“Beauty should not happen”
LI received a letter from our friend T. in NYC regarding our “beautiful woman” posts. It was addressed to the character in our novel, Holly Sterling – and like a spur in the ribs, it reminded us that we have not been writing the novel in the last week or two. T. has been a regular reader – with red pencil in hand – of the novel.
(Our excuse, our regular excuse, is that since we are close to being kicked out of our apartment, losing our electricity, and in general deprived of the amenities – like a slug under the salt, in other words -- we have other things on our mind. Samuel Johnson, in our humble opinion, might have been wrong – the threat of imminent hanging doesn’t wonderfully concentrate the mind – it fatally scatters it. Of course, we don’t claim to have the highwayman’s strong character. Or perhaps we have a different sense of the drama of our ending. Its sheer pettiness is insurmountable).
But to get back to T.’s letter – if you haven’t read the Beautiful Woman posts, it won’t make any sense to you. Go and read them – they begin two posts back.
We’ve edited and shortened the letter a bit.
You must obviously wonder of this intrusion. Its true that it is embarrassment that is at the forefront of my mind as I write to you; I ask and assume too much of your attention. After all, our first and only meeting was so brief that you can’t possibly remember this admirer, I could not have made any impression whatever; and, after all, you were already dead.
Although you are dead, I've heard stories of your beauty. Secondhand stories, its true, and none of them ever mentioned the color of your hair, and a few told me of your accent, but the last fact was not presented as integral to your beauty. No, I actually do not know how beautiful you were, but I can imagine....the fewer and sparer the tales, the more space for my imaginings. Anyway, I'm rather appreciative of beautiful women, and I've recently read a little book that gave me much cause to think about beauty, and divinity, and divinely beautiful women....I thought I might share this with you.
Will I offend you so much if I speak of Pierre Klossowski; will you be offended if I even merely invoking a few references in order to tell you a bit about beauty? Realize that as a beauty, you perhaps have little to say beyond the seeming affect it has had on others. That is your first person (if you will have one at all). My first person account is as pure as it can be on this matter. A reasonable concern of yours: Is what he [LI] has to tell me merely scopic? Perhaps; some would argue “Indeed and only.” Well, then, since you cannot have even a taste of the scopic (according to those who say “Indeed and only”), then I will offer a few observations from that place that cannot be yours.
I swear Holly, I'm not a pervert, but an author that dares to contemplate possible conclusions to the saga of Diana at her Bath as PK, is an author that I need more of in my life. Will you be offended by that possibility that Acteon, not quite all a stag, left hand still in human form, groping Diana’s breast, at the brink of penetrating the goddess in human form whereupon he is set upon by the ravenous hounds that rip him apart, drenching Diana in blood; or, alternatively, Acteaon wearing the bloody head of a stag upon his own, seduced by the goddess, rapturously on top of her….
No, I am not a pervert, but give me myth, Holly dear, just don't ask too much of my faith; engage me in tales of wondrous plausibility, and I will never demand that you tarry with the truth; you are dead Holly, which renders this the beginning and the end of our correspondence, but let me know the story of your beauty.
Divinity unto uselessness, if you prefer a theme.
Did the persona behind Limited, Inc. ever tell you one tale of the Invisible Woman? No, well, LI should have, for it might inform you of what is to come, and what becomes of you. The beautiful woman, such as yourself, need not be here, or there, exactly; its (please excuse and pardon me: your) presence is not always a matter of proximity, but intimate contact, at a distance or otherwise.
That sensation when one is before beauty, when one espies it, that then one is nearer to the "religious gravity" that Barthes finds the Lover provides. I am a far less discerning man; I need not the magnitude of a Lover – any beautiful woman will do. Contact at a distance; contact without the often unavailable or inconvenient facts and particularities of proximity; such is the space that I am trying to explain; I’m sure you have occupied that space, knowingly or not; think back to times before your demise…the attention of their conversation… the casual embrace….the touch at your wrist or shoulder…a glance from across the room: all of them abstract and indistinct in their formality, seemingly ordinary.
Preceeding that space?: Waiting. It is an unknown; that one, beknowst to one or not, is always waiting for beauty - that one is there only because one should not be there. Beauty should not happen; there is no apparent teleology to the encounter, it is rare and awkward and unusual. Although miracles surely do happen, one cannot predict them for they have no place amidst the rigors of prediction and verification; brilliant and extreme (the dictionary indicates of ‘beauty’ (etymologically related to 'bounty')); but it is all so much a matter of what beauty DOES - thus the examples that one might mine from the History of Western Lit., from Helen to Mademoiselle Marnaffe and to a more current date (the Dulcinea del Tobloso is a peculiar case, to be sure, but enough of my parody of erudition!). A beautiful woman does nothing for me, she is superfluous, unnecessary; yet she immediately ends that waiting and therefrom does that impressionistic sense of space and color ensue - wholly human for she is seen as a beautiful woman, but also ethereal; thus, a moment formally sublime.
What did your beauty do Holly? That is the story that I want to hear.
There is, of course, never anything normal about the peculiar charms of a beautiful woman - arms ever too long, face far to piqued, nose rather askew, hands very much too small, etc… but usually a disorganization well short of anything that might be a fetish. What is IT? Yes, what is it? It is, at least, that rare moment of apperception wherein one finds oneself amid both those things that are real and their unreal relations and affiliates, where simulacra are welcomed, as are shadows and echoes; where poses and masks are intimate and alluring.
“Beauty” as a word can only emerge (as it did), don't you think, Holly dear, after all the bother of the period of courtly love? One does not take on burdens and challenges inspired by beauty, one does no great deeds intoxicated by beauty for beauty, no matter how delirious one might become in the presence of beauty, there is neither obedience, nor loyalty, nor service to beauty (unless, of course, one is engaged in some part of the all so pernicious "beauty industry"; but that is far far apart from my fixation at present), while there may be inspiration in the seeing, there is nothing particularly ennobled by such inspiration. Ah, ideals, and idealistic and idyllic ways of telling of them!
A small confession, Holly dear, I am a limited man, a man devoid of grand themes and epic scales, without even the slightest hope of a Form. I have only and merely my few tales, fewer of which I know very well at all. I write to you only as an admirer of beautiful women.
The beauty that recurs as opposed to the fashion of a time; the beauty that remains, adorned or not; yes, that's the one. While a pretty girl may be like a melody, a beautiful woman is a requiem.
Perhaps, Holly dear, you became only a motif or a type. But be of good courage: becoming a woman of substance was never in your stars… to your benefit, if I don’t say-so myself. You will, like every other beauty, remain at a distance, connected to me no matter that distance, in fictive space, or otherwise. My shame, indeed, should either of us take the guise of the Object – that is reserved for my indiscretion: that I might become a nusiance and bother, interrupting your view of what it is that is of you attention.
Diana at her Bath? Pierre Klossowski? How might I get from mere beauty to the divine? All reasonable questions Holly dear.
“Only divinity is happy with its own uselessness.” There is, for us mere mortals, a terrifying vertigo to this aimless and useless existence; we require obscurity and false clarity. Here is the intimacy of divinity and beauty: beauty is its own uselessness; beauty requires as little relation to the sexual act as does love or the needs of procreation, as does any divine one.
Apprehending beauty is the end of the waiting that is integral to every other moment not proximate to beauty (moments unto that ceaseless cycle).
Again, under threat of boredom: What does beauty DO? The same question might be posed to divinity of mythological time: the tale of the gods is what they DO. “This mountainous horizon, these woods, this vale and these springs, do they thus have no reality except in her absence? […] The more absorbed I become in the appearance of these objects, the better I see what the breeze is tracing: her forehead, her hair, her shoulders – unless a more blustery wind is creasing her tunic farther into the hollow of her thighs, above her knees. […] More than ever I experience the dignity of the space as the most reasonable enjoyment of my mind, the moment her forehead, her cheeks, her neck, her throat and her shoulders take shape there and dwell there, the moment her unendurable gaze explores and her nimble fingers, her palms, her elbows and legs slice and strike the air.”
From the affect of beauty on the beholder, to Diana’s visage at her bath: “…yet this body, in which she will manifest herself to herself, she actually borrows from Actaeon’s imagination.”
I, in the company of a beautiful woman can no more dominate her than I might submit myself to the her; I can only be submitted by that unknown force of beauty and that made that moment of the encounter inevitable.
One visage of that force is the Daemon, the intermediary between the god and man, between the beautiful and the beholder: “It is I who teach you this, O Actaeon, I whose external form, malleable to the will of the gods, so well lends iteslf to espousing their unfathomable intentions in order to give your senses proof of their arbitraty existence.” Beauty interrupts the continual and recurring flow of obscurity unto arbitrariness. In mythological cases, the Daemon functions as the interruption, in other more temporal and far less dramatic moments, beauty does so.
Such an interpretation: the encounter of Acteon and Diana at her Bath: “This incidence still belongs to the world of irreversible and uninterrupted space: the danger, the risk – like that of the hunt and the bath after the hunt – lies in the fact that the sacred grove of Diana’s bath is situated in this same space, and that numerous paths which seem to lead nowhere run into that very place.”
Yes, it is that “morose delectation” of Actaeon that I savor every so often.
“’What I saw, I cannot say what it was.’ Not that what one cannot say, one might not more fully understand, nor that one cannot see what one does not understand. Actaeon, in the myth, sees because he cannot say what he sees: if he could say it, he would no longer see. Yet Actaeon, meditating in the grotto, confers on Actaeon suddenly busting into the sacred in which Diana is bathing, the following remark: I shouldn’t be here, that’s why I’m here. The real experience, however, would boil down to an absurd proposition: I was supposed to be here because I was not supposed to be here.”
Nunc tibi me posito visam velamine rares
Si poteris narrare, licet - Ovid
[Now you may tell you saw me here unclothed,/If you can tell at all.]
“As soon as one analyzes these words, one notes in them both the provocation and the irony […] The provocation: Say it, then, describe Diana’s nudity, describe my charms, that no doubt what you’re waiting for, what your fellow men would love to know. The irony: If you can tell at all!”
A beautiful woman, then, is a fragment that is not of a whole, before or after the encounter with her. The “system” of her beauty is never wholly psycho- or social. Her beauty is without the obligations of language and consciousness (thus, speechless and thoughtless). “She is a beauty, no matter her features.” – Diana Vreeland. If you can tell at all. The particular features of a beautiful woman are accidental; she is a phantasm without essence. As a phantasm, possession is without concept.
Yes, Holly dear, you are sterling, like every beautiful woman; never once did you go lightly or gently.
But now my imagination has taken-over, trespassing both beauty and fantasy. I have failed to even indicate the beauty of a woman that arises only in conversation; you and I, of course, will never converse.