Emerson on Beauty

Ralph Waldo Emerson was one of my favorite figures of American literature. I was introduced to his work in high school.

I quoted him on nature and books some weeks ago. Nature is a recurring theme in literature, as we’ve seen recently in the words of Blaise Pascal also.

Beauty is a recurring theme in literature also, often as it is related to and derived from nature.

Take, for example, the old adage that ties truth to beauty. This is the Ancients’ conception of truth as related to beauty.

In modern times, truth has become fraught with danger, as can be found with Nietzsche’s warning of nihilism.

As Oscar Wilde said, “Those who go beneath the surface, do so at their peril.”

Both Nietzsche and Wilde died in 1900.

But Emerson removed the philosophical quandaries and focused on aesthetics in saying, “Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art.” He died in 1882.

Of course, modern times then found another philosophical quandary, “How do we define beauty in order to decide what qualifies as art?”

Ultimately, in deciding what beauty there is in truth as well as in art, we should consider how philosophy, aesthetics and the dependence of modernity on ages past.

The humanities are often criticized for their subjectivity. But as we can see from the viewpoints of these three contemporaries, subjectivity allows choice.

 

 

 

 

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