“Fixation is the way to death. Fluidity is the way to life.”
The beauty of life lies in the transient. The butterfly’s beauty, in its fluttering by. The sun’s, in its setting. The flower’s, in its blossom. An attempt to capture this beauty is a fruitless grasp at the air. A sunset photographed, a pinned butterfly in a glass cabinet, an artificial flower forever in bloom, all pale in comparison to their authentic displays. Beauty then, can be discerned by its motion. All that is real is in constant motion and therefore transient, holding value only in so far that it is passing and has an end. In vain are all attempts to immortalise that which was never meant to be.
Capturing the world into a fixed state merely presents a caricature of beauty, not beauty itself. The Lepidopterist, who collects butterflies in a glass case, succeeds only in capturing a corpse. The once spirited, white butterfly which disappears as suddenly as it appears among the greenery of the garden has vanished, its awe and intrigue with it. We can take this thinking a step further. Though not encased lifelessly in glass, animals in a zoo, have lost their motion and their natural freedom within those framed windows. They stand merely as a symbol of their former selves, something John Berger articulates best:
“Everywhere animals disappear. In zoos they constitute the living monument to their own disappearance .”
Thus, beauty is anything but superficial. Seeing something that is a rendition, rather than a real experience, as the zoo is to wildlife, does not satisfy us. It leaves a bad taste, and rightly so. Beauty is not only seen but felt, this is precisely the reason why art-enthusiasts prefer to see original works over reprints, why Anne Frank’s actual diary is inextricably more intriguing than a mass-published version. Beautiful moments possess a palpable energy that cannot be translated through photo, reprint or the framing of zoos.
One evening, whilst watching the sunset from the third floor of my place of work, a close friend sparked in me a thought, a thought which resonated with me and ultimately inspired this entire post. He pointed out how the trails left behind by planes, though beautiful when illuminated by the sunset, are never regarded as such. However, if we were to envisage the very same trails as the coattails of a meteor, the same skyline would be filled with awe and wonder. This shows how our conception of what is beautiful is founded beyond the ocular. The thought of a mechanical, man-made pollutant creating a stream of smoke, compared to that left by a cosmic rock, invariably evokes a different sensation entirely.
It is not the picture of the butterfly which pleases us, but it’s fluttering and how this represents the freedom we all yearn for. It is not the meteor or shooting star that is beautiful but its reminder that our universe is uncertain and beyond control. The same can be said of the flower, its seasonal bloom encapsulates the virtue of patience.
The current permanence of our cultural perspective can be attributed largely to the commodity-based society we inhabit. Where certainty is king, and consistency means safety we embark on a perpetual hunt for control. Possession and control have become tightly interlinked as both exist within the same dimensions. Ultimately, we possess in order to control. A natural progression of this is not only the hording of material goods but also of moments, experiences and memories. A futile task, in that these aspects of life belong to time. We cannot own that. In this search we often lose the one thing we actually own, the only thing we can ever own as Marcus Aurelius believes; the present moment.
“For the passing of every minute is every man’s equal possession, but what has once gone by is not ours. Our loss, therefore, is limited to that one fleeting instant, since no one can lose what is already past, nor yet what is still to come – for how can he be deprived of what he does not possess?”
The lesson to take from this is one of acceptance. Life is not simply a case of finding what you love and aggressively clinging to it at all costs. The valuable is transitory. Have you ever heard a song and thought, “this is the best song ever, I will never get bored of this”? Yet, experience tells us that this song will become tiresome in time. This is because the song is fixed, unchanging, motionless – dead. To capture something is to remove it from the perpetual motion of life, this is death. In contrast, glancing at a sunset, in 1 minute intervals, reveals the full spectrum of the sky’s colour palette until it finally bows below the horizon – this is life. Herein lies the beauty.