Showing posts with label beauty. Show all posts
Showing posts with label beauty. Show all posts

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Beauty as Distraction

Adele Horin has a nice piece in Fairfax today: 'The true face of artistic beauty'.

She's not suggesting beauty isn't important.  Instead, inspired by Margaret Olley's example, she's arguing that the narrow pursuit of a 'youthful' facade is a distraction from more worthwhile enterprises.

I might also add: allure and charm, like happiness, are real - but they're often gained in pursuit of other goods.  As ends in themselves they're frequently self-defeating - vanity can be an ugly vice.

(Image: 'Margaret Olley', by Ben Quilty, courtesy of the Art Gallery of New South Wales)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Legalizing mixed martial arts in New York...

I've a piece today in New York's Daily News, 'Legalizing mixed martial arts in New York shouldn't be a steel-caged match'.

As the New York State Legislature prepares to vote on the legality of so-called 'cage fights', I'm arguing for the affirmative.  A sample:
MMA cannot accomplish miracles. It will not necessarily turn thugs into sages or make cowards brave. It has its share of arrogant promoters and blinkered fighters.
However, these are reasons for tight industry standards, not for outright banning. Mixed martial arts is no cockfight: It's a safe, profitable, often-virtuous combat sport. It's well worth fighting for.
(Photo: Lee Brimelow)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Words, White Ants

Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima was a bookish boy - alienated from his own body.

He remembered his scorn of the sunshine; of daylight and clarity, and the bright stadium of Imperial war. He preferred the quiet, aesthetic asylum of a dim, dusty study. "How dearly... I loved my pit, my dusky room," he wrote, "the area of my desk with its piles of books."

This attitude, he remembered in his memoir Sun and Steel, was common. Scorning physicality and action, literature became soft, flabby, murky - all too impressed with its own laws and principles, but failing to embody its beauty: to put its classical elegance into physical form.

Unimpressed, Mishima chose to differentiate himself. He moved away from a subterranean life, to one of sun and steel: open air, sports, weights. "The sun was enticing," he said, "my thoughts away from their night of visceral sensations, away to the swelling muscles encased in sunlit skin."

The result was a world, not of idiosyncratic words, but of common physicality. There is a feeling of exhausted satiety that comes with exercise, particularly of the aggressive sort. A fullness and emptiness. This, he felt, he suddenly understood - not as a writer, but as an average man, disciplining his body. This was a universal experience. And his words, what he called "white ants", could not eat away at it.

But Mishima was not all classicism; not all beauty, form, muscularity. He also had a romantic impulse: to chase death. Death was a boyhood longing, but it also intensified as he aged. He saw death as clarifying, reviving: the ultimate recognition of his muscular beauty was its aggressive destruction. The only way to really 'see' his body was to attack it - hence his love of kendo and karate. Pain helped, but the final, perfect recognition was death.

'Sun and steel' gave him the strength and elegance to achieve this. He wanted, not only the powerful arms to drive the sword into himself - but the chiseled torso to receive the blade. "Longing at eighteen for an early demise," he wrote, "I felt myself unfitted for it." Weights and sports helped him attain the end he longed for.

On November 25th, 1970, after meticulous planning and rehearsal, Mishima committed seppuku: he cut open his belly, and was clumsily beheaded.

I can't say I understand Mishima. Logically, I can grasp his views, and explain them. And I can sympathise with his wishes: for beauty, strength, struggle. But his morbid romanticism is foreign to me. I just don't get it - yet.

But this is yet another gift of literature. The white ants, they carry more than their own weight: they consume, digest and regurgitate the psyche's baffling variety. What's left is not fully real, but it can at least expose our ignorance, biases or errors.

So Mishima's sculpted body died, but his legacy keeps sparring with us.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Zaftig: juicy, succulent

I'd not heard the word 'zaftig' until recently. According to the Merriam-Webster, it's "having a full rounded figure : pleasingly plump," from the Yiddish "zaftik juicy, succulent, from zaft juice, sap."

Marvellous word - all the suggestions of ripeness, softness, sweetness.

Of course beauty comes in all sizes and shapes. And of course it's not all about looks. As I've argued on the ABC, character is just as sexy as the curve of a thigh, or the arch of a lip.

But I am fascinated by the connotations of this word, and its well-known exemplars, like Nigella Lawson.

Fertility or pregnancy is perhaps part of the appeal, but not its entirety. As a theme in the media or art, it can be a very particular vision: of excess, abundance, gratuity. It suggests, not austerity and discipline, but joie de vivre and decadence.

And this is the kicker: it makes it beautiful. Zaftig isn't simply being overweight or obese - it's about the allure of indulgence, not just calories and adipose. It represents the experience in a tangible, sensual form.

This is partly why Nigella does so well: her 'food porn' feeds into our culinary dreams; into the aesthetic of culinary excess. She exemplifies the sensory appeal of the food she breathlessly describes.

Importantly, this doesn't mean people with fuller figures are greedy or unrestrained - zaftig isn't a symptom of food pathology. In fact, it's not necessarily about real individuals at all. It's a symbol, a sign, a trope.

In other words, zaftig is not simply the quality of a character or physique. Sometimes it's just the word we give to our fantasies of beautiful epicureanism - the face and figure of appetite objectified.

(And perhaps this 'we' is just me. We'll see.)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice... bony, scaly dinosaur's tails.

Here's Sophia at eleven months, cutting her fangs on a stegosaur.

Where did the last eleven months go? Just yesterday I was catching her, bloody and slick with amniotic gush; walking in the thick, heavy rain, carrying grilled salmon to the hospital for Ruth; showing Nikos the wrinkled wriggling bundle of his sister.

How many nappies, jars of muck, midnight cries, stumblings and burpy smiles? How many words, new dresses and mouths full of sand?

It's all a blink; a lightning flash. What just happened?

(Thomas Mann and Marcel Proust would have had a field day with this parental temporality.)

Saturday, August 8, 2009


A couple of years ago, this poem earned me the runner-up gong in the Darebin literary competition.

It's not fantastic - the rhythm's clumsy, and perhaps it's twee.

But it reveals how I felt on the day Nikos was born. And I like to remember my own awe.


That fat word,
waddling about engorged
in magazines and art gallery small talk.
I find it trimmed down,
in the bloodshot eyes,
salty upper lip,
and bloodied amniotic Miro-strokes,
of my wife’s heaving torso;
and in the blinking squints
of my squirming son.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

'The Shape of Love'

I've a piece in today's ABC Unleashed, 'The Shape of Love'.

I'm arguing that the media's interest in body shape is a distraction from what's often most important in sexual attraction and love. A taster:
The best reply to the media's obsession with stick-thin models and actresses isn't to endorse fatness or overeating - it's to overcome the fixation on figure itself; to stress that beauty is more than flesh and fashion.

In short, we don't simply like curvy people or thin people, we like people.

And people, with all their eccentricities and subtleties, can't be reduced to a line on paper, or a swinging pair of hips.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

One Enchantment at a Time

From my desk, I can see a yellowing Crape Myrtle.  Around its base is a ring of Echeveria rosettes, covered in its fallen leaves.

This is a wonderful example of what might be called beauty's humility.

That is, many kind of beauty are quiet: they're not epic, or busily  elaborate.  They don't come with a press release or music video.

They're common, these charms: literally millions in every suburban street.  But you have to stop, look, and appreciate them.

Take this Echeveria: a thick cyan blossom, surrounded by a bed of luminescent, variegated yellows, browns, oranges.  Its delicate geometric harmonies play off the leaves' vibrant chaos. Capping it all off: the bright red ends of the rosette, offering their sharp, vivid prayers.

Multiply this by a thousand, bundle in the ties between, and you have the beauty of a single, suburban garden.

It's unfathomable, really.  Which is why we must sometimes take it one enchantment at a time.