On Beauty and Being Fair / by Cameron Jarvis

I have been slowly rereading On Beauty and Being Just by Elaine Scarry. In it she makes a case for the recognition and pursuit of beauty as a worthy and important endeavor. It is really helping me as I think about what it means to be a maker of art and a proponent of social change right now. In the first part of the book, 'On Beauty and Being Wrong,' Scarry examines the thoughts and emotions around suddenly realizing the beauty of something that you had ignored before, and how that can shake ones trust in ones own judgement, and at least for a time, reframe how one thinks about the world. I was really intrigued by the passage that opens the second part 'On Beauty and Being Fair,' where she states her intention to draw a connection between the pursuit of beauty and the pursuit of justice:

The banishing of beauty from the humanities in the last two decades has been carried out by a set of political complaints against it. But, as I will try to suggest, these political complaints against beauty are themselves incoherent. Beauty is, at the very least, innocent of the charges against it, and it may even be the case that far from damaging our capacity to attend to problems of injustice, it instead intensifies the pressure we feel to repair existing injuries. I will try to set forth a sketch of the way aesthetic attributes exert this pressure on us.

When I say that beauty has been banished, I do not mean that beautiful things have themselves been banished, for the humanities are made up of beautiful poems, stories, paintings, sketches, sculpture, film, essays, debates, and it is this that every day draws us to them. I mean something much more modest: that conversations about the beauty of these things has been banished, so that we coinhabit the space of these objects (even putting them inside us, learning them by heart, carrying one wedged at all times between the upper arm and the breast, placing as many as possible into our bookbags) yet speak about their beauty in whispers.
— Elaine Scarry