Thursday, August 30, 2007

some notes on john ruskin

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"imperfection is in some sort essential to all that we know of life. It is the sign of life in a mortal body, that is to say, of a state of progress + change. nothing that lives is, or can be, rigidly perfect; part of it is decaying, part nascent .... no human face is exactly the same in its lines on each side, no leaf perfect in its lobes, no branch in its symmetry. all admit irregularity as they imply change; + to banish imperfection is to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyze vitality."
--john ruskin, the stones of venice (1851-53)

the aestheticism of ruskin is not about perfection. the aethetes' models of beauty derive from classical greece, northern european gothicism, + the early renaissance, when people associated beauty with organic, breathing, palpitating life.

a concept of bodily perfection had to wait for the full fluorishing of the age of machines + mass media in the twentieth century.

today we don't live in an age of beauty + youth, as some people believe. we live in an age of 6-pack implants, anorexia, 30-minute makeovers, + concepts of human beauty based on numbers + charts.

our erotic artists (even the amateur ones we find online) depict, sometimes with clinical precision, human body parts in isolation--perfect torsos minus heads. just as the early christians defaced the heroic nude statues of the greeks + the romans, reportedly out of rage against life-affirming paganism + the statues' unashamed sexual leering--now, we've grown almost to prefer that our models have no heads.

we live in a society that has celebrated sexless, pubeless, animatronic perfection for a while now. our idea of sexy is a corvette convertible--+ human beings similarly streamlined + aerodynamic, with customized frills.

now i sense a revolt of sorts against the disneyfied + mattelized aesthetics of the last century. a new society where sexual vigor + spirited attitude compensate for asymmetrical noses + balding pates.

social-networking profiles are beginning to voice a preference for pictures with faces + bios with information about tastes + personality, as well as the stats.

i don't mean the phony egalitarian affirmation of flab + dowdiness, out of political correctness, or the rejection of the physical in favor of the intellectual or spiritual, in any religious sense, but rather the realization that a man with a few extra pounds + crooked teeth can still dazzle with animal magnetism + a robust pulse, in ways perhaps that airbrushed, posing perfection can only envy.

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