The Sense of Beauty by George Sanatyana Celebrates 100 Years

picture: Georg Jensen (1866-1935) "Butterfly"

"The sense of beauty has a more important place in life than aesthetic theory has ever taken in philosophy. The plastic arts, with poetry and music, are the most conspicuous monuments of this human interest, because they appeal only to contemplation, and yet have attracted to their service, in all civilised ages, an amount of effort, genius, and honour, little inferior to that given to industry, war, or religion. (...)"

So starts a brilliant incantation of beauty by a smiling prophet and evident genius, George Santayana, published firstly just before 100 years, in September 1896.

"The sense for beauty?" "The sense of beauty?" "The Beauty-Feeling?" - how only to translate the name of this work? - After all, we do not know in fact anything about the beauty! Is it our talent, an indispensable vital creative function or even a basic instinct on the level of senses? Or does the beauty have its sense in itself, even before there was mankind, and also once when it will not be any more? - But the last one mentioned Santayana probably does not consider as his start-point. So, he shows that he is (in spite of some opposite hints of his) that he is a realist in the today's, not in the medieval sense:

"Things are interesting because we care about them, and important because we need them. Had our perceptions no connexion with our pleasures, we should soon close our eyes on this world;..."

Santayana is a Spanish aristocrat with his clothes changed for an American professor. Maybe, he is in fact the incarnation of St. Augustine or of an ancient author of Bhagavad-Gita. The incense in front of St. Mary's altar namely mixes in his works - in a rather new-age way - with the Hindu fragrant sticks. Anyhow, because he speaks about the butterflies' beauty Darwin-like, we can see, that in his complete "turn to vapour" //REM: here used Hindu term for loosing body while blessing and identifying with BRAHMA// and from his entire saint-declaring prevented him only the fact that he had to have his lectures on Harvard College in the years 1892-95.

All human functions may contribute to the sense of beauty.

"...The heaviness of sleep seems to fall first on the outer senses, and of course makes them incapable of acute impressions; but if it goes no further, it leaves the imagination all the freer, and by heightening the colours of the fancy, often suggests and reveals beautiful images. There is a kind of poetry and invention that comes only in such moments. In them many lovely melodies must first have been heard, and centaurs and angels originally imagined."

His catholic experiences with the beauty of the Holy Virgin Santayana generalised in one of the most poetical, but also the most realistic, and in fact the most purely theoretical chapter, that 47th, about The Religious Imagination. Will you persuade yourself into what a new way to belief he turns us: CREDO, QUIA PULCHRUM!

Starting from some personification of nature or some memory of a great man, the popular and priestly tradition has refined and developed the ideal; it has made it an expression of men's aspiration and a counterpart of their need. The devotion of each tribe, shrine, and psalmist has added some attribute to the god or some parable to his legend; and thus, around the kernel of some original divine function, the imagination of a people has gathered every possible expression of it, creating a complete and beautiful personality, with its history, its character, and its gifts. (...)
Perhaps it is a sign of the average imaginative dulness or fatigue of certain races and epochs that they so readily abandon these supreme creations. For, if we are hopeful, why should we not believe that the best we can fancy is also the truest; and if we are distrustful in general of our prophetic gifts, why should we cling only to the most mean and formless of our illusions?

But this is not only a tractatus about the creation of the saints and about Amadeus. It is also a detective story dealing with de-masking the practices of the image-building of politicians, pop-stars and sports-people. (Here reverberates Kryl's "people glorifies new saints", too.) //= from a poetry of the national protest-song poet Kryl, criticising the conditions after XI. '89//

And if "the world would be desperate without a tale" (that testimony Svatopluk Cech and Leos Janacek in their Fiddler's Child), which from the fables is the most beautiful, and so - as we hope - also the most educatively efficient, so that it would be able to keep the society together and alive? Does Santayana write here in the name of CIVITAS DEI or Darwin; Plato and Kant - or maybe pragmatism? - But what a sort of a pragmatist can he be if he expresses himself in such a way:
(§4 Work and play)
"...Uselessness is a fatal accusation to bring against any act which is done for its presumed utility, but those which are done for their own sake are their own justification.
At the same time there is an undeniable propriety in calling all the liberal and imaginative activities of man play, because they are spontaneous, and not carried on under pressure of external necessity or danger. Their utility for self preservation may be very indirect and accidental, but they are not worthless for that reason. On the contrary, we may measure the degree of happiness and civilisation which any race has attained by the proportion of its energy which is devoted to free and generous pursuits, to the adornment of life and the culture of the imagination. For it is in the spontaneous play of his faculties that man finds himself and his happiness. (...)"
"Work and play here take on a different meaning, and become equivalent to servitude and freedom. ..."

x x x

" amount of effort, genius, and honour, little inferior...", this sound in our ears when we browse in a music-shop among hundreds published recordings. Why?? Why do people exert all this effort? Or do they play in this way? And where does the Beauty dwell? Who will explain it for us??
- Maybe someone again after a hundred of years...



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