Beauty Unlimited

Beauty Unlimited

Beauty Unlimited

Beauty Unlimited

Synopsis

Emphasizing the human body in all of its forms, Beauty Unlimited expands the boundaries of what is meant by beauty both geographically and aesthetically. Peg Zeglin Brand and an international group of contributors interrogate the body and the meaning of physical beauty in this multidisciplinary volume. This striking and provocative book explores the history of bodily beautification; the physicality of socially or culturally determined choices of beautification; the interplay of gender, race, class, age, sexuality, and ethnicity within and on the body; and the aesthetic meaning of the concept of beauty in an increasingly globalized world.

Excerpt

The venerable problem of the One and the Many is nowhere more dramatic than with Beauty—that ultimate value, inescapable in aesthetics, contentious in art, capricious in fashion, and altogether debatable. Inviting yet resisting definition, beauty oscillates between particular and universal. It is a value applicable to objects and scenes in nature, to works of art, and to persons: this mountain pass, this song, this face. And yet what trait could a mountain share with a person? If both are beautiful, is the description univocal? Even within the realm of art, one is hard-pressed to figure out the common link between a beautiful symphony and a beautiful sculpture. Moreover, beauty is a contestable value within the artworld. Is all good art pro tanto beautiful? Or does beauty comprise a more limited range of artistic virtues, ceding equal standing to the grotesque, the sublime, the ugly, and the monstrous?

Plato offered a standard to stabilize the oscillation between individual beauties and the idea of beauty itself. Diotima’s speech in the Symposium recommends that one begin by loving the beauty of a person, the individual beloved, moving from there to the beauty of all boys, then to that of all humans, and thence to the beauty of institutions and abstractions, and finally—almost—reaching Beauty itself, that Form that unites individual beauties by bestowing upon each a portion of its essence. Philosophers, following in the footsteps of Plato, have often focused on the last item in this sequence, hoping ambitiously to unify the many instances of beautiful things—objects, scenes, artworks—under a general concept. This endeavor traditionally has required that one leave behind the starting point of beauty: beautiful bodies incarnate. For only by ignoring the beauty of the human form can one escape the thrall of physical desire and enter the purer world of aesthetic pleasure. Or can one? It is the task of many of the essays in this volume to suggest that the pursuit of Beauty retains at least a trace of some originary eroticism.

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