a paradigm shift: beauty (in which I make unstylish claims)


"The coats of arms that encrust those South German walls were once as simple as upside-down flat-irons with reversed buckets on top: at the touch of the new formula, each shield blossomed into the lower half of a horizontally bisected 'cello, floridly notched for a tilting lance, under a twenty-fold display of latticed and strawberry-leaf-crowned casques, each helmet top-heavy with horns or wings or ostrich or peacocks' feathers and all of the suddenly embowered in mantelling as reckless, convoluted and slashed as spatulate leaves in a whirlwind. The wings of eagles expanded in sprays of separate sable plumes, tails bifurcated in multiple tassels, tongues leapt from beaks and fangs like flames and inlaid arabesques. All was lambent."

- Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts, 99

Part 2. 

(Incidentally, in composing this post and the last, I seem to have tricked myself into doing some real writing. Having a clear goal in mind, the pressure lets up. Rather than to fabricate, vaguely, a perfect, core-shattering poem, I am trying to communicate a specific event of my recent mental life. With my ducks thus in a row, I can give myself up to wordsmithery; that is, to technique. Somewhat counter-intuitively, I think that--even though (in good writing) the medium becomes part of the message--when the message is clear in the author's mind, it becomes easier to mold it to a beautiful and expressive medium. Thorough understanding and better familiarity allows an author to judge what paraphrasing an idea will stand or be enhanced by, and what first-thought, gut-level words and expressions must remain.)

Reader, I am entranced with technique.

On Monday, July 2, I wrote:

Have, for two days, been reading the blogs of (knitting) pattern designers. I am getting my first glimpse of the techniques and mechanics of more sophisticated knitting (and, partly thanks to the blogs, partly thanks to Laura, of garment construction in general). I am entranced. This may be my equivalent to Tim's woodworking.

The best way to create the crotch seam in a pair of pants is amazing (you put one leg inside-out inside the other). I have just purchased my first sock pattern, and I can't wait to find out how to create a gusset. And fair isle sweaters--why did I blindly assume that a plain garter stitch sweater, like a steel and glass building or a plastic Eames chair, must be intrinsically more beautiful, have greater integrity? Decoration in the material arts is unfashionable, like form in poetry or adjectives in prose. Display of a technique rather than a bare concept is said to be gaudy. But why?

To approach from another angle: this marriage of mine is astonishing. The two years that Tim and I dated were one long, mutual interrogation. We talked philosophy more than anything else. What did the other think of ______? We were delighted to have discovered someone who felt the same way about almost everything, and we both felt that, on the subject of beauty, the mid-century modernists had it soundly and sacredly right. However. 

Maybe it was reading Donne, maybe it was the intricacy of my friend Justina's henna-inspired partial sleeve, maybe it was Patrick Leigh Fermor--his lavish writing and his memorized Latin odes, maybe it was all the lovely old houses in Old Strathcona, maybe it was admitting my love of medieval hymns and carols. By the time I started Hofstadter's book, I was already primed for a drastic change of feeling, but I did not want to bring it up with Tim. 

But I didn't really have to. Before I did, he showed me a seventeenth-century table on a woodworking site. 'Elaborate' is not quite a sufficient word. Then we started watching a three-part BBC series on the history of metal working in England, and by the time we had finished the first episode (silver), it was clear that both of us had been quietly revising our aesthetics for months, along almost identical lines, and simultaneously. 

"When two people live together intimately, each comes to understand the world to some extent in the way that the other does. Each imbibes the other's point of view, and over a period of years, another person's way of looking at the world has become internalized. One can now look out at the world with the other person's eyes, see it with their soul." 
- Douglas Hofstadter, Le Ton beau de Marot, 479


Tim sent me a link to this video about a week ago. Ignoring some of the dubious metaphysical claims, I think it is spot-on.