The Fourth Kind of Madness

“Where to, and from where?” is asked in the first line of one of the early extant works on the meaning of Beauty in human history as the walls of the city are crossed to enter the countryside and enquire into the irrational. Only by cultivating the most pure and highest form of madness—Love—starting from a fragment of beauty in the sensuous, fluctuating world of becoming, we could have learned to perceive intelligible beauty. Losing reverence for sensuous beauty would result in losing our capacity to see beauty in equality and justice; ultimately, beauty would turn into something to be merely consumed.

Inspired by the postmodern shunning of beauty, “The Fourth Kind of Madness“ elaborates on Elaine Scarry’s philosophical work on the relationship between beauty and justice, and the societal value of the “unselfing” that we undergo when standing in the presence of something beautiful, what philosopher and political activist Simone Weil saw as a radical decentering—possibly the only perceptual event in human experience where loss of perceived or pursued centrality is associated with the feeling of pleasure.

In the series I reconsider beauty as a subject, reevaluating it from an alternative perspective that goes beyond counter-aesthetic frameworks of political and social engagement, and explore how our pursuit of notions of justice, equality and ethical fairness—or what political philosopher John Rawls called a “symmetry of everyone's relations to each other”—is assisted by beauty and its availability to sensory perception.

Seven years in the making, “The Fourth Kind of Madness“ reflects on the societal value of the encounter with something beautiful. Where to, and from where?

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