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Conversations With Raymond

Beauty Again

Julie brought me the phone and said it was Mr. LePage, whom you know as Raymond, or Ray.

"Hi Ray. What's up?" Raymond almost never calls me unless he wants something.

"Sorry to bother you, Regi. I promised Christy I'd find out when we can have another talk. I was wondering ...."

I didn't give him time to finish. "All you had to say was that Christy wanted to see me, Ray. She can come any time she chooses, uninvited. She can even drag you along if she chooses. How about Saturday, or today if she likes," I teased.

Oh! Saturday will be great. What time?" Ray asked.

"How about ten?"

"Ten?" Ray hesitated. "That early?"

"Well, I'd suggest nine, but didn't think you'd be up," I said.

"Err, well OK, we'll be there at ten. Thanks Regi," Ray said politely, but obviously reluctantly.

"Good!" I said. "Oh, and by the way, you're welcome to stay for lunch," I added sounding as casual as I could."

I could almost hear the sound of relief on the other end.

"Oh, yes, we'd love to stay for lunch. Thank you so much Regi. See you Saturday."

"Right! See you Saturday, Ray."

I must say Christy was having a wonderful influence on Ray. They arrived a little before ten. They found me in the kitchen having a cup of coffee and enjoying a chat with Julie. She's my very good friend as well as my maid.

Christy give me a hug, and a little kiss on the cheek. "It's a custom I learned in Mexico," she said.

"Very nice custom," I said. "If you two don't mind the kitchen, we can talk right here."

They both seemed pleased with the suggestion and accepted a cup of coffee. Julie brought some of her "tea" cookies, and they both munched on them as we talked.

"The subject is happiness," I began.

Christy was a bit surprised. "I thought we were going to talk about beauty." she said.

"Well, we are," I said. "Happiness just happens to be what beauty is all about."

I paused to let them consider it. Then continued:

"Did you read the little article on humor that I gave you?"

"Yes," they both said.

"I have a couple of questions about it though," Christy added.

"Good!" I said.

"You wrote that the emotions are actually only our being aware of our physical or biological reactions to what we are conscious of. But the emotions seem to be so much more than that. Your explanation makes them seem so mundane and prosaic. My feelings, especially my feelings of love and joy, seem so much more than just physical feelings. How do you explain that?"

"I cannot explain why something seems to be anything, Christy. I do not know, for example, what limits you put on 'physical feelings,' or how you have decided they cannot be the feelings of exultation and joy you associate with love, for example. Why have you decided such feelings cannot be 'physical' feelings? What other kinds of feelings could they be, since the physical is all that we can be conscious of?"

I knew that Christy was religious, though I did not know what her religion was. It had been the subject of my first conversation with Ray about Christy. I suspected it was Christy's belief in the supernatural that was her real difficulty.

"What about the feelings of one's soul?" she asked.

"I thought you might ask something like that, Darling. If by soul, you mean the conscious aspects of one's being, all one can be conscious of is the physical, so the emotions must be one's consciousness of the physical responses of one's physical body. If by soul you mean anything more than that, such as a disembodied "spirit," that can exist without the body, since there is no evidence for such a thing that I know of, how could I possibly address questions about it? But out of curiosity, how do you distinguish between physical feelings and the feelings of your soul?"

"Well, I cannot explain it," she said. "One just knows which feelings are merely physical feelings and which feelings are spiritual feelings." This she said with some emphasis.

"Christy, I would never attempt to change anything you believe. Understand, I'm not trying to convince you of anything, because I believe it is wrong to interfere in others' lives, especially their beliefs and convictions. I admire your adherence to the principles you hold, even though I do not agree with them. But, if you will allow me, I would like to point out two things I think you will agree with."

"Of course," she said.

"He's tricky," Ray warned.

"Thank you, Raymond, for that important observation," I said.

"The first thing, Christy, is that whenever we think we know something, we must be able to say how we know it. It is not necessary to say this to anyone else, but it is absolutely necessary to be able to say it to ourselves. Whatever I believe about anything, I must be able to explain how I know it is true, else what I think I know may just be superstition, or gullibility, an impression, or ignorance." I paused to see how Christy would respond.

"Yes, I agree with that," she said.

"The second thing is that our feelings are never a basis for believing anything. Our feelings, whatever you believe the source of them is, are always a reaction to what we perceive, think, and believe. Feelings always follow what we are conscious of, what we think, and what we believe. If anything we are at the moment seeing, hearing, or thinking changes, our feelings also change. If we are seeing a beautiful sunset we might have feelings of joy or awe, but if while we are watching that sunset we suddenly notice our neighbor's house in flames our feelings will be totally different.

"If we are thinking about someone we love and admire we will have feelings of affection and admiration, but if our current thoughts remind us of something else, perhaps someone else we associate with the one we love and admire, but who was evil and did something despicable, our feelings will become ones of revulsion and disgust. Our feelings are always responses to what we are conscious of, either externally, or our conscious thoughts.

Again, I paused for Christy's reaction.

"Yes, I can see all that," she said with a kind of non-committal aloofness.

"So finally, when you say, 'One just knows which feelings are merely physical feelings and which feelings are spiritual feelings,' do you know it in a way that you can explain, or do you know it by some impression which you cannot explain? Oh, you do not have to answer me, but you must answer that question for yourself. Now, if you don't mind, and I'm sure you won't, let's get back to the question of beauty."

"I told you he was tricky," Ray added. Christy just glowered at him.

"Yes, let's get back to beauty," Christy said. "Your article only addressed what the purpose of humor was, Regi. What exactly is the purpose of beauty?"

I cannot help remarking that I found Christy utterly charming. I know what I had said was challenging for her, but she had remained completely unperturbed. Her question was totally ingenuous.

"It's not exactly beauty that has a purpose, but our ability to recognize and appreciate it. Remember that humor is only our way of recognizing the absurdities of evil that make us superior to evil. So our ability to recognize and appreciate beauty is our ability to directly perceive the world as that which is the source of all possible success, happiness, and joy. Our recognition of beauty, and the feelings that recognition provides, is our ability to enjoy the world directly as the source of all possible good. It is our minds that make us able to know it, it is our aesthetic emotions that make us able to directly experience it. The aesthetic sense is our ability to discover the goodness this world makes available to us, a goodness so profound its discovery fills us with pleasure in just its contemplation."

"That sounds like the beauty of nature. Is that what you mean?" Christy asked. "I certainly see beauty in what is called nature," I said, "but it is not the beauty that environmentalists or ecologists believe they see. What I see in a world capable of beautiful sunsets, grand mountains, and endless plains is the beauty of a world fit for human beings, a world of infinite potential but ruthless and dangerous, requiring the best of every individual. A world that rewards those who recognize what the world offers and embrace it: the greatest adventure possible, the adventure of achieving all one possibly can and of being the best in all things one can possibly be.

"The greatest beauty I see is in every individual who chooses to pursue that adventure, and in all they produce and achieve, most of all, what they make of themselves. Almost everything in the world has aspects of beauty about it, and the only things that are not beautiful are what human beings spoil. Oh, I don't mean "spoil" in the environmentalist's sense, I mean spoil by ignorance, interference, neglect, failure, and outright destruction.

"What I mean by spoil is all the squalor in the world that is the result of those who make no effort to improve themselves or their own environment, their homes, or even themselves, because they do not make an effort to learn what is really good and valuable or the effort to pursue it. I also mean all those places that are blighted because of government interference in business and private lives, and of course all that government has "created" and then neglected. Every failed factory, project, and shopping center is ugly. Of course the results of war, which is nothing but intentional distruction, is always ugly.

"Except for those kinds of ugliness, the world is beautiful for those who understand what beauty is and know enough about the world to appreciate it. One's ability to appreciate and enjoy beauty, like one's ability to appreciate and enjoy humor depends on their knowledge. The less one knows, the less they are able to enjoy beauty."

"The ability to identify, appreciate, and enjoy beauty, is the ultimate human ability. Everything else is aimed at that. The purpose of life is the enjoyment of living. The purpose of the aesthetic sense is to make the highest possible enjoyment available to man, the ability to enjoy existence itself. It is the ability to experience the ecstasy of recognizing ones existence is in a world of exquisite beauty, because it is the source of all that is good and all that is worth living for. If one only lives for a day, and has experienced that bliss which is the recognition of the beauty of existence, it is worth a lifetime."

"That was beautiful, Regi," Christy said without irony.

"Yes it was," Ray added, probably just to agree with Christy.

"What about the arts. Is literature art?" Christy suddenly asked.

"Well its generally considered one of the 'fine arts.'" I said. "Why?"

"I'm a technical writer at the moment, but I intend to be a fiction writer one day, and I am always writing fiction. Is fiction art?"

"Technically it is art. It depends on what one means by art, of course. Art used to mean the creation of something aesthetically beautiful. I'm not sure what art means today. In my own opinion, aesthetics is not the objective of art; the objective of good writing is a well crafted work. Most of what I read and enjoy is good craftsmenship, not art in an aesthetic sense, but it is good, enjoyable, and valuable. Very little literature is able to evoke one's sense of beauty in a way I would call art in the aesthetic sense. I think it is a mistake to confuse art and aesthetics. Art may be aesthetically pleasing, but does not have to be to be good art.

"Most of the best writing does often include aesthetic aspects. It is inevitable that a good writer's work would include descriptions that are evocative in an aesthetic sense and narration that is truly poetic, but they ought not be the objective of good writing, in my opinion," I said.

"Unless one is a poet," Christy suggested with a grin.

"Yes," I agreed. "A good poet. Most are not, I'm afraid."

It was getting near lunch time and I suggested we go to the dining room. I don't think Ray had ever eaten in the dining room, but I thought it was appropriate for the occasion.

The discussion about art continued, and I'll report on that next time.