ON BEAUTY AND BEING JUST by Elaine Scarry

ON BEAUTY AND BEING JUST

Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

An essay that aims to recover beauty as a serious topic for academic discourse and, more ambitiously, to reconnect beauty with truth and justice. Scarry (English/Harvard) delivered these thoughts on beauty as the Tanner Lectures of 1998 at Yale and then retired to a research institute to work them up for publication. Though her book is brief, the studied awkwardness of Scarry’s style makes it seem long and serves perhaps as a signal that these ruminations are for the happy few—which is too bad, because what she has to say is both interesting and original. Scarry has noted that for a couple of decades now, professors have been avoiding any talk of beauty. Beauty all too often masks power, say some, and beauty unfairly objectifies the body (usually female), say others. Scarry strongly objects and argues that the reverse is true: “the beautiful person or thing incites in us a longing for truth because it provides by its —clear discernibility— an introduction (perhaps even our first introduction) to the state of certainty yet does not itself satiate our desire for certainty since beauty, sooner or later brings us into contact with our own capacity for making errors.” This sample of her prose is typically heavy-handed, but it contains a scintillating thought—that beauty can awaken in us a “longing for truth.” And beauty’s characteristic qualities—balance, symmetry, equality of proportion—are deeply linked, she argues plausibly and controversially, to being fair, a word that means both “lovely” and “just.” The radical nature of Scarry’s views is not be underestimated, but because it challenges the status quo from an unexpected quarter, it will likely be greeted with widespread silence. A heated polemic disguised as a cool philosophical essay; exciting for those willing to work through its laborious prose.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-691-04875-4
Page count: 134pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1999




MORE BY ELAINE SCARRY

NonfictionNAMING THY NAME by Elaine Scarry
by Elaine Scarry
NonfictionTHERMONUCLEAR MONARCHY by Elaine Scarry
by Elaine Scarry
NonfictionDREAMING BY THE BOOK by Elaine Scarry
by Elaine Scarry