Finding the path of beauty
“This willingness continually to revise one’s own location in order to place oneself in the path of beauty is the basic impulse underlying education. One submits oneself to other minds in order to increase the chance that one will be looking in the right direction when a comet makes its sweep through a certain patch of sky.”
Phew! I am glad I found this quote. It was drumming in my ears as I went on my training run this morning.
Elaine Scarry may have been referring to Education here, but I can’t really separate life and Education; life is education.
The idea that struck me was the bit about increasing your chances that you are in the right place to see something worth seeing, or to experience something worth experience, or to learn something worth learning.
This morning the Carol Kirkwood gave the forecast of sun, rain and hail – and she was bang on. I was doing my running-in-contact-lenses-in-the-rain trial – and in minutes the brooding dark became lashing hail and I was first of all soaked through and then covered with wee crumbs of ice. Halfway through the run, the ‘sun came out and dried up all the rain’ and the hail all disappeared and the world was transformed to one in bright and bold colour: green grass, blue sky, white clouds, yellow sun. The shades were out and on and the homeward journey was underway with the word “gazelle” leaping about uncontrollably in my mind as I bounded home.
The “willingness to revise one’s own location” is not a traditionally ‘Scottish’ trait, certainly in physical terms. If you were to wait until it were sunny to go out and do something, if it were sunny and you got yourself organized, by the time you were out there it would be raining again. The trick is to go anywhere as planned, despite the weather – and once there, there is at least the chance that you might catch a nice blast of sun, heat, or – whatever it is you are after. There is a pattern of Scottish behaviour that I am certainly guilty of; when the first hot day of the year comes, I spend that day making a mental list of things we could do with for the garden, and then going in the oppressive heat in the car to B&Q and buying stuff, bringing it back to the garden and then the midges coming out, the darkness falling and a return to depressing temperatures ensues. Favourable conditions just don’t turn up. You have to be out there making do – and anything good that happens is a bonus, or indeed a joy.
But Scarry, I think, is suggesting that this flexibility in location is to do with – perhaps – worldview? To see things from someone else’s perspective? To do a bit of a Scout Finch and stand on the doorstep and see how things look from within another person’s world.
It might sound a bit alarming to say one should “submits oneself to other minds” – but it is daft to argue with someone trying to show you something that they know about, or teach you a skill they have that you want to learn. This submission to an educator – in any context – makes sense. There is no point arguing – you have to trust them and listen to them to see if they do take you to the place where you are in a position to be aligned with “the path of beauty” – when you can see/do/make/experience what you hoped.
Whether or not this submission of the mind is a ‘good thing’ depends entirely on the mind to which you submit your own – for the purposes of your education. Is theirs a perspective worth seeing from? Should you stand on their doorstep and look out at the world?
I think that as long as you are aware that you are only walking around in their shoes and seeing things their way – that you have your own porch to go back to – then it is probably a good thing. You don’t need to adopt their world view – but you can be aware that that is what it is – and that is how things look from ‘over there’.
Of course, when you find yourself in the ‘path of beauty’ – and you are caught up in a moment of reality that is truly yours because of where you have been brought – then, that is yours – and becomes part of your perspective and experience.
Where do you want to stand for a while? What do you want to see? What do you want to learn?