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Maynooth Philosophical Papers

Volume 9, 2018

William Desmond
Pages 21-42

The Gift of Beauty and the Passion of Being

This is a reflection on the gift of beauty and the passion of being in light of the fact that today we often meet an ambiguous attitude to beauty. Beauty seems bland and lacks the more visceral thrill of the ugly, indeed the excremental. We crave what disrupts and provokes us. Bland beauty seems to be the death of originality. How then be open at all to beauty as gift? In fact, we often are disturbed paradoxically by beauty: both taken out of ourselves, hence disquieted, yet awakened to our being at home with beauty. Beauty arouses enigmatic joy in us, and we enjoy an elemental rapport with it as other. Surprised by beauty, our breath is taken away; we are more truly there with the beautiful yet taken outside of ourselves: both at home with ourselves and not at home, in being beyond ourselves. We are first receivers of the gift of surprise and only then perceivers and conceivers. My attention to the passion of being stresses a patience, a receptivity to what is other. What happens is not first our construction. Our being disarmed by the beautiful I hold to be in tune with our being as marked most deeply by what I call a primal ‘porosity’ to being. Beauty sensuously communicates in and through this awakened porosity. We are a patience of being before we are an endeavour to be. In modern aesthetics and culture, originating receptivity tends to be downplayed as a depreciation of our claims to creative power. The predominant stress often falls on human autonomy, such that we love only what we construct ourselves, not what we receive. By contrast, I argue there is something of the godsend in what is truly beautiful. This might not be a fashionable way of talking but the vocation of the philosopher is not to be fashionable but to be true.

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