Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Have things changed much?

Encore un autre interlude

In September 1893, the fictional Henry James portrayed in David Lodge's hugely entertaining novel Author, Author! stopped for dinner with his friend George Du Maurier at the Cod and Lobster Inn in Staithes on the east coast of England.
Perhaps the ale was unusually strong, for Du Maurier was particularly loquacious over the meal. He reverted to the subject of his dealings with Harper. It seemed that [his second novel] Trilby contained a passage of authorial polemic in favor of nudity, which the publishers wanted to cut out.

"I have a theory, you see, Henry, that if only our climate allowed it, we should be much happier going around without clothes. There is nothing inherently shameful or indecent about the human body."

"The weather in North Yorkshire certainly precludes the experiment," said Henry, as he cracked open a lobster claw. "But even in Samoa—where I understand from Louis Stevenson the natives make do with very little raiment—even there I don't think I would care to meet my friends in a state of nature. Most of us are simply not beautiful enough."

"Ah, but that's because we neglect our bodies. And we neglect them because we cover them up with layers of cloth—and in the case of women, distort their natural shapes with whalebone and bustles and lacing and suchlike. Now if we saw each other habitually in a state of nature, as you call it, as a matter of course, we should take pains to exercise and diet to make our bodies strong and healthy and attractive."

"What about those who are irredeemably ugly or misshapen?" Henry objected.

"They wouldn't reproduce, because nobody would marry them," said Du Maurier triumphantly, evidently seeing this as a knockdown argument. "By Darwin's law of natural selection we would—in the course of a few generations—eliminate ugliness from the human race. We would also get rid of all the sniggering smut and furtive lust that surrounds the mere mention of the human body in polite society, and corrupts relations between men and women." [pp. 190-191]


  1. Salamaat,
    elevating the human body to such heights and to think how many (wo)men are already obsessed with their body "image" to the point of distortions and disorders?

    One of the reasons I like Kundera's writings is he takes these (post) modern infatuations to their conclusion and reveals the stark emptiness that lies within it all.

  2. Maybe what would happen is that we would change our percetion of what be beauty.

  3. Our perception of what be beauty might change, Scary Monster, if men (by which I mean members of the human race) were not, as I suspect, more or less condemned to remain philistines forever (but probably especially the men, as a matter of fact).

    By the way, it's great to hear from you! I've often thought of you, hoping you were well and that your efforts as a teacher were being rewarded as you might wish. Good on you to overrunning cup!

  4. Before we learn to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us Me feels tha at the very least two things must occur.
    First we must have enough to fill our bellies and have the werewithal to provide for a stable existance.
    The next part be more difficult for even in times of plenty there be no guarantee that it will take place.
    We must learn to look, to see.


  5. We (you and I as individuals) have the means to advance on both the fronts you mention, but "we" as the great mass of humanity...what does it profit us to philosophize about such an "us"?

    I have spoken a few times over the past weeks about the looking and seeing of which you speak (and of which Frederick Franck speaks in his necessary book, The Zen of Seeing: Seeing/Drawing as Meditation): really seeing another human being as a co-equal, as someone, that is, no more or less deserving than I, no uglier or more beautiful than myself. In fact, lately I've often had this experience while riding the commute bus or out walking. And each time, I've felt both humbled and exalted by the experience.