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The Beautiful
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 18 January, 2021 01:45PM
Perhaps there will be interest in a conversation about the beautiful and wholesome in fantastic literature.

I begin by making a distinction between the beautiful and that which is a matter of taste.

The former is something that should be recognized, so that, in the person who does not recognize it, defect of attention or of sensitivity may be assumed. Thus, the wind-tossed daffodils growing by the lake, in Wordsworth’s poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” are beautiful; the failure to perceive their beauty would demonstrate defect in the observer.

Conversely, taste or appreciative sensitivity allows for variations of preference as regards good things. Sally likes the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams more than that of Mozart, while Joe prefers Mozart to RVW, but Sally and Joe can perceive merit in the music liked by the other person. It would be silly to quarrel about it.

Rather than beauty, it is taste that is basically subjective. It is awkward to refer to “taste” and the “eye” of the beholder together, but if the mixed metaphor may be permitted, we could say that taste (not beauty) is in the eye of the beholder.

It seems to me that the beautiful is important in the writing of a number of noted fantasists. In my own personal history, Tolkien’s descriptions of meadows and country lanes, forests and mountains, etc. were vital in the shaping of my imagination. A little later, passages in Arthur Machen’s descriptions of rural Welsh scenes – woods and stones, winding rivers -- were also valuable. Lovecraft’s practice of referring to sunsets must have made an impression on me.* C. S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy and other writings exhibit his keen alertness to the beautiful, as certainly do his writings in the vein of fantastic fiction and poetry.

Thus all of these authors use compass needles that point to the beautiful.

I thought people here might like to discuss the beautiful in the writings of these and/or other writers of fantasy. What about writers of fantasy whose work doesn’t exhibit attention to the beautiful?


*Peter Cannon’s “Sunset Terrace Imagery” essay is very valuable on Lovecraft’s sense of the beautiful.

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 18 January, 2021 06:54PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Perhaps there will be interest in a conversation
> about the beautiful and wholesome in fantastic
> literature.
>
> I begin by making a distinction between the
> beautiful and that which is a matter of taste.
>
> The former is something that should be recognized,
> so that, in the person who does not recognize it,
> defect of attention or of sensitivity may be
> assumed. Thus, the wind-tossed daffodils growing
> by the lake, in Wordsworth’s poem “I Wandered
> Lonely as a Cloud,” are beautiful; the failure
> to perceive their beauty would demonstrate defect
> in the observer.
>
> Conversely, taste or appreciative sensitivity
> allows for variations of preference as regards
> good things. Sally likes the music of Ralph
> Vaughan Williams more than that of Mozart, while
> Joe prefers Mozart to RVW, but Sally and Joe can
> perceive merit in the music liked by the other
> person. It would be silly to quarrel about it.
>
> Rather than beauty, it is taste that is basically
> subjective. It is awkward to refer to
> “taste” and the “eye” of the beholder
> together, but if the mixed metaphor may be
> permitted, we could say that taste (not beauty) is
> in the eye of the beholder.
>
> It seems to me that the beautiful is important in
> the writing of a number of noted fantasists. In
> my own personal history, Tolkien’s descriptions
> of meadows and country lanes, forests and
> mountains, etc. were vital in the shaping of my
> imagination. A little later, passages in Arthur
> Machen’s descriptions of rural Welsh scenes –
> woods and stones, winding rivers -- were also
> valuable. Lovecraft’s practice of referring to
> sunsets must have made an impression on me.* C.
> S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy and other writings
> exhibit his keen alertness to the beautiful, as
> certainly do his writings in the vein of fantastic
> fiction and poetry.
>
> Thus all of these authors use compass needles that
> point to the beautiful.
>
> I thought people here might like to discuss the
> beautiful in the writings of these and/or other
> writers of fantasy. What about writers of fantasy
> whose work doesn’t exhibit attention to the
> beautiful?
>
>
> *Peter Cannon’s “Sunset Terrace Imagery”
> essay is very valuable on Lovecraft’s sense of
> the beautiful.

This is an interesting and worthy distinction, Dale.

But I'm always going have trouble eliminating subjective evaluation from a consideration, because as with right and wrong, on what foundational basis does the absolute authority for what is beautiful, or right/wrong, rest?

Maybe it is shared cultural experiences/traditions? This is to say, would a Kalhari bushman feel the same, if the passage were rendered in his language? (Wow. This opens up a lot here....)

I guess I'm after scope, limits? Is beauty, as we are discussing it, unlimited and universal? And if not, what are its limits?

I'm probably drifting badly... :^(

--Sawfish

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 18 January, 2021 08:05PM
Sawfish, do we agree that there exists a category of things, to fail to apprehend the beauty of which is evidence of defect? Such defect could be true of a whole society as well as of an individual.

A possible case in point, but I write in near ignorance: it appears to me that artists of Chinese scrolls centuries ago created their works in a culture that had a readier apprehension of the beauty of mountains than may have been true of Europe at the time. The beauty of the Alps was always there, but it was perhaps not much perceived in some earlier times. Now, of course, it is a major source of the economy of Switzerland, drawing tourists.

More attention, too, needs to be given to the speedy apprehension of beauty in unfamiliar forms. For example, if I'm not mistaken, when the likes of Marco Polo visited the Far East, they would have seen architecture of unfamiliar form. Perhaps at first the sheer novelty thereof made them uncomfortable, but, unless I'm mistaken, they typically soon came to see that there was beauty there.

Thus I would go with the traditional, as opposed to the modern, understanding of the beautiful, that sees it as something real. What is truly beautiful should be universally apprehensible as such, but, because of errors of taste, unfamiliarity, and bad associations, might not be perceived as such.

It's important to distinguish the truly beautiful from other things that may work to make something attractive but are not, properly understood, beautiful. For example, Amazonian tribal people may stretch the lobes of their ears to grotesque lengths. This look may please other tribal folk, but this does not require us to say that they see the stretched earlobes as beautiful. The stretched earlobes may, for example, connect with the homo ludens aspect of human nature, that is, man as playful being. The stretched earlobes may bespeak tribal identity: we are the people who do this, unlike those others. The stretched earlobes catch attention, and sheer attention-getting is often a factor in human looking. Did Japanese people really think that the artificial blackening of women's teeth was beautiful? I am not as sure as some people probably would be. Conversely, if we are talking about human beauty, I think it would be found, in fact, that there are pretty universal standards. The tribal chieftain in Africa might have an enormously obese queen, but you watch and see if his attention doesn't linger with delight on the same slender teenage girl as yours does. The obesity may bespeak wealth, status, etc. It is quite possible it was not really seen as beautiful.

So, again, yes, I see beauty as something universal, that is, something transcending mere vagaries of cultural and individual taste, fads, etc. Till recently there was a fad here in the States for tattoos. Already I think the taste for promiscuous tattooing is subsiding. People have eyes and can see that those tattoos look like bruises from a distance, etc. Soon enough, I suspect, the calf tattoo will be as much a giveaway of a certain fleeting period as the fad for naming girls with last names. The death-knell sounded when people began to spell these names in bizarre ways to try to inject into them some of the pizzazz they had already lost -- when "Madison" gave way to "Madysyn," etc. But perhaps I digress.


PS, Sawfish, is your quoted passage from DeLillo? It sounds like White Noise to me.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 18 Jan 21 | 08:06PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 19 January, 2021 08:50AM
I think the question is an interesting one in the context of fantasy writers, because there’s a strong visual component to writers like CAS, yet that visual aspect could rarely be categorised as ‘beauty’ in the traditional sense of the word. Dale mentions Machen - Machen himself said (on looking back on some of his stories) that he depicted a certain type of countryside as pregnant with a certain kind of evil due to misreading his response to it - that what he felt was actually awe rather than dread.

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 19 January, 2021 12:30PM
Good discussion!

Interleaved, below:

Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Sawfish, do we agree that there exists a category
> of things, to fail to apprehend the beauty of
> which is evidence of defect?

I agree that I can see that it is possible in some situations, but am still reluctant to apply this across the board, without a lot of qualification.


I realize that you don't mean it as a sort of one-size-fits-all litmus test, but actually qualifying when/where the proposition that "failure to appreciate beauty indicates a flaw in the observer" would need to be considered in each case.

I'm now thinking of a parallel idea: that certain shapes convey a sort of universal, if hard to define, symbolism. A pyramid conveys a sort of odd solidity and completeness; a circle evokes another set of symbolic associations. I speculate that this non-linguistic recognition is maybe applicable to all fully functional adult humans regardless of culture.

If this can be considered valid or mostly valid, then I'm thinking you are proposing the same significance for the concept of "beauty", the problem for me being that "beauty" is much more vague than a pyramidal shape, e.g.

OK, so let's go orthogonal on this: "beauty" in its very core definition, is the purposely vague term used to convey a specific response to a given observation. Rather than a pyramid being a concrete and specific definition of a shape that conveys a symbolic meaning, "beauty" identifies the a quality of the observed object. It's an attribute of the object, rather than its precise description.

So it seems circular: by calling something beautiful, without revealing its exact nature, we have already judged it and are conveying this prejudgement to someone who has not yet seen it. They may agree, in which case they have no defect in their ability to evaluate aesthetics, or they may disagree, exposing a defect.

Anyway, that's how I see it, and I do not feel, intuitively, that I'm properly connecting or understanding your point, Dale.

Perhaps it's like the defect you've noted in the case of beauty.



> Such defect could be
> true of a whole society as well as of an
> individual.

So if 90% of a society composed of the normal Gauss distribution of human attributes don't find much of Aubrey Beardsley's stuff beautiful, it hints at a sort of widespread genetic defect in that population?

See? That's probably not what you mean, but it's what keeps coming to mind given the way the proposition is framed.

And even then it still might be true...

>
> A possible case in point, but I write in near
> ignorance: it appears to me that artists of
> Chinese scrolls centuries ago created their works
> in a culture that had a readier apprehension of
> the beauty of mountains than may have been true of
> Europe at the time. The beauty of the Alps was
> always there, but it was perhaps not much
> perceived in some earlier times. Now, of course,
> it is a major source of the economy of
> Switzerland, drawing tourists.

I'm not familiar with this and so cannot comment.

>
> More attention, too, needs to be given to the
> speedy apprehension of beauty in unfamiliar forms.

This seems to be getting to something intriguing and maybe it's a crystalization of what universal beauty might be.

> For example, if I'm not mistaken, when the likes
> of Marco Polo visited the Far East, they would
> have seen architecture of unfamiliar form.
> Perhaps at first the sheer novelty thereof made
> them uncomfortable, but, unless I'm mistaken, they
> typically soon came to see that there was beauty
> there.
>
> Thus I would go with the traditional, as opposed
> to the modern, understanding of the beautiful,
> that sees it as something real. What is truly
> beautiful should be universally apprehensible as
> such, but, because of errors of taste,
> unfamiliarity, and bad associations, might not be
> perceived as such.

OK.

Beauty is a very precious commodity and the term "beauty" and beautiful" have been over-used to the point of devaluation, in much the same way that Millennials have overused "amazing" so that anything that's not unarguably mundane is "amazing".

"Those are amazing shoes you've got there."

To me, the only amazing shoes I can think of right now are Mercury's winged sandals, fully functional.

So back to beauty...

It could be that anything not universally recognized as beautiful by all cultures after an adequate space of time to become acquainted with it fails the beauty test.

Would this work for you?

Let me ask while I'm still thinking about it: does "beauty" inspire an element of awe, to a greater or lesser degree? Thinking right now, I believe that it does, for me. And here's something important to people like me: I cannot understand spirituality in the absence of awe. Truthly, I can't. Animism is one of the only religious forms that begins to make any sense to me, since it is based in part on awe.

Does real beauty in some sense inspire a spiritual response? Maybe it does...

I was raised in a nominally Christian household that had no actual connection to religious practice. This could skew my views.

All of my thoughts here need more testing and work, however.


>
> It's important to distinguish the truly beautiful
> from other things that may work to make something
> attractive but are not, properly understood,
> beautiful. For example, Amazonian tribal people
> may stretch the lobes of their ears to grotesque
> lengths. This look may please other tribal folk,
> but this does not require us to say that they see
> the stretched earlobes as beautiful. The
> stretched earlobes may, for example, connect with
> the homo ludens aspect of human nature, that is,
> man as playful being. The stretched earlobes may
> bespeak tribal identity: we are the people who do
> this, unlike those others. The stretched earlobes
> catch attention, and sheer attention-getting is
> often a factor in human looking. Did Japanese
> people really think that the artificial blackening
> of women's teeth was beautiful? I am not as sure
> as some people probably would be. Conversely, if
> we are talking about human beauty, I think it
> would be found, in fact, that there are pretty
> universal standards.

Not comfortable with this. I think maybe familiarity with evolved association within the same phenotype confers a distinct preference.

Translating this into direct communication, I think that racial familiarity confers a significant, but not exclusive, preference for racially-based standards of beauty.

There's too much circumlocution to avoid contemplating "hurty ideas", and it makes for a lamentable vagueness--and also a feckless deniability.

> The tribal chieftain in
> Africa might have an enormously obese queen, but
> you watch and see if his attention doesn't linger
> with delight on the same slender teenage girl as
> yours does. The obesity may bespeak wealth,
> status, etc. It is quite possible it was not
> really seen as beautiful.

I'm not sure. I feel that simple animal horniness can mimic appreciation of female beauty... ;^)

>
> So, again, yes, I see beauty as something
> universal, that is, something transcending mere
> vagaries of cultural and individual taste, fads,
> etc.

OK. Then I think it almost has to include animal awe: something that evokes a sub-literate response almost all the time.

If we had an electroencephalograph we might see a very similar brain response in almost all fully functional humans, *except* for those with the postulated defect.

Yep, I can see this, Dale.

> Till recently there was a fad here in the
> States for tattoos. Already I think the taste for
> promiscuous tattooing is subsiding. People have
> eyes and can see that those tattoos look like
> bruises from a distance, etc. Soon enough, I
> suspect, the calf tattoo will be as much a
> giveaway of a certain fleeting period as the fad
> for naming girls with last names. The death-knell
> sounded when people began to spell these names in
> bizarre ways to try to inject into them some of
> the pizzazz they had already lost -- when
> "Madison" gave way to "Madysyn," etc. But perhaps
> I digress.

Maybe, but it's an accurate and amusing observation, Dale!

Speaking of tattoos, yeah, some of the more colorful "sleeves" on people with very fair skin look a lot like a decomposing corpse (or advanced gangrene), and it's hard to see how this could have ever evolved into something perceived as beautiful.

In college, in the 60s, in San Diego, I worked changing florescent ballasts with an old guy (in his 50s) who had a tattoo on his forearm.

Try as I might I could not make out what it was supposed to be. It was old, all run together. It looked more like a reeking pile of dog turds more than anything else. There seemed to be puffs of steam coming off if it, even.

One day I asked the guy what it was and he said: "It's the USS Wisconsin. I served on her in WWII."

I hope the present generation understands about tattoos tending to drift with age, but I suspect not, and that's because everything that's currently happening to them has never happened before in the history of humanity, so there's no point in looking to prior experiences.

Forgive me: my daughter, a recent graduate of Vassar, has been staying with us, working remotely, for about a month. I forget what it's like being a newly-minted college graduate--so sure of everything!--and these east coast small liberal arts colleges are an insular world unto themselves, it seems. Fantasyland for the privileged, who style themselves as proletariat egalitarians...

Hah! Real-world time!

>
>
> PS, Sawfish, is your quoted passage from DeLillo?
> It sounds like White Noise to me.

Naw, I don't know who DeLillo is. It's my own distorted parody of the "Tears in rain" monologue at the end of Blade Runner. Where Batty describes something like Ragnarok, with flaming starships and all, I saw it more as a series of smaller personal tragedies--the steaks catching fire at the country club, perhaps due to a few too many pina coladas, etc.

Excellent discussion, Dale. It's why I come here.

Your proposition has shaken the box sufficiently so that I really have to think about what beauty is, and I am sure I'll come away with a much better understanding!

...which I will quickly forget... :^(

--Sawfish

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 19 January, 2021 02:45PM
Sawfish wrote, ""beauty" in its very core definition, is the purposely vague term" --

A good definition is like a corral: it keeps inside all of the things that belong therein and keeps outside all of the things that don't belong. Thus, a definition of "beauty" or "the beautiful" might, conceivably, be a good one but seem a bit vague because it needs to be worded so as not to exclude any instance of the beautiful.

Here now I'm going to resort to Platonism. Plato would say there is the supersensible Form or Idea of The Beautiful, and there are manifestations thereof on the plane of the sensible, none of which will possess all attributes of the Beautiful. For example, to take human beauty: limpid clear blue eyes are beautiful, and warm dark eyes (what the Elizabethans I think called "black eyes") are beautiful. A given human being will not possess both. That human being may possess beautiful eyes, but those eyes, beautiful and delightful in themselves, as it were point beyond themselves to the Idea of the Beautiful.

So perhaps when you write of beautiful things as evoking awe, you could be suggesting that manifest beauty -- Sally's beautiful eyes -- participates the Form of the Beautiful, without being The Beautiful. Beautiful things we see, hear, or otherwise apprehend please, or ought to please, in themselves, but also they are disclosures of something greater. This would relate to your idea of the beautiful and spirituality.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 19 Jan 21 | 02:47PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 19 January, 2021 03:13PM
Interleaved...

Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Sawfish wrote, ""beauty" in its very core
> definition, is the purposely vague term" --
>
> A good definition is like a corral: it keeps
> inside all of the things that belong therein and
> keeps outside all of the things that don't belong.
> Thus, a definition of "beauty" or "the beautiful"
> might, conceivably, be a good one but seem a bit
> vague because it needs to be worded so as not to
> exclude any instance of the beautiful.
>
> Here now I'm going to resort to Platonism. Plato
> would say there is the supersensible Form or Idea
> of The Beautiful,

Archetypes here?

> and there are manifestations
> thereof on the plane of the sensible, none of
> which will possess all attributes of the
> Beautiful.


> For example, to take human beauty:
> limpid clear blue eyes are beautiful, and warm
> dark eyes (what the Elizabethans I think called
> "black eyes") are beautiful. A given human being
> will not possess both. That human being may
> possess beautiful eyes, but those eyes, beautiful
> and delightful in themselves, as it were point
> beyond themselves to the Idea of the Beautiful.
>
> So perhaps when you write of beautiful things as
> evoking awe, you could be suggesting that manifest
> beauty -- Sally's beautiful eyes -- participates
> the Form of the Beautiful, without being The
> Beautiful.

This is becoming too abstruse to be meaningful, in my opinion.

> Beautiful things we see, hear, or
> otherwise apprehend please, or ought to please, in
> themselves, but also they are disclosures of
> something greater. This would relate to your idea
> of the beautiful and spirituality.

Maybe.

The first time I came up the road to Crater Lake and caught sight of the whole thing, all at once, I felt a powerful sense of awe. This is not congruent with beauty, but overlaps at a point with the truly beautiful, I suspect.

Medusa's head is sometimes described in this way, and it is an unconventional inclusion to what is commonly considered beautiful. But if you think of it, perhaps it is.

Just to show where I'm headed, to show what kind of a foul male pig I am, the very first thing I think of when hearing "beauty" is a screen actress. But surely beauty is much more than that...

Is this rendering beautiful and does it also inspire awe?

[en.wikipedia.org]

To me, both are true. Maybe it's not always necessary to have an element of awe, but that's what I'm trying to figure out now. Whether the inclusion of an element of awe is the difference between "extremely aesthetically pleasing" and "beauty"...

How about this?

[fineartamerica.com]

Where does this fit? I'm assuming we'd both agree that all three are beautiful, and I see awe as being a large component of two of them, and perhaps Nefertiti inspired a sort of awe, too, not sure.

Your thoughts?

--Sawfish

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 19 January, 2021 04:19PM
Well, shall we set aside the theoretical discussion for a bit and take up the topic of the beautiful in writers of fantasy for a while?

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 19 January, 2021 05:26PM
Sure, this sounds fine.

--Sawfish

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 19 January, 2021 06:44PM
Ah, (re the examples cited above) how much of that beauty lies in the subject matter and how much in how it’s being depicted? The popularity of The Great Wave off Kanagawa is as much about technical artistry as it is about the subject matter itself.

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 19 January, 2021 09:49PM
Cathbad Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Ah, (re the examples cited above) how much of that
> beauty lies in the subject matter and how much in
> how it’s being depicted? The popularity of The
> Great Wave off Kanagawa is as much about technical
> artistry as it is about the subject matter itself.


Hmmm...

The same can be said of much of Georges Seurat's stuff.

See? This gets tough, doesn't it? What part is the intrinsic beauty of the actual image itself as separated from the admiration for the technical feat of rendering it?

This begins to lead toward the possible conclusion that naturalistic photographs portray beauty better, or at least more purely, than a graphical rendering.

Gosh...

--Sawfish

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 20 January, 2021 10:52AM
You two are getting into a discussion a little "advanced" for me, perhaps, but carry on!

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 20 January, 2021 01:04PM
Yeah, I guess I’d make a distinction between things that are intrinsically beautiful - a waterfall, a sunset - and a work of art. I think art is a trickier area because one role of art is to surprise you. So an artist can take a pretty mundane subject (e.g. a still life) and make something beautiful out of it.

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 20 January, 2021 01:38PM
It quickly gets weird, then...

Categories of beauty: human beauty, conceptual design beauty (as encountered in engineering in rare cases--referred to as "elegance" in the industry), aural beauty (for me, Mozart's Piano Concerto 21, 2nd movement), ad nauseam.

Gets weird, huh? :^)

By no means do I think I'm seeing this in any definitive sense, Cathbad: I'm confused as hell, I'll admit. But I don't think I'm necessarily wrong in saying that the idea of beauty is as slippery as a well-oiled Georgia hog. It's this giant patchwork tent under which a whole lotta things are trying to fit.

Any further insights are welcomed.

--Sawfish

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 20 January, 2021 03:37PM
Totally. You know it when you see it, but trying to quantify it is a bitch.

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 20 January, 2021 03:47PM
I think this is what Dale was getting at, but it's a very slippery subject with few adequate words to describe it in any satisfactory fashion.

It's kinda like Greek philosopher stuff, and 'way over my pay grade...

--Sawfish

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 20 January, 2021 04:14PM
Bringing in Platonism might have been a mistake, but my intention was to emphasize the understanding that the beautiful is a category of reality, not just what I/we/society like(s), and that apprehension of the Beautiful thus involves more than a glancing moment in which to decide whether or not I like it, &c.

Well, I'm convinced that Lovecraft cared about Beauty although (1) there is little place for it in the philosophy he professed and (2) he seems to have apprehended it especially when beholding sunsets across roofs as seen from an elevation. His surface rationalism told him that this experience, like anything and everything, was unimportant, without signification -- you can't have pockets of meaningfulness (not really) if everything is meaningless. But his imagination told him that the Beautiful was indeed important. He resolved the conflict, if you want to say this is a resolution, by saying that his feelings about and imaginative response to Beauty were mere facts about the idiosyncratic mental phenomena of an organism called HPL. I think a better resolution is possible -- (vide C. S. Lewis -- but I'm glad HPL was willing to love the beauty he saw, despite his philosophy, up to his death.

I think further that this love of the beautiful is actually an element of the appeal of Lovecraft's fiction even though it is famous for crawling eldritch horrors. It would probably be possible to compile quite a collection of passages in praise or enjoyment of the beautiful in his work -- well, of course that's what Peter Cannon did as regards sunsets in his excellent essay, which isn't available online so far as I know.

Similarly the Beautiful is important in the work of Lewis,* Tolkien, Arthur Machen, & other fantasists. I think it is there in some work by Algernon Blackwood relating to rambles in the Caucasus Mountains, etc. but I don't know his work terribly well.

I'm not sure it's much of an element in Robert E. Howard. Nonhuman beauty (palaces, etc.) is just mentioned as a backdrop. The beautiful that interests him is almost entirely, from what I had read, a matter of curvy female bodies as objects of lust that are apparently of no interest once the heat of lust has passed.

What about Smith?

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 20 January, 2021 05:47PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Bringing in Platonism might have been a mistake,
> but my intention was to emphasize the
> understanding that the beautiful is a category of
> reality, not just what I/we/society like(s), and
> that apprehension of the Beautiful thus involves
> more than a glancing moment in which to decide
> whether or not I like it, &c.

Beauty is independent of the observer, or of any observer, for that matter?

Beauty exists without an observer, like the sound of a falling tree with no living entity to hear it, is this right?

>
> Well, I'm convinced that Lovecraft cared about
> Beauty although (1) there is little place for it
> in the philosophy he professed and (2) he seems to
> have apprehended it especially when beholding
> sunsets across roofs as seen from an elevation.
> His surface rationalism told him that this
> experience, like anything and everything, was
> unimportant, without signification -- you can't
> have pockets of meaningfulness (not really) if
> everything is meaningless.

I'm playing around with the idea that meaning is subjective and exists as a phenomenon for the individual, but in no independent fashion.

> But his imagination
> told him that the Beautiful was indeed important.

It is, to the individual.

> He resolved the conflict, if you want to say this
> is a resolution, by saying that his feelings about
> and imaginative response to Beauty were mere facts
> about the idiosyncratic mental phenomena of an
> organism called HPL.

So far, so good... :^)

> I think a better resolution
> is possible -- (vide C. S. Lewis -- but I'm glad
> HPL was willing to love the beauty he saw, despite
> his philosophy, up to his death.
>
> I think further that this love of the beautiful is
> actually an element of the appeal of Lovecraft's
> fiction even though it is famous for crawling
> eldritch horrors. It would probably be possible
> to compile quite a collection of passages in
> praise or enjoyment of the beautiful in his work
> -- well, of course that's what Peter Cannon did as
> regards sunsets in his excellent essay, which
> isn't available online so far as I know.
>
> Similarly the Beautiful is important in the work
> of Lewis,* Tolkien, Arthur Machen, & other
> fantasists. I think it is there in some work by
> Algernon Blackwood relating to rambles in the
> Caucasus Mountains, etc. but I don't know his work
> terribly well.

Would you be comfortable in identifying one or two such passages? Concrete examples would be great her, Dale.

>
> I'm not sure it's much of an element in Robert E.
> Howard. Nonhuman beauty (palaces, etc.) is just
> mentioned as a backdrop. The beautiful that
> interests him is almost entirely, from what I had
> read, a matter of curvy female bodies as objects
> of lust that are apparently of no interest once
> the heat of lust has passed.
>
> What about Smith?

It seems like beauty is unlikely to exist in Zothique, doesn't it. Spendor, awe, maybe.

Hyperborea is different; perhaps there are passages about the beautiful in those tales.

Perhaps his poetry?

--Sawfish

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 20 January, 2021 06:58PM
DN on HPL: He resolved the conflict, if you want to say this
> is a resolution, by saying that his feelings about
> and imaginative response to Beauty were mere facts
> about the idiosyncratic mental phenomena of an
> organism called HPL.

Sawfish: So far, so good... :^)

Well, no, because if there is no truly Beautiful, only idiosyncrasy, then aesthetic discussion is pointless, isn't it? It's as if we were having a conversation like this -- ?:

Joe: What a magnificent waterfall!
Sally: No, I feel quite well.

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 20 January, 2021 07:08PM
I put an asterisk by Lewis's name above (message of 4:14 pm) but forgot to put the reference. I was thinking of That Hideous Strength, where the Beautiful is important in the rehabilitation of Jane Studdock and mark Studdock.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 20 Jan 21 | 07:10PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 20 January, 2021 07:29PM
DN: > Similarly the Beautiful is important in the work
> of Lewis,* Tolkien, Arthur Machen, & other
> fantasists. I think it is there in some work by
> Algernon Blackwood relating to rambles in the
> Caucasus Mountains, etc. but I don't know his work
> terribly well.

Sawfish: Would you be comfortable in identifying one or two such passages? Concrete examples would be great here, Dale.

1.For Lewis, read, say, the third section of Chapter One of That Hideous Strength, the narrator's visit to Bragdon Wood. I think Lovecraft would have relished it. Or take the final paragraph of Chapter 6 (Jane's train journey).

2.For Tolkien, read early in The Fellowship of the Ring when Frodo & friends have only just set out to walk east through the Shire, before anything alarming has happened.

3.For Machen, oh, say this from "The Novel of the Black Seal":

-----We set out at midday, and it was in the dusk of the evening that we arrived at a little country station. I was tired and excited, and the drive through the lanes seems all a dream. First the deserted streets of a forgotten village, while I heard Professor Gregg's voice talking of the Augustan Legion and the clash of arms, and all the tremendous pomp that followed the eagles; then the broad river swimming to full tide with the last afterglow glimmering duskily in the yellow water, the wide meadows, the cornfields whitening, and the deep lane winding on the slope between the hills and the water. At last we began to ascend, and the air grew rarer. I looked down and saw the pure white mist tracking the outline of the river like a shroud, and a vague and shadowy country; imaginations and fantasy of swelling hills and hanging woods, and half-shaped outlines of hills beyond, and in the distance the glare of the furnace fire on the mountain, glowing by turns a pillar of shining flame and fading to a dull point of red. We were slowly mounting a carriage drive, and then there came to me the cool breath and the secret of the great wood that was above us; I seemed to wander in its deepest depths, and there was the sound of trickling water, the scent of the green leaves, and the breath of the summer night. The carriage stopped at last, and I could scarcely distinguish the form of the house, as I waited a moment at the pillared porch. The rest of the evening seemed a dream of strange things bounded by the great silence of the wood and the valley and the river.

The next morning, when I awoke and looked out of the bow window of the big, old-fashioned bedroom, I saw under a grey sky a country that was still all mystery. The long, lovely valley, with the river winding in and out below, crossed in mid-vision by a mediæval bridge of vaulted and buttressed stone, the clear presence of the rising ground beyond, and the woods that I had only seen in shadow the night before, seemed tinged with enchantment, and the soft breath of air that sighed in at the opened pane was like no other wind. I looked across the valley, and beyond, hill followed on hill as wave on wave, and here a faint blue pillar of smoke rose still in the morning air from the chimney of an ancient grey farmhouse, there was a rugged height crowned with dark firs, and in the distance I saw the white streak of a road that climbed and vanished into some unimagined country. But the boundary of all was a great wall of mountain, vast in the west, and ending like a fortress with a steep ascent and a domed tumulus clear against the sky.

I saw Professor Gregg walking up and down the terrace path below the windows, and it was evident that he was revelling in the sense of liberty, and the thought that he had for a while bidden good-bye to task-work. When I joined him there was exultation in his voice as he pointed out the sweep of valley and the river that wound beneath the lovely hills.-----

4.For Blackwood, take this from the beginning of "The Camp of the Dog" in John Silence, the Swedish story:

-----Islands of all shapes and sizes troop northward from Stockholm by the
hundred, and the little steamer that threads their intricate mazes in
summer leaves the traveller in a somewhat bewildered state as regards
the points of the compass when it reaches the end of its journey at
Waxholm. But it is only after Waxholm that the true islands begin, so
to speak, to run wild, and start up the coast on their tangled course
of a hundred miles of deserted loveliness, and it was in the very heart
of this delightful confusion that we pitched our tents for a summer
holiday. A veritable wilderness of islands lay about us: from the mere
round button of a rock that bore a single fir, to the mountainous
stretch of a square mile, densely wooded, and bounded by precipitous
cliffs; so close together often that a strip of water ran between no
wider than a country lane, or, again, so far that an expanse stretched
like the open sea for miles.

Although the larger islands boasted farms and fishing stations, the
majority were uninhabited. Carpeted with moss and heather, their
coast-lines showed a series of ravines and clefts and little sandy
bays, with a growth of splendid pine-woods that came down to the
water’s edge and led the eye through unknown depths of shadow and
mystery into the very heart of primitive forest.

The particular islands to which we had camping rights by virtue
of paying a nominal sum to a Stockholm merchant lay together in a
picturesque group far beyond the reach of the steamer, one being a mere
reef with a fringe of fairy-like birches, and two others, cliff-bound
monsters rising with wooded heads out of the sea. The fourth, which we
selected because it enclosed a little lagoon suitable for anchorage,
bathing, night-lines, and what-not, shall have what description is
necessary as the story proceeds; but, so far as paying rent was
concerned, we might equally well have pitched our tents on any one of a
hundred others that clustered about us as thickly as a swarm of bees.

It was in the blaze of an evening in July, the air clear as crystal,
the sea a cobalt blue, when we left the steamer on the borders of
civilisation and sailed away with maps, compasses, and provisions for
the little group of dots in the Skärgård that were to be our home for
the next two months. The dinghy and my Canadian canoe trailed behind
us, with tents and dunnage carefully piled aboard, and when the point
of cliff intervened to hide the steamer and the Waxholm hotel we
realised for the first time that the horror of trains and houses was
far behind us, the fever of men and cities, the weariness of streets
and confined spaces. The wilderness opened up on all sides into endless
blue reaches, and the map and compasses were so frequently called
into requisition that we went astray more often than not and progress
was enchantingly slow. It took us, for instance, two whole days to
find our crescent-shaped home, and the camps we made on the way were
so fascinating that we left them with difficulty and regret, for each
island seemed more desirable than the one before it, and over all lay
the spell of haunting peace, remoteness from the turmoil of the world,
and the freedom of open and desolate spaces.-----

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 20 January, 2021 08:59PM
Someone seems to have posted That Hideous Strength here:

[www.samizdat.qc.ca].

However, I have my doubts about its legality. But for our purposes, just to check a couple of passages that I've referred to -- that much use might be OK in itself. Here are two sentences from the penultimate paragraph, and the the final paragraph, of Chapter 6:

"The train was blessedly warm, her compartment empty, the fact
of sitting down delightful. The slow journey through the fog almost
sent her to sleep. .... [She gets off the train and walks.]

"She was roused from this state by noticing that it was lighter. She
looked ahead: surely that bend in the road was more visible than
it ought to be in such a fog? Or was it only that a country fog was
different from a town one? Certainly what had been grey was becoming white, almost dazzlingly white. A few yards further and luminous blue was showing overhead, and trees cast shadows (she
had not seen a shadow for days), and then all of a sudden the enormous spaces of the sky had become visible and the pale golden sun,
and looking back, as she took the turn to the Manor, Jane saw that
she was standing on the shore of a little green sun-lit island looking down on a sea of white fog, furrowed and ridged yet level on
the whole, which spread as far as she could see. There were other
islands too. That dark one to the west was the wooded hills above
Sandown where she had picnicked with the Dennisons; and the far
bigger and brighter one to the north was the many caverned hills —
mountains one could nearly call them — in which the Wynd had its
source. She took a deep breath. It was the size of this world above
the fog which impressed her. Down in Edgestow all these days one
had lived, even when out-of-doors, as if in a room, for only objects
close at hand were visible. She felt she had come near to forgetting
how big the sky is, how remote the horizon."



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 20 Jan 21 | 09:07PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 20 January, 2021 09:07PM
I was reminded of another passage. This is from Colin Wilson's The Philosopher's Stone. The character has gone for a walk on a grey Christmas morning in the English countryside:

"Even the greyness of the sky seemed inexpressibly beautiful, as if it were a benediction. I saw cottages across the fields with smoke rising from their chimneys, and heard the distant hoot of a train. Then I was suddenly aware that all over England, at this moment, kitchens were full of the smell of baked potatoes and stuffing and turkey, and pubs were full of men drinking unaccustomed spirits and feeling glad that life occasionally declares a truce. Then there was the thought that this world is probably one of the most beautiful in the solar system. Mercury is all white-hot rock; Venus is all heavy cloud, and the surface is too hot to support organic life. (Oddly enough, I had a clear intuition that there is life on Venus, but that it somehow floats in the atmosphere.) Mars is an icy desert with almost no atmosphere, and Jupiter is little more than a strange ball of gas. All barren – metallic, meteor-pitted rocks, revolving around the blank sun. And here we have trees and grass and rivers, and frost on cold mornings and dew on hot ones. And meanwhile, we live in a dirty, narrow claustrophobic life-world, arguing about politics and sexual freedom and the race problem."


So I think these authors -- Lovecraft with his sunsets (and cats! cats!), and Lewis, Tolkien, Machen, Blackwood, and Wilson, are writing imaginative fiction, "fantasy" in a broad sense that encompasses science fiction as well as "fantasy"), and demonstrate what seems to me real feeling for the Beautiful. But I think other fantasists don't demonstrate this sensibility. But what are your findings and observations?



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 20 Jan 21 | 09:10PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 20 January, 2021 09:57PM
I thank you for your effort in selecting this, Dale.

I'll need to spend some time with them to do them justice.

I tend to quibble too much.... :^(

--Sawfish

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 21 January, 2021 02:17PM
Someone might think "Dunsany! Surely he's all about the Beautiful!"

Myself, I'd hesitate to say so. I think there's much that's pretty, that's decorative, in his fantasy. It's often appropriate to make a distinction between the beautiful, on one hand, and the pretty, or exquisite, or decorative, etc. on the other. I find Dunsany's characteristic fantasy is usually something I have to force myself to read, though when I was in my teens in the 1970s he was one of my favorite authors. He didn't wear well at all.

If I were going to look for evocation of the beautiful in his work, I'd turn first to The Curse of the Wise Woman, which, as I recall from a reading around eight years ago, seemed to evoke a sense of the beautiful in some Irish landscapes. But in his characteristic fantasy do we find anything similar to the instances I have mentioned? Point them out, please, if so -- I should revisit them!*

*I read the six Ballantine Dunsany volumes more or less as they were published, plus some in the Dover selection Gods, Men, and Ghosts, etc. By "characteristic fantasy" I'm referring to "The Sword of Welleran," "The Fortress Unvanquishable, save for Sacnoth," "The Distressing Tale of Thangobrind the Jeweller and of the Doom that Befell Him," etc etc.; and not to "The Kith of the Elf-folk," etc.

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 21 January, 2021 04:36PM
What about de la Mare? I'm now thinking of how vividly he describes the hike down to All Hallows, and it seems like if he wanted to evoke beauty, he's definitely a guy with the tools to do so.

But I haven't read enough of his stuff.

Any thoughts on this, Dale?

--Sawfish

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 21 January, 2021 05:08PM
De la Mare I'm sure. I'd have mentioned him if I'd thought of it. Perhaps his poetry more than his stories.

But there are the major fantasists also who, so far as I remember or know, do not show much attention to the beautiful, for example, William Hope Hodgson. Probably not M. R. James.

I think Merritt wanted to evoke the beautiful but might not have had the imaginative grasp and literary artistry to do so convincingly. Please note well: If anyone does want to make the case for Merritt, you must do so by focusing on what he actually wrote -- not basing your remarks actually on your memories of Virgil Finlay illustrations, for example!!

Fritz Leiber -- not much sense of the beautiful. He likes to suggest the sexually alluring, but not what I mean to be getting at as regards the beautiful; he's really not that different from Robert E. Howard (see above). I don't think other sword-and-sorcery fiction does much to evoke the beautiful either -- de Camp? Lin Carter? Moorcock? John Jakes?

You can go through the whole works of various authors and have little sense of the beautiful -- and yet they might be good authors. I'd have to think about whether it's there in Dickens -- and I've read all 14 1/2 of his novels.

I appreciate the good humor with which folks are responding to this topic. It's good to compare notes.

One more thought: I'd hesitate to say, of myself, that I recognize the Beautiful when I see it or hear it. I'm thinking of Bach's Musical Offering. I have no doubt it is a work of great beauty, but it's one that probably largely eludes me so far. But I love what James Gaines says in his excellent and evocatively titled book Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment -- a book I wish I could give to any serious inquirer -- anyway, here's Gaines:

"A work that may be read as a kind of last will and testament, Bach's Musical Offering leaves us, among other things, a compelling case for the following proposition: that a world without a sense of the transcendent and mysterious, a universe ultimately discoverable through reason alone, can only be a barren place; and that the music sounding forth from such a world might be very pretty, but it can never be beautiful."




Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 21 Jan 21 | 05:17PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 21 January, 2021 05:35PM
This exchange is becoming increasingly meaningful to me. I believe that I am beginning to se your points.

Right now I'm finishing up Berlin Alexanderplatz, and I'll say that more than once it has brought to mind Joyce's oddball vision of what is effective in literature. The book is like a combination of Ulysses and Dreiser's An American Tragedy. Bleak is the best single word.

No beauty here, folks. Move along...

--Sawfish

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 24 January, 2021 05:49PM
Machen's story A FRAGMENT OF LIFE, might be taken as illustrating (eventually) his idea of the beautiful and wholesome.

I hesitate to recommend the story, because one must wade through much that is neither particularly beautiful, nor particularly wholesome, to reach the interesting bits (which is the point, I guess). I just reread the story, and for at least half the story I did not realize I had read it before, because there was so much that was simply too banal and mundane to stick in my mind.

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 24 January, 2021 10:10PM
I think I like “ A Fragment of Life” more than you did, Platypus, but I’d admit it’s not something I’ve read more than three times or so, and not very recently. Maybe it should get a thread of its own here sometime. But I’m too busy with other reading to do that now.

Re: The Beautiful
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 24 January, 2021 10:57PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I think I like “ A Fragment of Life” more than
> you did, Platypus, but I’d admit it’s not
> something I’ve read more than three times or so,
> and not very recently.

I did not dislike the story. But it does require a bit of patience. It does have its memorable parts, and I recognized them instantly when I reached them, though I could not for the life of me remember having previously read what went before. Nor can I feel bad about finding the dull parts dull, since even Machen seems to agree with me.

In the end, it reminded me a bit of "A Crazy Tale" by G.K. Chesterton (which I can recommend without hesitation because it is VERY short).



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 24 Jan 21 | 11:26PM by Platypus.



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