AN AESTHETIC THEORY
An aesthetic theory the teacher may subscribe to may be built around the concepts of beauty and pleasure derived from literary appreciation.
Pleasure should include “delight”, “interest”, “attention”, or “knowledge “ of a distinct human feeling. It is the satisfaction of this aesthetic attitude which is conceded as the experience of that which is “beautiful”. Invariably, it is also that which is termed as “beauty.”
What is beauty?
A definition of this concept can lead to all kinds of fruitless distinctions. There are those who say it is a gestalt of qualities which pleases the appreciator that could be recognized from the object per se. George Santayana (The Sense of Beauty) expresses the bias of subjectivists who say that beauty is the relative human response of delight peculiar to man as the ultimate measure (“estimator”) of things. Still, there are those who believe that it is the communal apprehension of objects which is influenced by culture, mores, civilization, and Jungian Weltanschauung (1)
Thus, one could be led to absurdities like one man thinking his wife is “beautiful” despite the universal awareness of his wife’s face as that which only he and his mother-in-law could love. Of course, this is dictated by connubial “correctness”.
If beauty were in the object, what happens to beauty when the object is not there as a phenomenal reality, but the subject (appreciator) still experiences pleasure or delight from something perceived reflectively or even reflexibly? Then, why do some Caucasians think their white contestants in beauty contests (or vice versa the “coloureds”) more beautiful than the Negro representatives of the African race? Why does a swarthy Filipino male have a peculiar penchant for “mestizas” (fair skinned damsels)? Is this a colonial hangover of what is considered superior and beautiful?
Resolving these divergent views, one can very well concede that if beauty is the satisfaction of one’s aesthetic attitude, then all three views must necessarily be admitted. Thus: Object + Subject + Relative Cultural Standards = Experience of the beautiful or beauty. Anyway, one can still accept the Thomistic definition of beauty as “that which when perceived pleases the eye” (id quod visum placet); i.e., involving not only the senses but also the intellect and the requisite will-ful (emotional) response. (2)
The artist, engaged in the creation of literature worth spending precious lifetime on, spends the greater part of his life preparing himself for this task of catching truth by the tail. This activity required tremendous effort. One does not simply sit by passively. True, the artist moves by “sitting” (aspiring for reflections in tranquility) – but this is his Upanishad: a sitting before the awesome enigma of reality so that he may be suffused with the mystery of it all, and he becomes one with the enigma only to define the darkness that has possessed him, thereby telling the beholder who he is. “He brings forth the light.”
When he works on his art, therefore, he employs all instruments within his command. His effort alone should require from the appreciator a semblance of equal, compassionate effort – one that borders on delicate marvelling which finds its anchor in the real, the true, and the beautiful. But there are writers and there are writers; the appreciator’s caveat is to have a discriminating taste.
1 The comprehensive world view which is characterized by the eminence of the Universal Unconscious; each man participates subliminally or even fundamentally in this awareness of parallel human experiences. Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), a Swiss psychologist, stresses the contributions of racial and cultural inheritance to the psychology of an individual.
2 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part I, Q. 1, A 9, Rep. 1 8d-9c; Rep. 3 768-769d. The Great Books of the Western World, R. M. Hutchins, ed., Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., Chicago, 1952.
(Next in the Series: Theories of Literary Analysis, Literary Criticism, and Literary Evaluation.)
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