the problem of beauty


Many of us find ourselves behaving strangely at fortieth birthday parties, of course: the illusion of maturity, the last chance to misbehave. Then again, Greer’s always slightly sibylline prose was done few favours by the subeditors on the Sun’s back desk. So I can only try to paraphrase what she seemed to be saying: namely, that these pictures were not unwholesome, because, while they were effective at generating cheerfulness, they were not capable of stimulating desire. Greer’s “handyman” was quoted in support of the thesis; Kant was not, although the Sun’s “News in Briefs” feature often attributes highbrow quotations to the topless models on display. But there is an urgent question at issue here, even if the beauty of the Page Three girl is not that celebrated by the taste cultures discussed above. If it is true, for example – as a tabloid paper might suggest, a tasteful number of pages away from its “good” nudes – that our teenage children are learning their first lessons about the opposite sex from hard-core pornography, then beauty and desire are being sundered in ways that no Western aesthetician could have predicted – though Eastern aestheticians have always tended to a rather different view. Or maybe they aren’t, especially if the opposite sex is taking the same lessons. Changing times make the formulation of timeless truths a tricky and perhaps a pointless task.

more from Keith Miller at the TLS here.