Friday, January 30, 2009

If Our Lives Are Ugly

can we accept beauty?

A portion from Theodore Dalrymple in City Journal:

Leys was sitting in a café where other customers were chatting, playing cards, or having a drink. The radio was on, tuned to a station that relayed idle chatter and banal popular music (you are lucky these days if popular music is banal only). But suddenly, and for no apparent reason, it played the first movement of Mozart’s clarinet quintet, transforming the café into what Leys called “the antechamber of paradise.” The customers stopped what they were doing, as if startled. Then one of them stood up, went over to the radio, and tuned it to another station, restoring the idle chatter and banal music.

There's a grocery store I frequent that plays orchestral or chamber music, most often Vivaldi, while all the others in town play some sort of pop music. There are both contemporary and traditional liturgical worship services at the church in which I belong. Why is there only one grocery store that will play Vivaldi and why are there more folks in attendance at the 11 AM contemporary worship than at the 11 AM liturgical service? Is it that beauty makes us stop? Is it that it refuses to stay in the background, or is it that one must pay attention when there isn't the constant rhythm of popular music?

I may be wrong, but I have a suspicion that beauty takes us outside of ourselves to see the possibility of something greater, and that, in our current culture, makes us uncomfortable, because if what is reflected back exposes the dreariness of our lives, it is almost too much to bear.

Below is Winter from Vivaldi's Four Seasons. My heart always aches from 2:17 - 4:33. Take time to listen.


  1. Beauty is not the only aspect of asthetic pursuits that can take "us outside of ourselves" The ugliness that can be expressed will do so just as succintly if the depth and quality of the medium is equally realized. It just may not be as enjoyable.

  2. Maybe so, but I don't think in the same way. Beauty takes us outside of ourselves toward the 'Other', toward the Numinous, in a way that has a self-forgetfulness quality to it. I think ugliness draws us to something else, but does not have the self-forgetfulness aspect to it. At least this has been my experience.