beauty: the aesthetics of life


The  New Criterion, JANUARY 2009
Make way for bio-aesthetics
by John Derbyshire

On The Art Instinct by Denis Dutton


In una ideale manifestazione neo-situazionista, in un corteo giovanile, o di ’68ini di mezz’età, si potrebbe udire questo slogan sul Purgatorio del divenire, l’evoluzione, il finito:

L’estetica – e’ evoluzione

il bello – non e’ un’opinione

socialismo – rivoluzione;

ma stavolta  non la vedremo alla televisione:

you tube e’ un’opzione.

Che cos’è il Bello?

Le civiltà umane lo praticano e lo cercano, sin da quando i proto Sapiens ebbero “la pancia piena”: ciò accadde una delle prime volte durante una glaciazione, sulle spiagge e caverne di Capetown – oltre 100.000 anni fa. Cosa sia, se lo chiedono con la religiosità sciamanica da 40.000 anni, con filosofie e religioni della Salvezza e Bellezza usufruibili da tutti, da 2.500 (Yves Lambert 2007, La naissance des religions. Paris: A. Colin). Ed oggi, con il Situazionismo di Guy Debord (che noi re-inerpretiamo come un pioniere del bio-socialismo – vedi voce Socialismi nel Dizionario), si entra nella Terra Promessa: tutti siamo artisti, PRODUTTORI DEL BELLO.

Platone, nella pedagogia de “la Repubblica” mette in guardia dalle Arti che cosificano il Bello. Pitagora-Platone vi vedono infatti una traccia del Divino, che ahimè si dis-perde nel Moderno. Ma vive nei secoli nel filo rosso della Mistica: che non si ferma né al momentaneo godimento, rapimento estatico-estetico, né alla schiavitù della mania-passione, ma va oltre: cerca l’annullarsi-annegarsi nell’Assoluto. Che non è quindi una prerogativa esclusiva delle religioni Asiatiche.

Ora, per parlarne in questa pagina ci troviamo davanti ad un dilemma:

A) Cerchiamo una grande foto che santifichi, trasfiguri un panorama, una persona qualsiasi? La sublimazione del normale, quotidiano.

B) O foto oneste, “santini” anche kitsch, che ci facciano rivivere (s)oggetti IN SE sublimi, che bucano lo schermo? La foto di un’icona.

C) Certo, l’ideale Classico è l’Artista che Copia e ci trasmette appieno, ci fa ri-suonare e rilegge  un altro Artista, eo il  Bello in se.  GOULD PLAYS BACH. Una sublime resa del sublime. Ma, come vedremo alla fine, NON SARA’ CONSOLATORIA.


Ran_d6 (flickr) on boat, Lage Pidgeon, Ontario


Let us see what appeals to us, moves some actions, adoration, feelings, imitation, mechanisms and mental processes, and we tag it as “Beauty”. Here are a few examples, mainly from Nature, in order to stimulate our first order reactions of admiration, but also second thoughts on the philosophy and  psychology of the cult of Beauty – a basic component of religions. In life worlds, Beauty is economic and useful for reproduction and  alliance strategies, survival guerrilla and warfare. And has strictly to do with: colour, form, metamorphosis, seduction, selection, senses perception; the selfishness of the gene: lineage,  reproduction and sex.

Plato started the discipline by equalling Beautiful to Good as attributes of God. The mystic traditions, pioneered by Pitagora and Plato, make of estasis and esthetics one and the same thing (Simone Weil). Then came Hegel and Kant. On their trace, Benedetto Croce wondered about its inter-subjectivity: is Beau (Beautiful, Bello, Lindo, Maravilhoso)  what we like, or the opposite? Nichilist Nature replies: what works better at war, is finest and fittest. Most useful, so beautiful.

Finally, Freud: il Bello as a perturbation, remixing the removed; in fact, he just watered down what mystics had already experienced on their skin, suffered to the unbearable, and testified much more radically. Freud, with the secularisation, brings a dramatic lost of contact with the sublime and the trascendent, the source of anything worth (on the contrary, you will not find that in Nietzsche).

The psychology of beauty, its inherent risks and seductions, in synthesis, stems from the truth that, as any strong experience (drug, game, love, passion), brought to the extreme it becomes a hysteresis, a mania. Mystics circumvent the problem going much beyond a mania; they are more radical, fully slaves, self-destroying up to life-and-death basics (anorexia, suicide): but it is viable only for a few “eletti“.

Finally, there is a determinism in language, as the philosophy of the last century (from de Saussure and Witttgenstein to Derrida) has underlined  in many fields. Let’s take this page: by being multimedia (is the media the message? Mc Luhan, Castells), we’d like to talk beauty also with images and sound? But how, in the Age of Technique (Benjamin, Heidegger)?

A. A terrific picture sanctifying, transmutating an ordinary object, person, place?

B. An ordinary representation, reproduction of a sublime fact, music, object or subject?

C. The DIALECTIC SYNTHESIS: a neoplatonic Giorgione (meeting intellectuals in Asolo) painting a Madonna, but not for a Church;  Glenn Gould playing Bach, but not in a concert. A great artist copying another artist (all the idiot copyrights, properties and rights in general:  FUCK  OFF). A sublime representation of the sublime. PRODUCTION OF BEAUTY BY MEANS OF BEAUTY.

A dialectic approach contrasts beauty with kitsch and the ugly. Italian art critic Dorfles (1969, Kitsch: The world of Bad Taste, Universe Books) wonders why the kitsch entered communication, modern and contemporary art. Kitsch perhaps is rooted in Romanticism, but reached a peak in D…  , then pop art: the sublimation of Campbell soup and Coca Cola.

We’ll start with “A” miracles, then move to the more banal B type – just to remember some Wonders of culture-and-nature, likely to stimulate our enthusiasms and manias. And end up with C.

Let us start with people, before moving to Nature’s bio-Beauty. A and B examples, to start with. Who’s THE beautiful of these pictures,  a commercial, an amateur and an artist’s one? Demi Moore (the star system icon, class 1962, at a New York reception, June 23, 2008, Afp); an old peasant woman from the high Piave river valley (Vajont, Italy) posted by aldalucia on: And George Draskoy, in an artist’s portrait of his Auntie Eula, taken in July 1968 (copyright): like a painting!


The best example we found is one in a handful of best pictures posted on  Panoramio, the picture DB recently associated to locations in Google maps (becoming a competitor to flickr, in geo-rererenced photos; flickr is in troubles, after the management left yahoo). From the border of a Persian plateau, you look down towards Bakhtaran. A photo by Попов Максим (Popov Maxim), a sophisticated russian photographer that has some other dozen masterpieces (see more in Section C below) at and

This is that – through light and perspective – introduces a visual 3rd dimension in a 2D photo, as a Renaissance master. IT IS SO BEAUTIFUL that it looks like a painting … except for the sky: too much hyper-real, perhaps.



Isla del Coco (Cocos Island), Costa Rica (24 sq km, 600 km off coast), is a rare Pacific island carrying a “fork” portion of rainforest (therefore: much different  from Galapagos, the endemic species of the  Isla del Coco ecosystem), besides a wonderful marine fauna, unique because of the Ocean currents.

A mythical land of pirates and treasures that inspired Defoe (he places Crusoe on the Orinoco’s river delta for colonial marketing reasons; nonetheless, the most popular island of Robinsonades is also in the Pacific: Mas a Tierra, of the Juan Fernàndez archipelago, where Alexander Selkirk wanted to be left in early 1700, renamed in 1966 Robinson Crusoe Island, as its endemic species are named Robinson something), and lately Jurassic Crichton, who used the map below for the topography of his fictional island (Severin 2002, Seeking Robinson Crusoe; Coetzee 1986, Foe).


Other water-based beauties: Grotta Azzurra, Capri.  Sunset at Vancouver by jonrawlinson, flickr. Then the 2 most beautiful places in the world, according to popular vote. Sunset at Cox’s Bazar beach, Bangladesh,  12 km of sandy beach, no.1 in the ongoing referendum at; and no. 2 Ha Long Bay, NE Vietnam:,  and /1243999.jpg, respectively.


1) Chocolate Hills in Bohol, Philippines: they turn chocolate brown during the no-monsoon dry season. 2)  Ein Gedi Oasis, Israel: nearby Essenic sacre places (Qumran and Masada), west of the Dead Sea. 3) La Dame Blanche: il Monte Bianco. These 3 pictures are taken from 4) The impressive, misty Guilin Mountains on the Lijiang River, China: they have inspired Chinese poets and artists throughout the centuries. By a connaissance, Auntie Eula’s author George Draskòy, at:

More in:


We return again to Maxim Popov, one of the best artists we met on the web. These are, among many of his amazing churches, his two opposite poles: white and black, Eastern orthodoxy and Western gothic. The latter, as is commented on panoramio at the picture site, is an uneasy, worrying mix and conflict of good and evil, spiritual search and anathema (Simone Weil, Lettre à un religieux), damnation, horror, persecution, religious war:the God of vengeance. What is seen, might hardly be classified as “beauty”, but it is just for such a reason that the picture is amazing, unique.

In conclusion, the dialectic synthesis “beauty by beauty” does not SOLVE the contradiction, as dialectic Modern narrations (Hegel, Marx) had promised. We live in ecosystems of eternal conflict: our Purgatorium.

White: a Russian church. Black: Wurzburg’s Cathedral,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: