Monday, February 4, 2008

Beauty and the mundane

There are many beautiful things in The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon (965). The first is the spring at dawn, the second is the summer night:

“In spring it is the dawn that is most beautiful. As the light creeps over the hills, their outlines are dyed a faint red wisps of purplish cloud trail over them.

In summer the nights. Not only when the moon shines, but on dark nights too, as the fireflies flit to and fro, and even when it rains, how beautiful it is!"

Nine hundred and eighty four years later there was no double meaning. In Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller (1949), the trees are beautiful but only in themselves:
"I was driving along, you understand? And I was fine. I was een observing the scenery. You can imagine, me looking at the scenery, on the road every week of my life. But it's so beautiful up there, Linda, the trees are so thick, and the sun is warm. I opened the windshield and just let the warm air bathe over me.”

Sei Shonagon speaks of beauty, but she also sees it. Partly it is in translation, everything is ethereal when it comes from a language so different from our own, but there is something else. What she writes captures something. I suppose what Arthur Miller writes also captures something, but it is something deeply relevant and meaningful, not something beautiful.

I have read some incredibly beautiful things on the internet, in loves that seem mundane. These are the particular moments of being, the things that raise above the mundane and become something else. Beauty does exist in the material, mundane world. But when it appears that world ceases to be as such

There is beauty in the mundane. (Mundane adj. In weakened sense: ordinary, commonplace. Hence: prosaic, dull, humdrum; lacking interest or excitement.) But there is nothing mundane about beauty.

In fact, there is nothing mundane about mundane:

mundane egg n. (in Indian and other cosmogonies) a primordial egg from which the world was hatched.

Anima Mundi n. The soul of the world; a power or spirit supposed to be diffused throughout the material universe, organizing and giving form to the whole and to all its parts, and regularizing the motions and alterations of the parts. [I say it's gravity]

I think I understand why this word holds people so.

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