I left then. After a few steps I stumbled over a kerb and nearly fell. That night – it was last night – when the women and children in the court were quiet at last and I was hoping for some sleep, I kept hearing the cabs go by in the street. They passed at fairly long intervals, but as soon as one went by I listened for the next in spite of myself: the tinkle of a bell, the clop of hoofs on the asphalt. And the sounds turned into words – the forsaken city, love beyond recall, night without end, summer, fever…
Yesterday, and days before, sun is cold and rain is hard
I know, been that way for all my time
‘Til forever on it goes through the circle fast and slow
I know, and it can’t stop, I wonder.
At midnight they had to leave. They were nervous about driving back later than that. Mohammed left two documents for me to look at. One was an essay he had written, “Modernism Defects: The Trend of Nahdah (Renaissance) in the Muslim World. It was in the style of Islamic missionary writing. One section was headed “The Bankruptcy of the West” (“vice and lust, alcohol and women, wild parties and tempting surroundings”); another was headed “The Perfectness of Islam.” The was a logic in this. The West, which had provided Mohammed with academic learning, was open to the criticism it had trained him in. Islam, which had not provided this learning, which provided only the restoring faith, was exempt from criticism.
If things were always what they seemed how impoverished would be the imagination of man.
The accepted standard for female beauty in Western societies is a woman or a girl who, no matter what her other physical attributes are, must also be thin. Kate Moss, Angelina Jolie, Carolyn Murphy, Miranda Kerr, even Lady Gaga are all thin and are considered so by the most stringent standards that one can apply to this thinness. Their talent has absolutely nothing to do with their dress sizes, and exists apart from what the scales say when they step on them. These women, the three models–who are celebrated for their beauty alone and perhaps for how much the camera can do with them–aside, would not be as celebrated if they were not as thin as they are. If clothes did not look good on them, from sweat pants to bikinis. Every leading designer and fashion house in the world will say that the reason they employ thin women is because clothes look better on thin women. That the drape of fabric falls more gracefully over a thin frame; that thin necks, square shoulders and flat stomachs create silhouettes which show clothes in their most alluring forms.
Even veteran designers like John Galliano, who is haute-couture’s froemost costumer, choses thin girls to wear his clothes when they walk down his runways. I reference Mr. Galliano, because I would think that the theatricality of his shows and the wildly creative genius of his clothes, would make up for the non-thinness of the women wearing then. If the purpose of couture is a celebration of sartorial beauty, and if there was no existing standard of what female beauty is considered to be, would designers chose not-thin women to be the mediums for their creations?
This piece is not about what female beauty is, but about what the standard for beauty in Western societies is. From high fashion and glamour–couture, popular music, film–to merely parochial representations of fashion and glamour–women newscasters, women on television shopping channels–we are simply shown that not-thin women are not beautiful. Will the number of people who do believe that not-thin women are beautiful, even were their opinion a majority one, ever be in positions from which they are likely to change or influence this standard?
Immanuel Kant, is his Critique Of Judgement, says, “Now, where the question is whether something is beautiful, we do not want to know, whether we, or any one else, are, or even could be, concerned in the real existence of the thing, but rather what estimate we form of it on mere contemplation (intuition or reflection).” I wonder if the “estimate we form of” whether a woman is beautiful or not can be freed from the images of the women with which popular culture is glutted — the images of women who are thin like the women I mention at the beginning. The women who conform to this upheld standard of beauty, of glamour. Can there just be “mere contemplation” in an age and in societies in which the opinions people hold come to them not from what they perceive, but from what is perceived for them and then given to them?
Gabourney Sidibe, the actress who was nominated for an Academy Award in 2009 for her role in Precious, has so far been one of the few actresses — persons who are part of the world of glamour and beauty — who has embraced her “not-thinness” and hasn’t made a huge effort to slim down, though even she has spoken about losing weight for health reasons. The truth is that it would probably be in the best interests of her commercial appeal were she to do so. Jennifer Hudson, who won an Academy Award for Dream Girls and was not-thin when she won, has now gone to not-quite-thin-enough and is a spokesperson for Jenny Craig. Queen Latifah, whose early career took off, even though she was not-thin, is now also a Jenny Craig spokeswomen. The apologia of these women for their not being not-thin anymore, is that they lost weight to be healthier and to feel good about themselves. To feel good is important, because only the direst misanthropes do not depend on being accepted to feel good. So does losing weight make these actresses feel good about themselves because they live a in culture where thinness is celebrated and is held to be one of highest considerations when judging beauty? Or does being thin, really mean being healthy? Would Jennifer Hudson feel the same need to lose weight if she lived in Mauritania where girls are force-fed (the practice is called leblouh) prior to being married because stretch marks are considered marks of beauty and the fatter a woman is the sexier she is considered to be and therefore is more accepted?
Kate Moss was never not-thin before she became Kate Moss, Jennifer Hudson was never thin before she became Jennifer Hudson. Jennifer Hudson should not have to change her appearance to conform to a standard any more than Kate Moss should have to change hers if she were in Mauritania. The fact that the people who employ Jennifer Hudson, feel that she must be thin is a reflection of this standard, and also of the not-thin people like she, who help to perpetuate that standard by becoming thin.
If there is genius in Picasso, I think this monochromatic painting from his Blue Period (1901 – 1904) is evidence of it. The way the various shades of blue brood. The way the head is bowed to reveal the sadness and moribundity of the man; his torn tunic, his bare feet and his open mouth are further evidence of his dereliction. Yet in spite of his circumstances, Picasso shows him holding the guitar upright. The fingers with which he plays the guitar are fine and delicate and graceful. The hands still work, though all else may be lost. This is where the beauty is in this painting, in the way he holds this guitar, this instrument of his art. I can stare at this painting for hours, because even though Picasso may not have, I see hope in it. And I believe that the man’s music, like Picasso’s art, will continue to live long after the man is gone.
THE OLD GUITARIST (1903) IS ON DISPLAY AT THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO.
Before I lived by moral precepts – for morality is an attempt to unite ourselves to people. Now I don’t feel the need for religion, or faith in the old sense. In my own mind, inside (not as something I think or feel, but as something I am) inside there I no longer prohibit and select. I include. It’s the purely scientific meaning of the word “love”.
There were rivers of desert tribes, the most beautiful humans I’ve met in my life. We were German, English, Hungarian, African – all of us insignificant to them. Gradually we became nationless. I came to hate nations. We are deformed by nation-states. Madox died because of nations.
The desert could not be claimed or owned – it was a piece of cloth carried by winds, never held down by stones, and given a hundred shifting names long before Canterbury existed, long before battles and treaties quilted Europe and the East. Its caravans, those strange rambling feasts and cultures, left nothing behind, not an ember. All of us, even those with European homes and children in the distance, wished to remove the clothing of our countries. It was a place of faith. We disappeared into landscape. Fire and sand. We left the harbours of oasis. The places water came to and touched… Ain, Bir, Wadi, Foggara, Khottara, Shaduf. I didn’t want my name against such beautiful names. Erase the family name! Erase nations! I was taught such things by the desert.
I found something dying; it was my light
It had resigned itself to night
So I threw it out a fishing line
And said catch your will and then catch mine.
There’s little in taking or giving,
There’s little in water or wine;
This living, this living, this living
Was never a project of mine.
Oh, hard is the struggle, and sparse is
The gain of the one at the top,
For art is a form of catharsis,
And love is a permanent flop,
And work is the province of cattle,
And rest’s for a clam in a shell,
So I’m thinking of throwing the battle —
Would you kindly direct me to hell?