inner beauty – and the lack of it

The times of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir and the somewhat frivolous times at The Existentialist Café – the times of being,enjoying freedom and striving for more of it and of philosophising over and about Apricot Cocktails are gone [may be they are here 😉] – and sometimes a paradoxical development requires now political correctness that would be countering the understanding that we[re] meant those years. So, even talking about beauty becomes quickly a somewhat tricky topic – easy to drop a brick, or even to cause a tower collapsing. Sure, a problem for many, and for me too.

Be it as it is, when talking to a friend in China, occasionally the term inner beauty came up. I suppose it mainly refers to harmony and ‘contentedness’, making beauty a matter of living ones own life – a bit of La Belle et la Bête perhaps? And as much as this is an individual matter, or a matter to be resolved between beauty and beast, it is also very much a social construct, depending in multiple ways on the space and time we live in. And part of it is the paradoxical attempt to compensate for the lack of inner, of one’s ‘natural’ beauty by a whole range of artificial means – Clothes Make the Man [Gottfried Keller] and in some way we may add: makeup make the woman [ah yes, I know …, as said …]. It is at least interesting to see that – according to Angus Trumble [2004: A Brief History  of the Smile; NY: Basic Books: page 57]

[t]oward the beginning of the current recession, in 2001, American women spent more then $836 million on lipstick, 6% more than the year before. According to Leonard Lauder, chairman of Esteée Lauder, ‘When things get tough, women buy lipstick.’ Perhaps.

Probably this is a matter of striving for some artificial beauty, underlining natural expressions, compensating for ‘unnaturally’ enforced lack of beauty: socio-economic crisis causing too many worry lines and wrinkles – some redistribution from the bottom to the top being implied: at least trying to makeup the way to higher echelons ….

More interesting, I find, is the other case, namely the in fact explicit redistribution from rich artificiality, aiming on making natural beauty possible –

first comes a full stomach, then ethics [Brecht],


first comes a full stomach, then inner beauty can unfold again
[Herrmann, nothing wrong with occasionally forgetting modesty I supose]

So, how to make sure that people can live up to their inner beauty? – again from the book mentioned, here page 61,

by the eighteenth century the French consumed approximately two million pots of rouge each year, of wich a certain proportion was applied to lips as well as cheeks. The reason we can be sure of the figure is that an attempt was made to impose a tax on each pot at a rate of 25 sols, in this case to finance pensions for the widow of poor army officers. Comparable amounts of rose and patchouli scent are consumed by women of rank.

[I did the highlighting; and in this case I do not give out, reading that the money was used to support  widows of army officers – the normal thing: social support first for military servants, then state officials and finally, if at all, for ‘ordinary people’ – looking at cutbacks, we find the reverse order … – and there I give out.

Yes, economy and economics is lurking around every corner, and sometimes it is easier to forget all about it, simply enjoying the inner beauties that are around…


laborious joy

It is a while back already … a small …, well, lets say dispute with Laurent:
A propos, I am very happy with your article. Of course you have problems  to explain your thoughts (you know this) but according to me what you said is very interesting.
I know that you are to some extent right with what you say about my difficulties to explain certain things; however the other half is that we – probably all of us – unlearned accepting that reading and understanding is WORK, the stuff just flying at us is usually unruly rubbish, lacking depth and appearing nicely, deceiving. People jump into the water and … did you ever jump into a pool at the shallow end …, only sometimes you get away with it,
Yes, yes, and in Dutch we should say  tja, tja
Right, reading and understanding is ‘work’. Right. But……it can not be an argument  to write something what can be better articulated.
took a while, Ja Ja …, oder: na eh [that could be Bavarian I guess …]
I think again 50/50, it is too often wrong that things are expressed in simple ways, leaving out the needed provocation, and that was part of that article too. Iin general, from my current experience: we have a major ’translation problem’, actually two problems – and this is important, without joke:
myself, being a hybrid, face again and again the problem that it is nearly impossible to understand things as soon as we ‘leave the box’. There are things in economics we cannot even think, articulate  in law and vice versa. Add political science and sociology and …
Second, I talked the other day with a colleague from Bolivia – she is also working here and asked me for some advise: she has to review an article for a book, the author being from Peru. There we have entirely different understanding of certain legal facts, paradigms etc. The author uses a more or less narrative style. However, somebody else in her project does not understand that and will not accept it, as he is academic in the area of law, strictly. So, while highly qualified, he has at times a narrow approach as well when it comes to putting things into forms. Now, you can do this, it is easy to ’understand’ ,…, and mostly wrong. I guess this is also part of …’s [or who ever wrote it] article on CSR. There had been in the first version [the one I know] at least certain things that cannot be written this way in an international journal: they had been simply wrong – so to be skipped or to be ’translated’ – and such translation would mean: the reader has to work it out. – Sure, in that case, the reader had to be informed about the Chinese context ….
This … had been a more or less great though rare pleasure in China: being together with a Chinese friend, and getting ‘permanently into trouble’, knowing that we need[ed] to work out what we mean. Dictionaries only tell shadows of truth — thus, coming back to the work, somewhat ruthless debate would be good, daring to dispute things, to disagree and speak about it and come to a conclusion …. . It may even end in lasting love if this is the correct term …
—— —— ——
The afternoon of the very day, after sending the last mail I was standing in the Lenbach Haus, the issue returning to me while looking in the one room at some paintings

Carl Friedrich Lessing: Eichenwald mit rastendem Jaeger, 1839

Joseph Wopfner: Haensel und Gretel, 1875

Adolph Henrich Lier: Buchenwald im Herbst, ca 1874

I would say ‘nothing special, though lovely capturing for the moment’. And of course it is hopeless to convey the clandestine, inner beauty by reproducing these works. Also as such beauty is one of the moment, the mood: permanent because immortal and nevertheless quickly elapsing as any shadow does with the change of the light by which it is aroused. It is the mood of the spectator that is part of the spectre.
The question of the said moment, linking paintings and the conversation is somewhat straightforward, presuming that the reader accepts that reading is more than the deciphering of sequences of letters – extensively discussed in semiotics anyway.
Paintings do what academics are expected to do – isolating certain matters, cutting the environment off in order to be able to cut the matter itself into pieces. That is what we see in the paintings: it does not give us any idea of the forest – where it is, its seize, its location in the universe … this way a lot of information is cut-off: not accessible.
  • It is like the surgeon – during some heart surgery the heart is somewhat disjoint from the body, its functions taken over by an artificial machine …, it is no problem, for some time …
  • It is like the economist who calculates opportunity cost when looking at the feasibility of the investment in a new technology – calculations may be for instance conjoined with what is called demographic scenarios, or with an estimated behavior of a competing investor or with any other variable. Even a Richard Thaler or Eleanor Estrom are depending by and large on such contractions – stimulating and still it remains cut off realities.
  • It is like a lawyer, looking at what exactly was happening, but taking it as action, at most as behaviour without being able to understand the entire ’scene’ as part of complex societal practice.
—— —— ——
Have a look at the paintings then – though isolating a small scene, delving enormously into details [especially the one by Lessing applying an extremely fine brushstroke; but also Bear’s, seemingly presenting a broad lash] maintain somewhat magically the universe within the painting
Fritz Baer: Abend im Walde, ca 1914
— the light, the movement … , magically, and requiring to work, with this arriving at the real joy of being spectator and magically e-merging as part of the spectre, playing in the best of its meanings   …
… yes, it may well be that this made life so laborious before the disenchantment, so-called at is still left us with its own bifurcation. And this work makes some prone to populism, and others obsessed to pretended clarity, in particular clarity dressed up in digits.

Easily ending in the death of the theorist and the emergence of data and algorithms in digital social researc.and then in boxing humans.

truth, the small and the large …

Let us go with what is good. First there are the portraits. They dominate in terms of value and numbers. Exhibitions are in danger to alter, being increasingly galleries of portraits only. ‘Art goes for bread.’ The words Lessing suggested to be said by his painter Conti, about 100 years ago, is today even more true. There are not many orders, or even none; and to paint a huge wall painting at a venture …, there are few who can dare doing so. Everybody escapes into the small and family life, because the large and general condemns to starvation. Actual arts is at the loosing end, the portrait on the winning side: the mere effigy emerges occasionally as portrait of an epoch.

my own translation of the following words by Fontane, from his ‘A summer in London

Doch halten wir uns an das Gute. Da sind zunächst die Porträts. Sie prävalieren an Wert wie an Zahl. Die Kunstausstellungen drohen mehr und mehr zu bloßen Porträt-Galerien zu werden. »Die Kunst geht nach Brot.« Was Lessing seinen Maler Conti vor fast hundert Jahren sagen ließ, ist heut mehr denn je eine Wahrheit. Bestellt wird wenig oder nichts; und auf gut Glück hin ein mächtiges Wandbild zu malen, wie wenige dürfen’s wagen? Alles flüchtet in das Klein- und Familienleben, weil das Große und Allgemeine ihn verhungern läßt. Die eigentliche Kunst verliert dabei, die Porträt-Kunst gewinnt: das bloße Bildnis wird gelegentlich zum historischen Bilde.

All this had been written a long time ago …, and is still so true.

While reading those lines a couple of weeks ago, I remembered just the day before: the exhibition

FABIENNE VERDIER MEETS SIGMAR POLKE. TALKING LINES at the Pinakothek der Moderne, including the Musical Intonation in the St. Markus church, with Christoph Reiserer, Saxophone & Michael Roth, Organ.

some more info here and here.

Can one say an erotic intonation, music of epochs merging, drawing lines just in order to dispute, to cross each other, even breaking them open, to solve tensions in complete relaxation…. as the communication of the lines of Verdier and Polke.

Sure, things are easily over-interpreted, and also admitted that not everybody needs to have the same sense and sensation. Still, as I pointed out in my contribution to the debate: we may easily overcome the metaphysical suggestions, taking things as they are – the repercussions of calligraphy in Verdier’s work, far from being ‘closed’, finished and finite; and reflecting in the things, in the expressions, in the ‘Chinese characters’ and for what they stand the as much as the need for a provocative approach to the virtues:

  • Magnificentia
  • Dignitas
  • Honor
  • Gloria
  • Ratio
  • Velocitas
  • Moderatio

virtues that are perverted by the Emperor Maximilian claim to be their personification, perverted by the fact that they are ‘closed’, defined as finite.

And with such provocation – and opens to it – the supposed tension and impossibility to understand: fir instance the east and the west, is easily overcome …, if we allow us to engage, to come close and ‘touch’

Is it true that Karl Jaspers said the following?

True philosophy needs communion to come to an existence


Uncommunicativeness in philosopher is virtually a criterion of the untruth of his thinking.


We surely need more philosophers – in arts, in economics, in law and in life …, those who allow themselves to touch and to be touched – a pity that all those are in danger of being starved to death as soon as they attempt to paint beyond the portrait … – is that the reason behind some faiths demanding

Thou shalt not make thee any graven image.

The fear of distraction from the reality – the fear of non-communication by tighten it in a strict framework of phrases? Doesn’t it then remind us of

The Other Christmas Story

two years ago posted here on the blog?

Living in and for academia – an international[ist] perspective

Published is a presentation given on the 4th of July in ChangSha, PRC, looking against the personal background from an academic perspective at the topic of international and global education. While sociology, economics, political science, law and arts are explicitly mentioned, philosophy remains as companion of all in the background. Highlighted is the need to regain and maintain academic integrity.

The video-recording, in some respect an extension to the interview published recently, can be found here.

Learned from the time I lived in Australia, and altered all this is not least about the statement that

I fully acknowledge the Right and Duty of the students to learn in a way that allows not only to administer their own life and land in a globally respectful way, to study the possibilities to work and connect with the world that is respectful against themselves, against their fellow beings past, present and emerging.