15. In just a few more years, the current homogenized “voice” of business—the sound of mission statements and brochures—will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court.
i’ve been thinking a lot about my readings for class this week. it might surprise very few of you that i often contemplate the notion of “beauty.”
maybe it is because i am a woman–a woman constantly made aware of how i look to men. or maybe it is because beauty is everywhere.
or maybe it is because our mass media is always forcing the contemplation of beauty into my thinking.
i dislike providing one-answers to my thoughts, so i’ll go with the optimal: it is probably all of the above, and more. nevertheless, beauty is in my thoughts as much as i worry over how it is—or isn’t—written on my body.
so to return to the movement of contemplation:
i read and reread Anne Frances Wysocki’s “The Sticky Embrace of beauty” where she rhetorically analyzes an ad by the Kinsey Institute that displays a woman’s bare ass. (i have posted a picture of this picture on my TL if you’re at all curious.) Wysocki does what i am apt to do: pull in some philosophy to make a point.
Her philosophical lean is Kant, and his particular brand of theory on aesthetics. now i have resisted Kant’s theory since i first read him for the first time back in 2000. Like Wysocki had mixed reactions to this ad, i have always had mixed reactions to Kant. His work seems useful enough, but it irritates me greatly.
Yet, whenever asked why he irritates me, i have trouble answering.
Well, here i’ll attempt a response to Kant, and to beauty. Wysocki points out how the woman in the picture represents beauty—that her supple, perfectly (airbrushed) body works as an object of an aesthetic. Immediately, i think about how none of us, not even this model, have a body inherently without flaw. Every body wears blemish.
But our society would have us want otherwise. We are within a market that tells us that we must wax, exfoliate, bleach, trim, diet, make-up, cover, accentuate, and dress our selves away. Wysocki offers us to agree with Wendy Steiner’s take on Kant to see how the modernists made beauty all about [perfect] form:
We receive a notion that form is about pulling away from what is ‘factitious,’ what is particular, what is messy and domestic and emotional and bodily and coughs and sweats and bloats and wants to talk back and even sometimes touch. We receive a notion of form that not only allows to pull away from all that, but that expects us to pull away, that instructs us—visually, by what it emphasizes—that we are supposed to pull away, be distant, be in our selves away from others, from Others. (166)
Is there a binary here? (answer: there is always a binary) I read this in a way that explains to me why and how the marketing campaigns of beauty keep and hold us. But before that:
Isn’t the body on the Peek layout dissolving into abstract shape? The body is softly focused, fading into the background: we are not being shown this body so as to see any dry and flaking skin on its elbows or to see any monthly bloating or any scars. Instead, we see an unblemished flat white skin abstractly rounded—as though the body were a blank page… (167)
The problem i have with Kant comes from the fact that our society has taken his theory up into itself. Mass culture has permacultured beauty into an abstraction that urges us to spend so much of our money on products and procedures to take us further away from ourselves and—equally important—each other.
If we read Wysocki straight here, we can see how the body, once abstracted and perfected, merely lives on as a text to be written upon. There is enough feminist theory out there to argue this point. However, I want to go somewhere slightly elsewhere.
Of course mass culture promotes this unwriting of the self from the body; why would capitalism benefit from us being ourselves?
If we never had to change who we are, we wouldn’t need to keep buying identity. And that would be bad for business.
So we keep Kant’ing our beauty away into a packaged aesthetic that everyone can agree upon. Woo universal beauty of the masses.
Or not. Without going into detail, i’ll say this of myself: i want to love flaw. Flaws are what make us individuals. They are what separate us from everyone else. But i’m not arguing for individualism; that’s what mass marketing culture sells us every day.
Instead, i am arguing for what i always argue for: heterogeneous homogeneity.
Flaws are what make us, us. Flaws are individual, yet universal. We all have them. I think that, above all else, is beautiful. Anything or anyone who says differently might just be wearing their beauty as a logo.
Wysocki, Anne Frances. “The Sticky Embrace of beauty: On Some Formal Problems in Teaching About the Visual Aspects of Texts.” Writing New Media: Theory and Applications for Expanding the Teaching of Composition. Eds. Anne Frances Wysocki, Johndan Johnson-Eilola, Cynthia L. Selfe, and Geoffrey Sirc. Logan, UT: Utah State UP, 2004. 147-173.