Scarry gives us a grammar of the beautiful. A grammar which connects us with the other essential realms of existence-truth and justice. Scarry's compact, dense meditation on beauty, salted with unexpected analogies and turns of phrase that make you want to compulsively copy them out by hand, is pious in the ancient sense of the word: giving due honor. Coming out of the academy and writing a book based on lectures within the academy, Scarry quietly rebukes that very milieu, which has denounced beauty for detracting us from injustice, while simultaneously denying the possibility of something called truth (effectively severing beauty and goodness and truth). She reminds us that, etymologically, 'fair' connotes both beauty and justice, and that beauty incites us to describe beauty accurately, to seek the truth behind it and convey it to others. Scarry's work is an antidote to the superior cynicism which sees no relationship between the aesthetic and the ethical. 134 pp.
An Eighth Day View:
Have we become beauty-blind? For two decades or more in the humanities, various political arguments have been put forward against beauty: that it distracts us from more important issues; that it is the handmaiden of privilege; and that it masks political interests. In "On Beauty and Being Just" Elaine Scarry not only defends beauty from the political arguments against it but also argues that beauty does indeed press us toward a greater concern for justice. Taking inspiration from writers and thinkers as diverse as Homer, Plato, Marcel Proust, Simone Weil, and Iris Murdoch as well as her own experiences, Scarry offers up an elegant, passionate manifesto for the revival of beauty in our intellectual work as well as our homes, museums, and classrooms.
Scarry argues that our responses to beauty are perceptual events of profound significance for the individual and for society. Presenting us with a rare and exceptional opportunity to witness fairness, beauty assists us in our attention to justice. The beautiful object renders fairness, an abstract concept, concrete by making it directly available to our sensory perceptions. With its direct appeal to the senses, beauty stops us, transfixes us, fills us with a "surfeit of aliveness." In so doing, it takes the individual away from the center of his or her self-preoccupation and thus prompts a distribution of attention outward toward others and, ultimately, she contends, toward ethical fairness.
Scarry, author of the landmark "The Body in Pain" and one of our bravest and most creative thinkers, offers us here philosophical critique written with clarity and conviction as well as a passionate plea that we change the way we think about beauty.