George Inness (May 1, 1825 – August 3, 1894) belonged to the second generation of the so-called Hudson River or Hudson River Valley School, the first distinctively American school of painting. In his early work, Inness advances the “luminist” tendency of his precursors (Thomas Cole, Asher Durand, Frederic Church, Albert Bierstadt, and others); and like them, he is almost exclusively a landscape painter, interested in the effects of light on mountain, valley, plain, lake, ocean, and sky. In his later work, Inness innovates in the direction of Impressionism. The Hudson River painters were American Romantics, steeped in the nature-philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson and his followers, but also conversant with the late-medieval tradition of reading nature as the outward sign of the supernatural (think Jakob Boehme), a tendency that culminates in the strange but influential writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. Inness occasionally identified himself as a Swedenborgian.
Edmund Alexander “Ed” Emshwiller (February 16, 1925 – July 27, 1990) was a commercial artist and illustrator and later, in the 1960s, an auteur of so-called experimental film. He is notably identified with the science fiction genre, having contributed scores of covers to Galaxy magazine, and other similar periodicals, in the 1950s and 60s. Emshwiller’s illustrations also graced many a paperback cover, as in the case of the Ace paperback edition of John Brunner’s Atlantic Abomination. I have posted Emshwiller’s Abomination (so to speak) previously at The Orthosphere. It is time to display it again. Emshwiller’s painting instantiates the possibilities that lay within the popular and commercial genres of art in the middle of the last century. It is a powerful image with many resonances in the archives of painting and drawing, which, to my mind, speaks deeply to our condition.
I invite commentary on Emshwiller’s image, or indeed on Brunner’s story, his lone foray into H. P. Lovecraft territory, should anyone have read it.
P.S. I call dibs on any That-Woman interpretation of the image.
Filmmaker Whit Stillman has managed with considerable aplomb to avoid the clichés of the romantic comedy, a genre within whose parameters he nevertheless works, not least in his fourth film of five, Damsels in Distress (2011). In addition to being a romantic comedy, to the extent of transforming itself in its denouement into a 1930s guy-gets-girl musical number, with Fred Astaire’s voice patched into the soundtrack, Damsels in Distress is a college film. Because Stillman understands the meaning and function of college, his college film is also a film about civilization – or rather about the current degeneracy of what used to be Western Civilization, as made manifest by the decline of higher education. In Damsels in Distress, Stillman has undertaken to represent what I once, in a casual essay, half-jokingly called subscendence, a kind of active anti-transcendence that seeks the lowest level in everything; but Stillman has also created a set of characters, in his eponymous damsels, who, discerning subscendence and judging it repellent, rally themselves to mount resistance against it.
The Orthosphere yesterday reached 1,000 posts since we began writing here in early 2012. Meaningless in itself, this passage nevertheless marks a milestone. It is fitting then to reflect on how well we have met our original purpose, of providing a traditional, orthodox Christian perspective on the maelstrom ever in progress here on Earth.
EH Looney writes somewhere that, “Antiquity is the prologue; modernity is the epilogue.” If so, then what came between antiquity and modernity – the age between the ages, the Mediaeval Age – is the main matter of history, its greatest intensification of value and significance so far. What came before it was a prolegomenon; what came after, merely after. This is nowise to deprecate the achievements either of ancient or modern civilization, but only to put them in perspective.
How does homosexuality – so obviously lethal to reproductive success – keep propagating? It’s really quite simple.
When I read Moira Greyland’s horrifying account of her repeated sexual molestation as a child at the hands of her homosexual parents, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Walter Breen, everything suddenly clicked into place. It’s not so much that there’s a gay gene (although there might be); or a gay virus (ditto); or a preconscious nisus among gays to spread their perversion through predation upon the young, “waking up the natural homosexual feelings that all people have,” so that they themselves can feel that they are somewhat more normal and unobjectionable (seems not unlikely); or that homosexuality is a search for the approval of an absent or distant or mad parent (a reasonable theory, prima facie). All these factors might be at work. But they are not needed to secure the propagation of homosexual behavior down through the generations.
Our aesthetic evaluations are moral imperatives. Beauty presents itself to us not just as an appearance, but as an appeal, and as an alluring proposal for how we might live, and indeed therefore ought to live. If we had no practical interest in beauty and its reproduction in and by our acts, it would be to us dead, flat, mute. It would be, precisely, uninteresting. We would not find it significant or important. Indeed, we would not even notice it.
And aesthetic evaluations cannot but be moral evaluations.
To find one thing more beautiful than another is to find it better; to find it uglier is to find it worse.
Our interest in the beautiful is our interest in discovering how we might be better.
Ugliness contrariwise presents itself as a caveat. It is repulsive. Disgust is the “ugh” in ugliness. It is an aesthetic evaluation of experience that motivates us to take action. We want to flee from it, and we ought to do so. To find a thing repulsive is to find that avoiding it is proper, morally appropriate – good.
Being eo ipso moral evaluations, aesthetic feelings are a guide to morals.
Beauty and ugliness then are moral imperatives. They tell us how we ought to live – not just we ourselves individually, but we together, communally. To feel that a scene or a tune is beautiful is to feel that it is just and proper for society to be so ordered as to reproduce its sort more often; to feel that it is ugly is to feel that society ought to be so ordered as to prevent it and its ilk.