Two turn tables and a microphone
Aesthetics Professor

A Thing of Beauty

Hands down, the best course I ever took in University was a philosophy course on Aesthetics (the study of beauty). I have yet to find a philosophical tenet which resonates as acutely. It disclosed to me a principle by which I function but hadn't been able to articulate.

It had such great practical applications as well. The professor would start lectures with meditations, listening exercises, and workshops on deep observation.

My takeaway was essentially this:

  • we make choices based on, consciously or otherwise, that which we find more beautiful
  • observation is a skill
  • that which is "worth" seeing can change based on many factors
  • that all observation is influenced or distorted by the context or means by which you observe it

The key outcome was the connection of two ideas, which has served as something of an anchor for me since. Like a great hydron collider of thoughts, suicide and labyrinths, were inextricably smashed together.

This came about by two separate events. The first, a reading of British psychologist, Adam Phillips, which a friend first turned me onto at the time. The second, the following clip from Hamlet.

The scene has Hamlet ascending a staircase, to the edge of a ravine, where he will contemplate taking his life. The first-person, shaky camera work and editing creates a disorienting effect, as though Hamlet is not quite sure where he's going. You could say it depicts something of a labyrinthian quality. In facing his turmoil, Hamlet is, in a sense, taking matters into his own hands. Not only in his would-be suicide, but in allowing himself to get lost (rather than face reality).

"To be, or not to be," is, perhaps, the ultimate question because it cuts so deeply into our reality: we are going to die. And after that lies the possibility of a forever nothingness. But if you're going to favour suffering the "slings and arrows" of life over immediately facing the vacuum of non-existence--if you find the former more beautiful--it helps to do so in a way that, as Phillips points out, keeps you travelling without ever arriving. Hence, labyrinths (of our own making).

How we shape and navigate this is a thing of beauty.