The aspect that attracts me to a painting of a half-opened door is that no one will ever be able to find what is lurking in its shadows. An actual half-opened door can be investigated: the contents of its obscurity can be discovered, published in journals, and thus made public—but the world inside of a painting preserves its enigmas.
What if there were some objective way to determine a person’s level of attractiveness? By asking this, I’m stumbling into the territory that I disparaged above; for my desire is now to quantify something unknowable. Not even the artist herself can tell what she intended to exist within the shadows of her creation; she claims that crows were on her mind in the beginning, but secretly she suspects that they might have only been angels.
Memory is imagination dipped in confidence. Our fancy, however, does not fabricate from whole cloth: it refracts existing phenomena. I mean to stress that imagination is less a creator, more a recycler: rather than make up ideas, it refashions them. I think that this is why William Blake wrote:
Every thing possible to be believ’d is an image of truth.
And I read these lines, from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” as the obverse of that same coin:
Only what proves itself to every man and woman is so,
Only what nobody denies is so.
To ponder the concept of beauty is one of my favorite hobbyhorses. Above, I asked myself: What if there were a scientific way to prove that a soul is good-looking? I’ve heard people say: “X is cute.” And I’ve heard people say: “Y is ugly.” Now it seems obvious to me that if Y overhears this judgment, it will hurt his feelings. Compassionate saviors, to avoid causing this type of harm, make blanket statements like: Everyone is beautiful! Nevertheless, each individual human remains naturally attracted to X and repelled by Y. However, if a machine were invented which could establish indisputably that Y looks fetching, then humankind, one and all, would lust after Y; moreover, we could finally stamp the bold word TRUE on that declaration: Everyone is beautiful!
But what is the purpose of being so good-looking? Lo, now that each citizen of our universe has been certified as authoritatively gorgeous, everyone is lusting after everyone: What comes next? Is there an end to all this attraction, beyond lovemaking? And if lovemaking is the end, then are offspring the point? OK. So all offspring grow up and increase and multiply fruitfully. God told the humans that he made (in the book of Genesis, 1:28) to “replenish the earth, and subdue it.” My question is: Are we there yet?
Maybe it’s unfair of me to speak as if beauty’s only purpose is to bait souls toward the trap of copulation. Who cares about purpose, anyway? Normally I am outspoken against the concept of usefulness, and wary of the mania for reason. So why can’t splendor exist just for its own sake? In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The Rhodora,” a lone instance of that flower is addressed by the poet’s voice:
Tell them, dear, that if eyes were made for seeing,
Then Beauty is its own excuse for being
The reason I’m appalled by overpopulation is that I myself desire to be the top dog (I was made in the image of one who wants to be the Top God); but I’m sensitive and bad at wrangling: so, as the species increases, the likelihood of my winning its affection diminishes. I recall with bitterness a fellow student in kindergarten who was more charming than me: I wanted to be our class’s sole comedian, but everyone laughed at him, and all the girls said he was cute. Plus, on my first day of school, I met a kid who had the same name as me—this left me in shock: I felt that my identity had been disintegrated.
My dad once told me that he hated how language allowed multiple terms to have the very same meaning—he said he’d prefer if there were only one word per thing. This is surely where I inherited my penchant for despotism; but there’s something in me that’s absolutely the opposite: for I still can’t believe that any two beings can share a label. There’s so much uniqueness in every individual, each soul deserves at least more words than a painting—therefore, since Science Itself has proven that every image is worth one thousand words, I declare that we all, like God, should have infinite names.