ugly beautiful


I have just turned the house upside down looking for a book, in order to commence this blog, and still haven’t found it. The book in question is Sport 37. I wanted to write about a particular passage in the very excellent short story, Descent from Avalanche, by Eleanor Catton. I can’t really describe very well what the passage sews up – a sort of rumination on the woman’s physicality and appearance and the power she finds her aesthetic ordinariness – but I have been thinking about that passage in particular, off and on, ever since I read the story. It has made me think a lot.

About beauty and what it is and why we should happen to care so much about it. About beauty in art (in whatever form art might take). Beauty as the elusive yardstick. The thing everyone trips over to get to. Or covets, or begrudges in the beautiful others. The golden rule. The Paris Hilton paradigm. The quest that most often ends in something that isn’t entirely what you’d call happiness.

When I find Sport I will post the passage as a comment. I think I am allowed to do that. I’m not sure if it’s infringing any copyright rules.

I’m not really interested in a world where everything is deliberately and manipulatedly and conventionally beautiful. I don’t watch The Hills, for example. I am fascinated by red carpet events, true, but not just for the obvious reasons. I like to marvel at the spectacle of them. (I also like marvelling at pretty dresses that cost more than I earn in a year.)

 This is the building we looked out on from the balcony of the apartment where we were staying in Auckland last week. There is something quite intriguing and glorious about it. We spent quite a bit of time pondering its being. And we never got to the bottom of the reason for its existence (it’s definitely not an old apartment block, we determined that much), which only added to the mystery factor. 

I often refer to Umberto Eco’s book, On Ugliness (a nice run-through of the depiction and significance of ugliness in art through time, but I’m not convinced it is worth the $100 I spent on it).

I am far more interested in ugly/ordinary things. As subject matter.

Last week, also in Auckland, I decided to walk from a meeting on Symonds Street, down K Road, down Ponsonby Road and down to where I was staying in Freeman’s Bay. For old times’ sake.

The K Road stretch isn’t exactly a gorgeous address, but I was struck by its grubby beauty. It took me back.

I actually have to go now and pretty myself up (ha ha) for an excursion outside the house. This requires me to not be in pyjamas, unfortunately, so I had better go and do something about that.


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