I am not trying to assert that the meaning of a word in use today should be ruled by its etymology; I do, though., believe that it can be and might even fruitfully be informed by the meaning it held in the language of its origin in the time of its origin. I also believe that language is not cut off from its source or sources, and that there remains residue of the past in its currency today. This said, I will venture a small etymological investigation to unveil some of what I understand about some words, particularly those involved in certain discussions of beauty, form and how they relate, connect, detach, reconnect in a philosophy of form and/or beauty, the latter particularly in its relationship with truth.
The word ‘form’ is from the Latin forma. Forma also translates, beauty in some contexts. In the Roman mind, as in the Greek, beauty was always in form. It had to be in form. Only in form could beauty exist. Therefore, form is beauty, beauty form–should this be a question. I know where you imagine this is going; I suspect anyone could, as I would have to as well, even if I were not the essayer here, the Grand Expositor.
So, if this form is beauty, beauty form, then we could say that truth–that Truth we have heard Keats speak so eloquently of in his “Ode on a Grecian Urn” as well as a number of his letters, is also in form; yes, if truth is beauty, then truth is form. If beauty truth is the result of truth is beauty, then beauty form is also inferred. Yes, without form, truth cannot take shape as idea. Truth has a shape in idea, it must seek its form.
What then does this mean for us in the maintenance of beauty, the maintenance of truth?
It is my responsibility to bear truth, even if to do so is to bear it as Francis bears other wounds; yes, to carry this idea . . . there is a Truth that is absolute, and It is an irony supreme that a culture so lacking in dexterity when it comes to carrying truth, bearing its pursuit to whatever term necessary, can persist in making abortion the issue it is in America, and insist that women must carry a fetus to term. We have aborted truth and jettisoned every notion of how form plays and interplays with beauty, the creation of beauty.
The link between beauty and form and beauty and truth links form to truth. To inform then becomes a kind of bearing of truth; the idea behind the act of informing is to place in/form, thus, at least residually in our traditional semantics it has something to do with maintaining beauty, what is beautiful. The aesthetics of Keats aside, whereby the pursuit of beauty is a pursuit of truth, there is too much exchange of information today, a thing a little less than beautiful, or so we could have assumed if we were awake, eyes wide opened. We are subject to much permeation from institutions wanting information about us, on us–always on top of us.
What we call information and the act of informing, what we mean when we say we want to inform, is quite separate from making or maintaining the beautiful. There is no beauty in the superstate’s obsession with information. The process of information is to put things in form, to have all things subjected to a kind of formation that resembles those in the military, whereby we find ourselves in rows and columns and other kinds of formations. We know of this from our experience with American football, not so unlike those of warfare. When the guardians of the prison told Patrick McGoohan, in the TV show, The Prisoner they wanted information, it was quite simply–they wanted him in . . . formation.
I’m not so certain today we even know what exchanging information means. Anything akin to a philosophy of beauty would be lost on us. The idea of truth is lost on us. Aesthetics has long lost its influence in the academies of learning in America, somewhere now in an intellectual graveyard with philology and metaphysics. We have given up on ever perfecting this special acumen; even if the possibility of perfecting them in our lifetime or all of our lifetimes did not exist, the pursuit was what was important. It was the realization that truth was perhaps a construct that misguided us. But it was not the transcendental truth that was a construct, but the forms that truth took or could take that were constructed, were things made. We lost our ability to speak metaphysically. We convince ourselves that metaphysics was bullshit and a power game played by men who were white and thus naturally determined to be racist oppressors.
We no longer believe in truth–of course we do not. We cannot be seriously critical of our culture and not know that doubt has become the highest wisdom, that knowledge has become impossible, that what we know is that we might never know, and not the once believed we can never know completely, but veracity and validity themselves have become the question, and not either in the Socratic, I know nothing as an emptying point whereby we can get to see what fill our cup with . . . yes, it is beyond pessimism; it is deeply and broadly pervasive nihilism, the only escape from becomes solipsism.
But we have in turn lost our ability to build any truths rooted in an ideal Truth, or set against the ideal. Where has this left us but at the mercy of the Elite: Monied, Power, Media, whatever have we in terms to modify the Elite. We are like the character in Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons who would cut down all the trees of law in the forest to get at the Devil, but when the Devil turns to face him, he is asked, what have you to hide behind, what is left to come between you and the Devil. Like ourselves wandering in a wasteland that was once the forest of truth, nothing.
There was a professor in Japan who wanted to know all he could about Zen, so he came to a Zen Master and asked the question, Can you teach me all there is to know about Zen? The professor imagined he was asking an intelligent question.
The Zen Master invited the professor into his home when the professor arrived to receive the answer to his question which the professor had sent in a letter introducing himself and making his request. The Zen Master had responded to the professor’s request.
The two sat down to have tea before they were to embark on this quest for knowledge on the part of the professor.
The Master began by pouring tea into the cup he set out on the table for the professor who was already seated at the table. The Zen Master had brewed the tea as the professor patiently waited. What the professor did not expect was what was to happen next, which was that the Master continued to pour the professor’s tea into his cup even after the tea had reached the lip of the cup and the limit of what would go in. As the Master continued to pour the tea, it spilled over the rim and onto the table and eventually the professor stood in desperation and shouted for the Master to stop, to stop pouring the tea, then adding, Can’t you see that no more will go in!
To this the Master replied calmly and succinctly, Like this cup, you too are full, full of your own opinions and preconceptions. Before I can teach you what you seek, if not what you need, to know, you must first empty your cup.