Monday, March 31

the capacity to be overwhelmed

The beauty that is human, and the beauty that is made (art)—both raise the fantasy of possession. Our model of the disinterested comes from the beauty of nature—a nature that is distant, overarching, unpossessable.

From a letter written by a German soldier standing guard in the Russian winter in late December 1942:

The most beautiful Christmas I had ever seen, made entirely of disinterested emotion and stripped of all tawdry trimmings. I was all alone beneath an enormous starred sky, and I can remember a tear running down my frozen cheek, a tear neither of pain nor of joy but of emotion created by intense experience.

Unlike beauty, often fragile and impermanent, the capacity to be overwhelmed by the beautiful is astonishingly sturdy and survives amidst the harshest distractions. Even war, even the prospect of certain death, cannot expunge it.

-- Susan Sontag "An Argument About Beauty" At the Same Time