Saturday, January 23, 2010

The everyday of beauty

By way of an article by Roger Scruton, about The High Cost of Ignoring Beauty, some thoughts that are in syntony with his own (or the other way around). One feels quite disarmed when one has to explain here, in North America, the use of public aesthetics. Yet, driving down the long "pikes" of this continent, you will pass endless rows of so-called strip-malls: one-story buildings, drab, nondescript, lined around an asphalt wasteland of a parking lot. One-story buildings whose architecture is not meant to say anything, because its only meaning is to provide a (cheap) space to be rented out. And you drive on, and on, and you pass the same buildings and places. If you enter in some of the businesses that have rented out these spaces, sometimes you will be surprised by what you find inside; sometimes you will find a delightful Indonesian restaurant, with atmosphere, taste, and good food.

(As a side-note, it is quite sickening that most of these businesses renting out these infinite-like strip-malls are restaurants; sickening not qua restaurants, but because, instead of being places of long hours of lazy delight spent in the company of friends, they are utilitarian places serving about the same function as a retail clothing store, or a doctor's office - you go in, you do what you have to do (in this case, eat), and when you're done, you move on. Why would anyone spend hours there? Unless you bring your laptop, to "do some work." This piece here,  Bringing the Buzz Back to the Café, talks about this.)

Thus, you drive on - not walk, by the way, because you need to get somewhere - and isn't this an unnecessary clarification, in fact, the fact that "you need to get somewhere?" Of course you do, otherwise why would you be on your way? But why should you "get somewhere?" Yes, I ask: why? But what else would you do on the street, if not go somewhere? Well, perhaps just walk. Without purpose? Well, is breathing without a purpose? Does joy need a purpose? (Notice that I am not using the word "fun," which usually has a purpose, and thus is time-enclosed and task-like; "I want to have fun." Well, perhaps just walk, and look around, and watch the other people. Live, breathe the others' presence, and imbibe the music of the buildings, of the architecture that surrounds you.

Or drive, past others, just like others drive past you,, while passing by miles and miles of strip malls. Nobody is on the streets, walking; and the "music" of the buildings hurts your mind.

The problem, of course, is not that these strip-malls are shopping places, sometimes with good restaurants (as mentioned above). The problem is that, just like the bridge over the Mississippi in the heart of Minneapolis, they were built with the sole purpose of serving a (very drab) function. And yet, just like the air we breathe, or the water we drink, or the books we read, the order and cleanliness of our home, the architecture that surrounds us is a very important part of our own selves. These are the elements of the language of our souls, and our souls are shaped by them. What is around us can not be separated by what is inside us - not radically.

We are intrinsically open beings. It is not only that what is inside is influenced by what is outside. Inside and outside are misleading expressions. We are open beings, and what surrounds us, is us - whether it generates defensive reactions from the depth of our selves, or a general sensation of - what is the expression we use? - well-being. (A wonderful depiction of the nature of human beings, intrinsically open, and shaped by the relationships we have with all that surrounds us, is to be found in the very poetic Book of Genesis, as read in    these meditations on the "Original Unity of Man and Woman.")

Thus, rather than being only a matter of function (which it is not), architecture is the very aesthetics of the world that surrounds us. As such, just like music, literature, images, it is an essential part of our actually being human. Thus, it matters. It is not the same if we are aiming at being truly human, or towards being like the animals; as we all know, both alternatives are sadly possible; the difference is what we call civilization.