June 26, 2017 (Monday)

by Yule Heibel on June 25, 2018

At some point yesterday, during a walk W. and I took to D.-St.-Beach, back through town, all in a scorching midday heat which did however feel nice every time the sun was slightly obscured by an occasional cloud, I think I remembered what that idea was (the one I “lost” the other day).

It had something to do with beauty, and that beauty is supposed (i.e., is thought of) to be somehow universal (i.e., that there are universally valid principles, structures, patterns for what we consider beautiful), but that for it (i.e., beauty) to have real weight and also a kind of forceful power that buckles the knees when beheld, it has to be particular, specific.

I was thinking of this specifically in relation to Europe, to European beauty ideals, and how they’re not uniform throughout the continent. Look up, say, Greek actresses or beauty icons and you’ll get a different, sometimes very different, picture than what you get if you look up Polish or Swedish beauty icons. But it also seems to be the case that religion and other universalizing ideologies (including art) try to convince us that there is a universal standard. It’s curious.

Our current form of global capitalism tries to do something similar (as the universalizing religions or ideologies do), except that market-based capitalism makes “exceptions” or allowances through relativism. That is, relativism is a kind of perversion or hijacking of particularism or particularity. This is important to keep in mind. Beauty, as Camille Paglia points out, beauty – or rather the worship of beauty – is a pagan impulse. I don’t think I really understood what she meant till I contrasted the universalizing, non-particularizing (i.e., homogenizing) drive of pushing a religiously-infused kind of beauty with the particularized beauty of different European nations. It’s practically racist to think this way, but I don’t intend it to be racist. Furthermore, nor do I consider “Greeks” or “Poles” or “Swedes,” to return to my examples from the outset here, “races.” They are cultures, possibly ethnic, with specific embodiment typologies.

Now here’s a leap to current politics: The potential disaster (imo) unfolding in Europe with a huge influx of migrants together with global capitalism is that it’s a threat to European diversity, to its particularities, and even its essential paganism (remember, Paglia: worship of beauty – in her sense – is a pagan impulse). That is, there is quite possibly a two-pronged ideological assault happening now. On the one hand, you have an ideological assault stemming from religion, a monotheistic, primitive Abrahamic cult that disallows – no, it interdicts, it actively forbids – the particular (and with it the individual). This is especially the case for women under its rule. It’s a religion that’s archaic (or at best medieval) and tribal, pre-individualist, and it functions with a set of universalist dictates and rules. There hasn’t been a reformation. On the other, you have a modern ideological assault in the form of current global capitalism. The latter only needs “particulars” as propagandistic fig leaf, and as a marketing device. The “particulars” encouraged by corporate capitalism allow markets to splinter into ever bigger heaps of niches, of “niche markets,” which are really just replications of endlessly similar products. After all, how many brands of toilet paper do you really need to be able to “choose” from when all you want to do is wipe your ass? Particularity is neutralized via relativism, even as a false competition is set up (Brand X is better than Brand Y …says Brand S, which happens to be owned by Brand Z). It’s still a homogenizing ideology at the end of the day, one which bulldozes particularity.

America, with its “melting pot” notions, has always been somewhat different, but of course it’s had its particulars. These are, however, hardly able to withstand the relentless onslaught of global capital and its “entertainment” arm (pop culture). Canadians, with their already greater homogeneity and also relatively better social services and lesser deep poverty, are especially prone to meekness and cultural colonization, including in the realm of beauty “standards.” You’re hard pressed these days to find a Canadian youth who doesn’t have perfectly straightened teeth due to orthodontics and other highly invasive interventions. I’m reminded of that Greek-Canadian beauty in E.’s choir back in Victoria, who already at the age of 12 was scheduled for oral surgery to break and reset her jaw, because her particularity was a “shy” chin that needed to be brought in line (literally), along with braces for her teeth. Yet it was her aquiline nose and small mouth, contrasted with that soon-t0-be “corrected” shy chin, which made her particularly beautiful. Post-surgery, she would, one supposes, be universally pretty.

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