Monday, April 14, 2008

Odd How Aesthetics

Odd how aesthetics creeps in, isn’t it? How the organ playing weaves all through Jack’s life and love. How music is the metaphor for worship. The medium of worship. God love. And work love. And how near the end, he’s unsatisfied—in a way—that his ending and Ethel’s ending do not coincide. How he seems to have an almost. Oh, I don’t know.

An almost aesthetic disappointment now toward the end of his life. As if the poem of his life were over. The meaning of his life. The central action of his life. His one major other person love of his life is over.

And so now, what is he supposed to do? Live his life in dribs and drabs of days? Inhabit the cigar stub of his life, now that the tasty part of the cigar has been smoked? Inhabit the smoldering bit there in the ashtray of his life? There’s something wrong here, he seems to feel. Something aesthetically and morally out of kilter. Now that the love of his life is gone and God has made him endure. Made him live on alone.

The closure isn’t right. The poem’s end is ragged, in a way. It’s reaching closure poorly to his way of thinking. The denouement smolders and stinks. I think what he wants is a satisfying KABOOM! A fit and dramatic and emphatic ending is what he’s looking for.

A character in search of an ending. In search of an aesthetically pleasing ending. A meaningful ending.

Funny how aesthetics makes its way into love. Into what we do. What we think we’re doing. How we’re doing it or think we’re doing it. Into what we think of our lives and the world. The world we inhabit. How love and beauty and meaning seem to move through our understanding together. Through our lives together.

I was reading something in National Geographic the other day that brought this same thought to mind, but it emphasized another element in the conundrum. In the gestalt. Something on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) being constructed right now in Switzerland and France. Seventeen mile circumference. A particle accelerator they’ll use to.

Well, this really is beyond me. So please don’t be unkind, if you are an astrophysicist or a quantum physicist or something. I’m probably not saying this right.

But what this thing is. Or what people seem to expect it to be. Is something that will tell us a lot about how the universe was in its early stages, shortly after the Big Bang. Shortly after a lot of something seemed to be created out of a lot of nothing.

Before there were energy and matter as we know them now and before there was a person named Planck or Heisenberg or Einstein or Dirac or Feynman and before there were cartoons or software or rap music or the iPhone.

It’s supposed, among other things, to create something called a Higgs or the God particle. Something that today some people think is expressed as a field and that may have something to do with dark energy. Energy that hasn’t been detectable directly so far but that must be there because galaxies don’t work without it. Or can’t theoretically work without it. Maybe this is the better way to say it.

And the writer of this article in National Geographic quotes a guy by the name of George Smoot. A professor who helped design an experiment that confirmed the Big Bang and got the Nobel Prize for it. The writer of this particular article—a guy by the name of Joel Achenbach—asks Professor Smoot if he thinks some of the really basic questions about matter and the universe and so forth will ever be answered.

And George Smoot says—and I kid you not: “It depends on how I’m feeling on any particular day. But every day I go to work I’m making a bet that the universe is simple, symmetric, and aesthetically pleasing—a universe that we humans, with our limited perspective, will someday understand.”

What a wonderful thing for an astrophysicist and a cosmologist to say! Here’s a guy who is basically saying that his work is a bet. Work is a bet that what one is working toward is ultimately aesthetically pleasing. And to some extent one’s life is a bet too, to the extent that one’s work is one’s life. One’s life and what one loves are a bet that this all is beautiful. All of it partakes of the beautiful. All of it is worthwhile because it seeks or helps to reveal the beautiful.
One’s work and one’s life as means to approach and to understand something that one hopes will turn out to be beautiful.

And if it doesn’t, what’s the point? He seems to imply. If he isn’t helping to discover or uncover a universe characterized by beauty, what’s the point?

So what I’m suggesting here is that this beauty business. This partners with love. It partners with work. It partners with meaning. These ideas and the feelings associated with them. The deep motives in us. Are all bound up together in one simple Mobius strip. Four related ideas like the four sides of a rectangular strip of paper that is twisted and the ends attached to make one surface. One thing.

One idea with various constituents. The beauty-love-meaning-work idea. Feeling. The idea that informs us humans. The feeling that informs our work. Informs our relationships with others. Informs our relationship with God. Our understanding of what we do and where we are.

Our sense of the story in which we find ourselves. Informs our sense of what is meaningful and what is not. Informs our sense of what is beautiful and what is not. Informs our sense of our place in the world, our place in the story of the world, our purpose, our contribution, our role, our redemption. In a way.

An idea-feeling that ramifies. That extends like a field maybe. Or like a string. Or a pipe. Or maybe four strings. Four pipes. Sounding four notes simultaneously that form a chord. Or that played separately as notes or combined in various ways make for a simple song. A song that might be played on a panpipe or a lyre. A song that forms the way we are. A song that’s deep in us. That plays over and over again with infinite variations.

A beautiful and simple song that sounds a long way off sometimes. Then closer. Then far away again. That we listen for. That we seek to echo somehow in what we do. In who we are. In how we love. In what we make. And how we make it. In what we understand. And what we come to. Where we get to. How we proceed out of our beginnings. And finally how we end.

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