Friday, May 01, 2009

Roger Scruton on Beauty

While philosopher and thinker Roger Scruton is not a Catholic writer, he quite often has some very interesting and very Catholic things to say, even if we might also find some areas for civil disagreement as well.

He has produced some rather interesting titles; two such are On Hunting, which looks at some of the cultural and philosophical issues surrounding the hunt, and An Intelligent Person's Guide to Modern Culture (both published by St. Augustine's Press).

While reading the Arts and Letters Daily recently, I came across a reference to a new offering from Scruton, this time published by Oxford University Press, and on a subject that should be of particular interest to those with a philosophical bent and who are interested in the sacred liturgy.

The book is simply titled Beauty and is so described by the publisher:

"'Beauty can be consoling, disturbing, sacred, profane," writes Roger Scruton. "It can be exhilarating, appealing, inspiring, chilling. It is never viewed with indifference: beauty demands to be noticed; it speaks to us directly like the voice of an intimate friend.' In a book that is itself beautifully written, renowned philosopher Roger Scruton explores this timeless concept, asking what makes an object--either in art, in nature, or the human form--beautiful. This compact volume is filled with insight and Scruton has something interesting and original to say on almost every page. Can there be dangerous beauties, corrupting beauties, and immoral beauties? Perhaps so. The prose of Flaubert, the imagery of Baudelaire, the harmonies of Wagner, Scruton points out, have all been accused of immorality, by those who believe that they paint wickedness in alluring colors. Is it right to say there is more beauty in a classical temple than a concrete office block, more beauty in a Rembrandt than in an Andy Warhol Campbell Soup Can? Can we even say, of certain works of art, that they are too beautiful: that they ravish when they should disturb. But while we may argue about what is or is not beautiful, Scruton insists that beauty is a real and universal value, one anchored in our rational nature, and that the sense of beauty has an indispensable part to play in shaping the human world."

Not having read the volume, I can provide no commentary -- either positive or critical -- upon it. However, for certain, excerpts such as these certainly pique one's interest:

Simply put, kitsch is a disease of faith... The Disneyfication of art is simply one aspect of the Disneyfication of faith -and both involve a profanation of our highest values. Kitsch, the case of Disney reminds us, is not an excess of feeling but a deficiency. The world of kitsch is in a certain measure a heartless world, in which emotion is directed away from its proper target towards sugary stereotypes, permitting us to pay passing tribute to love and sorrow without the trouble of feeling them.

Such a title will not be for everyone, but it is worth mentioning for the sake of those who already have a solid basis in the Catholic philosophical approach to the three trascendentals of the Good, the True and the Beautiful.