Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A second helping of my search for a definition of beauty

Today I saw someone on the T turn and look out of the window when we crossed the Charles (on the Red Line) on the Longfellow Bridge. And it made me happy...I never see people noticing the world around them while they're on the T. People tend to stay in their own little bubble of their own little world, trying not to overlap with other peoples' bubbles if they can help it. It also started me thinking again about this whole definition of beauty that I talked about in an earlier post.

Beauty. Beautiful. What do these words mean? And this guy on the T? Was he experiencing the view as something beautiful...akin to what I experience every day I ride the T over that bridge? Or was he looking at it differently? (Of course, I can really only speculate upon how he viewed the skyline view that I love...I didn't ask him or anything.) What about that view is beautiful to me?

[I've taken to thinking about this question in a personal way because I'm pretty much convinced that beauty is a personal thing. They say "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," right? It's personal. Everyone sees beauty differently, and in different things. So, I return to my personal definition.]

When I see the skyline from the Longfellow Bridge, especially at around sunset or sunrise, it just seems different than so many other scenes in Boston. As I think about this, I realize that my mind always takes in the space that I see in this particular view. Nothing crowded, room to breathe, and I never feel like I'm on the T when I see it. It's only when we reach the other side of the bridge and start the descent to the underground tunnel that I am pulled back to the reality of the train I'm sitting in. Time also seems to slow down, or stand still even. And I always feel like my head clears out when I'm looking at that view. Clears out and gets caught up in the two words I hear in my head everytime I see this view: How beautiful. So, do these things result from the beauty of this view? Or are they part of the package? Does something need to evoke these kinds of reactions to be considered "beautiful," or do they happen because the thing is beautiful and these reactions are the body's way of experiencing that beauty?

[I need that one more time.]

Does something need to evoke these kinds of reactions to be considered "beautiful," or do they happen because the thing is beautiful and these reactions are the body's way of experiencing that beauty? I think that they're reactions. I think it's the latter of the two. My body's and mind's way of tipping me off: "Nina! Look! We found something beautiful!" So, then, how does my conscious self (or sub-conscious or unconscious self, too, perhaps) know that somethings beautiful and it should therefore tip me off by the reactions that occur when I'm experiencing beauty?

Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary (fully revised and updated) defines "beauty" as follows:
n. The quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).

So, the dictionary gives the definition in terms of the reaction one has to beauty. It doesn't need any further definition to justify the reactions. The reaction and the definition are one and the same. So why do I need more? Time to end this and ponder further... do I or do I not need more of a definition than the one my favorite dictionary tells me is sufficient?

Comments:
I love that view, too!
 
My girlfriend pointed this post out to me today and it occurred to me that it could have been me you saw.

I just recently moved to JP and have only taken the red line across the Charles a couple of times. Tuesday was one of those times. I don't know that it was me but I know the reason I looked up from my book yesterday. It was to see something I've not had the chance to get tired of.

Moving to Boston has been a big change for me and one of the reasons is that I couldn't get the "vibe" upon moving here. It doesn't have a big, famous skyline like many other cities. The most famous skyscraper, the Prudential building, is almost singular in its blandness.

For me, I took that moment of watching the afternoon sky reflect off the harbor and buildings to let that beauty continue building an impression or Boston...building a sense of home.
 
Interesting...let me see...I was on the T around 4:45-5:00pm on Tuesday. That'd be rad if it was you. I guess, when writing that, I never expected to be contacted by the random T-rider I wrote about. Ha!

I look up at that skyline view each time I ride the T because of the lack of "famous" skyline buildings to recognize. I like the sparsity of the Boston skyline. It allows the natural world to still peek through in places.

I came here about a year ago from the Midwest, so perhaps that's why I enjoy the sparsity of the skyline. It also allows me to relate to the change in home. I did sometimes feel like everything's off just a bit when I first moved here. It was pretty hard because everything is so different from what I'm used to. Boston is busier, noisier, smells different. But the "vibe" didn't just hit me immediately either. I considered leaving after a year, actually. What kept me here was that I started exploring the Boston that isn't in the tourist guides, and now Boston has become my personal adventure.

I hope that, as you settle into the Boston rhythm, that "vibe" you're looking for finds you. Thanks for the message.
 
Well, I would love to lie and say that it was me just for the fun of the story, but I was there between 3:30 and 4:00.

Still, I agree with your sentiments. To me, taking a chance to stop and look at the skyline, or whatever your environment you find yourself in, is an important, grounding thing. Call it "stop and smell the roses" for the urban set. There is a lot of beauty to be found in just looking around for a second and saying "this is really happening right now."

I don't want to take over your blog with my comments about Boston and it's stealthy vibe. Maybe I'll just actually write something up for my rarely updated blog. In the meantime, you've picked up one new reader.
 
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