Beauty, Eros, and the Particular

May 21, 2010 • Culture, Opinion, Philosophy

Studies in Desire, by Dawn Kaczmar

“Beauty always takes place in the particular, and if there are no particulars, the chances of seeing it go down.” — Elaine Scarry

I have been mulling over the idea that beauty is, in essence, a particular trait over the past few weeks in considering my own conceptions and occasions of beauty. And it is true: ubiquity renders beauty meaningless. Prolonged and repeated exposure to the same instance mutes its vibrancy and reduces its intensity to marginality. Moreover, beauty, in the absence of a particular, in the absence of an object in which to attach itself, is merely an abstract, intangible idea, rather than a visceral experience that causes aesthetic arrest and curiosity. It is in the application of beauty to a particular object or event that reveals its form and intensity.

If beauty always takes place in the particular, the same seems true for the erotic. For instance, I have noticed that through the mass production and sale of orchids, the flower, once a symbol of eroticism, has become dead and neutral to me. Or, I may have an idea of an erotic concept, but without embodiment and experience, without knowledge of the particular way in which my beloved’s skin responds under my fingers, for instance, the desire remains dormant.

In order to engage with the erotic, the particulars must be either experienced or, at the very least, thoroughly imagined. The visceral experience of an erotic moment is dependent on the participation of both the erotic as an intangible desire and the erotic as a specifically embodied phenomenon.

The movement between imagination and action is crucial: one informs the other. In fantasy, one finds impetus for action; in action, one is surprised by the exact physical sensation, previously unknown in its full capacity: that is at once shattering, exhilarating, and inspiring in the creation of new fantasies. It is shattering in that to experience a fantasy is to step into the unknown and unexpected world of reality wherein the possible becomes real, the un-thought-of becomes replaced with known facts. There is a point at which there is always some fear present, even if only slight, in the enactment of a fantasy: to live so fantastically, so intensely, can be overwhelming.

Therefore, if I fantasize about a certain scenario, the act of actually experiencing it inherently changes the content of the fantasy by informing of it real-life details. Although the realization of fantasy is often discussed as an annihilation of allure and mystery — both of which often serve to facilitate and prolong fantasy, it is also true that the actualization of a desire, with known facts, can instead inform fantasy and the creation of new desires. Action and imagination, then, can inform and feed each other in a self-propelling cycle.

Eros: An Introduction
Erotic Obstructions

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  • Rebecca

    I really like this. I love how you write about how the fantastical informs reality not to annihilate fantasies, but actually open further threads.

    Perhaps it’s just because I’m reading this right now, but part of this post reminds me of Terry Tempest Williams’ Beauty in a Broken World. The way you write about absence and objects reminds me of her mosaic study, in which cut stones relate to one another by the absences between them. (She also quotes Elaine Scarry in the book, so perhaps that was a point of reference in my memory.)

    This was really delightful to read. I feel like in today’s technological world there are so many flat instances and images of eroticism– like the mass production of orchids, we are shown what should attract us. While those images are probably a part of us sub-consciously, it is wonderful and inspiring to read about a more creative engagement with eros. I really love your writing; thank you for engaging so directly and exploring so fantastically. :)

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