A World of Speculation

More about The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce. Culture. and Consciousness by Postrel. Virginia I. ( 2004 ) Paperback. I’m still not finished with the book so this constitutes a discussion with an argument in progress. That is, I don’t know where Postrel is going, but I’m thinking about it here as I go down her road with her.

I believe that Beauty is a transcendant characteristic of God–something that is always true, that its being a characteristic of God is part of what defines what Beauty is. It’s not separate from Good, but an aspect of it. I don’t know Postrel’s religion, but I don’t think she would necessarily argue against the idea that Good and Beauty are inside-outside aspects of the same reality.

Therefore, love for beauty is an indelible part of the human makeup (so to speak). It’s a universal. I may disagree with my neighbor over what is more beautiful, but we both have a love for whatever our definition might be.

Given that, what of the people whose love of beauty leads them into monstrosity? Michael Jackson leaps to mind, whose face bears the ravages of frequent attempts at what we can only assume he thought would increase his beauty. Instead, he now looks like a ghoul. In fact, there’s a whole blog site dedicated to Awful Plastic Surgery, a place where the pathetically desperate rich and famous are dispayed with their squirrel cheeks and trout lips.

What of Cage’s 3:55, in which he stipulates that the audience sounds are more interesting than any music he might be inclined to provide at this time?

What of Grunge? and Goth? These looks seem to be, not a new or different take on beauty, but a rejection of beauty, whether a rejection of superficial, sentimental beauty (Cotton Mather, call your office) or perhaps in some cases even a rejection of Beauty Itself.

I’m not talking about people whose taste I disagree with, nor am I talking about people whose lack of training in music, arts and literature leaves them little prepared to discern what is better and what is worse.

I am asking, for one thing, whether Postrel believes there’s anything to discern. (I suspect the answer is on future pages of the book.)

I’m also asking what would be the core of that discernment. Form? Logic? Rhythm? Mathematical curves? How do I recognize it when I see it? And how is it that I can disagree so vigorously with people I honor and respect about whether such and such a composer is superior or inferior to this other one? Is there a middle road between a dogmatic “This is the correct aesthetic” and a sloppy “Whatever you like is what’s ‘good’ for you”?