Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Meme: Beauty in the 20th Century

Blog-friend Mark had a good idea for a meme:
The 20th century gave us much that was not beautiful such as the Killing Fields, Auschwitz, Holodomor, Stalingrad, and that list continues much too far. However, every age has beauty to claim as its own. Doestoevsky claimed that “beauty would save the world.” In this vein it seems imperative that we remark and remember beauty that is in our midst.

This particular meme invites the partipants to name five things of transcendent beauty that were discovered or created in the last 100 years. Name them, explain why you find it beautiful and then instead of tagging N others to pass it along, if you read this and think beauty important … take it up!


Here goes. Note that these are "five things of transcendent beauty that were discovered or created in the last 100 years," not "the most beautiful five things created in the last 100 years."

1. Michael Jordan's Dunk

Jordan epitomized the combination of ferocity and beauty that represent sports at their most beautiful.

2. The Blue Marble



The definition of "transcendent." Just mind-blowing.

3. E = mc2

Terrible violence and incomprehensible power in such a little equation. I believe it may very well kill all of us. Today, incidentally, is the birthday of Robert Oppenheimer, who quoted the Bhagavad-Gita after the first nuclear explosion: "Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

4. Imagine, John Lennon.

So haunting in the distance between reality and utopia.

5. 2001: A Space Odyssey



I surprised myself with this one. I don't even really like this movie, because it's so slow I can't stand to watch it. But film was by far the most important art form of the 20th century and I just can't say that any other movie is as beautiful.

18 comments:

CyberKitten said...

Earth from space is quite pretty isn't it?

G said...

Imagine, John Lennon.

So haunting in the distance between reality and utopia.


Oh, it's haunting all right...in that it scares the bajeezus out of me.

You really think that song depicts utopia?
This is a good read on that idea(it's long)

CyberKitten said...

g said: Oh, it's haunting all right...in that it scares the bajeezus out of me.

Huh...? You find 'Imagine' *scary*... really? How...? Why...? [looks totally bemused]

Jewish Atheist said...

g:

You can appreciate the wistfulness of Lennon's desire for Utopia without agreeing with him on what it would look like, right? I think a lot of what affects me about that song is how naive it seems. He was so hopeful, as a lot of people in that time were hopeful, that something like the utopia he described really was possible.

Yes, any student of history will tell you that without religion, men will find something else to kill and die for, without countries, we'll create our own groups to go to war with against other groups. That's exactly the source of the pathos I hear in that song.

As for your linked piece, I only skimmed it (it is long) but I have trouble taking someone who acts like a Jew becoming a Hare Krishna is the most devastating thing that could ever happen any more seriously than I take Lennon's starry-eyed idealism. There's nothing quite so ridiculous as a member of one religion getting all worked up about someone becoming a member of a different religion.

Come on, tell me this isn't absurd:

So we’re shootin’ the breeze, the three Hebrew Hare Krishnas and I, discoursing in the recently resurrected and unsurpassably gorgeous idiom of the biblical prophets and kings, and finally, well, I just lose it. “What the hell are you doing here?” I blurt out, diverging slightly from the pleasantly banterish tone which has informed the conversation thus far. “You are Jews! You are Israelis, for God’s sake! What the hell are you doing here, in this place, on a Friday morning, wearing these clothes, chanting those words, and selling that book?!” Now in those pious days I used to read the Tora from the pulpit every week in synagogue, and since one has to rehearse continually, I never left home without the Pentateuch in my pack. At this moment, then, amazed at the extent of my own coolness, I reached back over my shoulder into my knapsack--the way I’m positive Robin Hood used to extract an arrow from his quiver--and just basically whipped out the Five Books of Moses. (Thwack!) “That’s not your book,” I cried, indicating the decorative and abridged Bhagavad-Gita Ofer was clutching like it was a newborn infant. “This”--and I resoundingly slapped the raggedy, worn-and-torn volume in my own hands--“This is your book!”

G said...

My bad, I was unclear.

It is a good read as it relates to the ideas behind Lennon's song.

Take him seriously or don't take him seriously, there is still worth in his opinion on the song.

You can appreciate the wistfulness of Lennon's desire for Utopia without agreeing with him on what it would look like, right?

Come again? Can I appreciate Mao Zedong's desire for a more perfect civilization w/o agreeing with what it looked like?

G said...

Seriously, find some time and read it...may surprise you (may not, true, but that's the cost of being open to surprises)

Jewish Atheist said...

Can I appreciate Mao Zedong's desire for a more perfect civilization w/o agreeing with what it looked like?

Why not?

G said...

Okay, how much of that appreciation has anything to do with HIS desire and how much with THE desire in the abstract?

Random said...

Not going to nitpick JA's list as it's quite a good one - I'm not surprised imagine is there, as I've heard it described as the closest you're ever likely to get to an atheist hymn! But can I play?

1. The DNA molecule. I remember reading how, when Watson and Crick were struggling to crack the secret of DNA they knew they'd got it right when they assembled a model and saw that it was simply too elegant and beautiful not to be true.

2. The Saturn V rocket. Not the first to break the surly bonds of earth, but the first to show us that reaching other worlds was no longer science fiction. Of all the works of human hands this seemed to offer the greatest hope for the future, a hope that sadly has not yet been realised.

3.The Lord of the Rings. I wanted to follow JA's lead and include an artistic work in this list. I tried to think of something profound and serious from the world of music and cinema, but could think of nothing that beat out the work that consistently tops opinion polls for book of the century, if not the millenium. You either get this one or you don't, I suppose.

4.The Spitfire. Probably difficult to explain this one if you're not British (and if you are, you won't need it explained), but if you ask Britons of a certain age to explain the concept of freedom in a single image, many of them will probably come up with something similar to this. For us, R J Mitchell's masterpiece sums up the Greatest Generation.

5.A man made sun. Saving the most controversial for last, this image is of an atmospheric hydrogen bomb test as seen through clouds. But it has a certain hypnotic beauty about it, and if we define "transcendent" as something with the power to permanently change the way we think about the world and our place in it, then it certainly qualifies, and it most certainly belongs to the 20th century. Nothing else has had the power to so dramatically drive home the message that we need to change the way we look at the world and act within it if we are going to survive.

CyberKitten said...

random said: The Spitfire. Probably difficult to explain this one if you're not British (and if you are, you won't need it explained)...

The unmistakable sound of a merlin engine... say no more! Warms my heart it does.....

Jewish Atheist said...

G:

Okay, how much of that appreciation has anything to do with HIS desire and how much with THE desire in the abstract?

Back to Imagine, good art is universal. So in that song I see all of our desire.


Random:

Ooh, DNA! Good list. For whatever reason I just can't get into the Lord of the Rings, books or movies. I guess it's my loss.

Funny how we're both drawn to violent beauty for this list.

Random said...

CK - Thanks for backing me up:-)

JA - It's a testosterone thing, I guess...

G said...

-Okay, how much of that appreciation has anything to do with HIS desire and how much with THE desire in the abstract?

--Back to Imagine, good art is universal. So in that song I see all of our desire.

So it has less to do with his idea of utopia than it does with the idea of utopia in general?

Fair enough.

Tigerboy said...

Utopia, of any description, is just a hair's breadth away from Hell. It is human nature to strive for some state of perfection, yet it is this very desire to strive which gives life its purpose.

The first days of perfection, however you IMAGINE them, would be great.

The second week would start to bore you.

The third month leads you to a strong yearning for some greater purpose. Some noble struggle.

The fourth year finds you wanting something, anything different. You are in Hell.

It's like wishing for immortality. You want it because you know you cannot have it. If you actually got it, one can easily IMAGINE the possibility that it might be horrific.

It is the very frustrations and challenges of life that make it interesting.

It is the omnipresence of death that makes us cherish each healthy, happy, sunny day.

I understand the desire to seek Utopia. Life is about the pursuit of improved circumstances. When we picture something better, we get a bit closer to achieving those improved circumstances.

Just because you can paint a horrific picture of any utopian scenario, does not mean that there are not valuable goals within that vision.

We know that we will never arrive at Lennon's utopia. Perfection is unattainable and probably undesirable. But the world would be a much better, less dangerous place if we could find a way to get along better with one another. He articulates that dream. Greater harmony, among the occupants of this small planet, is a noble goal.

Religion stands squarely in the way of that goal.

Tigerboy said...

By the way, I love 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I love that it doesn't spoon-feed you what it's about. It trusts your intelligence. It wants you to be awestruck! It wants you to contemplate big ideas about man's place in the cosmos.

Yes, it is a bit slow-paced by today's standards, but it wants you to take your time. It wants you to meditate on what it is that you do not understand. It wants you to consider. It wants to blow your mind.

This movie was made before we landed on the moon. And despite several quantum leaps in special effects technology since then, it is still visually inspiring. Every single shot is breathtaking. As is the audio track.

A friend recently asked me: "So, what is it about?"

That's the $64,000. question, isn't it? It's about enigma. It's about knowledge attained. It's about man's relationship with his tools. It's about reaching the next level.

Here's a fun site: www.kubrick2001.com

Cam said...

Followed a link to Mark's site, then to yours because of this meme. When I first read of this meme, I was horrified that I thought immediately of E=MC2 as one of my 5. The discovery of its existence is transcent beauty; the power that it can wrought is what is terrifying. Have to think some of the other 4....

Cam said...

And the blue marble is definitely deserving of inclusion in this list. Transcendent, indeed!

Foilwoman said...

Lovely. I'm going to have to do this.