. I have a big affection for National Romanticism and there’s a huge 19th century painting in there from one of the Western fjords in my own nation Norway. It is so beautiful that it almost is a bit larger than life, it is so beautiful that it is almost better than the real. I guess you see it even clearer if you have done any painting and realize the massive undertaking of filling a whole wall worth of painting in a 19th century building with high ceilings. The techniques are diverse and the dark rock bathed in shadow from the high sun seems almost “carved” with the pallet-knife. Not a paintbrush stroke can be seen on the rock-wall. I’m spellbound. In the next room there were 100 years of social critique basically hammering loose at anyone with money, power or influence. Nothing was meant to look nice, just to have meaning. I wonder what Neitzsche would have said. Poor man, I wouldn’t have the heart to tell him. He could easily have swallowed the cake wrong and died once again. Was this meant to eternally justify us? he might have asked.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not attacking modern arts, then I’d be attacking much of my own output too I guess. Modern painting techniques, darkroom and digital processing of photography, modern film music, funny concepts, sound-installations, performance that carries personal messages... Bring it on! But what do we view as beautiful. And Hahaha!, do we need the beautiful? For if we don’t seek it where God put it, distort it in private persons that should be a part of our lives that now appear as a generic product on a computer-screen for the sake of anything but beauty, and if arts itself turns it back to beauty for social argument; are we slowly being malnutritioned or can we perfectly well live without it? Adorno writes about music that “The new phase of the musical consciousness of the masses is defined by displeasure in pleasure.” (Fetish Character in Music and Regression of Listening, 1938). Is it up to us to define beauty or is it at least partly a given? Do we need to take control over our lives in a Heidegger-ian sense also in the realm of beauty? Surely, who of us have not seen thrilled children at their first meeting with something new and exciting and beautiful. You might argue that beauty is not the active component, but substitute the beauty with something ugly and shocking and we'll see the difference in effect. After years of leading teenagers in the mountains I have also found this true here, that on their first meetings with the grand nature they react with amazement and keep coming back for more. Hey! I’m not that old, but I’ll never stop getting thrilled by the beautiful!

Maybe I’ve been living in cities too much over the last years. Maybe there are some key relations not present. Maybe I’m just happy that I’m going home for my father’s 60th birthday in two days and will get to see Norwegian mountains… I don’t know, but all of the above probably did their bit to provoke the question. “Where did the beauty go?”

There is an elderly lady living just up the hill from me in Norway. She is well over 90 and have been there all my life as a part of the world since she was a close friend of my grandparents. Last summer mom, dad and me brought some cake and went to see her. I showed her pictures from my days in Singapore and my current place in the UK. She didn’t get the slightest tired and just wanted to see more of what was inside my laptop, so I dug up pictures from the coast of Malaysia, Paris, Vienna, Prague, big snow-covered mountains and the fjords of Northern Norway. In many ways her persona is a good tale of beauty. –the way she reacts to it when it is visual, the way she has always been happy and positive and always gone the extra mile to look good when in those parties of my childhood and even today, without ever becoming pretentious about it. But also relationally, by her persona and communication and just as important: as a woman. Whenever I get married I believe my wife has a lot to be grateful for to her. She has exemplified so much through how she is without trying, especially in the way she treated little me from my first recollection of her. She has clearly stated what women are but never attempted to do so. I hope she is still around whenever I get married somewhere down the road. In that case she’ll have to be well over 100 :) She’ll beat the whole lingerie-army any day!