Monday, November 03, 2014

Beauty Will Save the World: From the Mouth of an Idiot to the Pen of a Pope

The-body-of-the-dead-christ-in-the-tomb (detail) A popular quote we often hear but find hard to understand is “beauty will save the world.” How will beauty save the world? The line comes from Dostoevsky’s novel, The Idiot, attributed to the main character, Prince Myskin. The prince, an epileptic Russian nobleman, serves as a Christ-like figure, who stands apart for his innocence and even naiveté. Out of the mouth of this idiot comes a clearer vision of beauty and reality than those around him, his clarity heightened even in the midst of his sickness.
The saving power of beauty in the prince’s life could not overcome his sickness, but nonetheless illumined his vision: “What matter though it be only disease, an abnormal tension of the brain, if when I recall and analyze the moment, it seems to have been one of harmony and beauty in the highest degree—an instant of deepest sensation, overflowing with unbounded joy and rapture, ecstatic devotion, and completest life?” In the midst of his suffering, he glimpsed, though in a paradoxical manner, the heart of reality.
Are the prince’s words on beauty the words of a mad idiot or of a prophet?
In Solzhenitsyn’s Noble lecture, he notes that after dismissing the quote for years, he realized that “Dostoevsky’s remark, ‘Beauty will save the world,’ was not a careless phrase but a prophecy. After all he was granted to see much, a man of fantastic illumination. And in that case art, literature might really be able to help the world today?”

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