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Monthly Archives: November 2015

Nietzsche asks in The Genealogy of Morals, “. . . what would be ‘beautiful’ if the contradiction had not first become conscious of itself, if the ugly had not first said to itself: ‘I am ugly’?” This quote inspires me to ask, without humans, is there such a thing as “beautiful” and “ugly”? Is a sunset, in itself, beautiful? Is clear-cut, in itself, ugly, as my good friend commented during a hike? Or do we “find” beauty and ugliness only in ourselves? Is everything in our human sense of “reality” confined to mind as Kant might say (can humanity only ever “see” or “experience” through its own constructs of mind), or even more so, is everything human confined to my Bodymind, as I would frame it? And if so, are we trapped by our visceral responses and the intellectual judgments that arise from them? Is that which I call “ugly” destined to impact me with repulsion necessitating my response of distancing, denial, vitriol and/or abrasive action against it?

We feel visceral responses to the balanced and unbalanced, to the validating and the threatening, to a fresh young face and an old decrepit, dying body. The “ugly” is often an object of disgust and fear. And even more complicated, we feel visceral responses to practices, ideas and values. Not always are our visceral responses directly triggered by the aesthetic appearance of a thing or event. However, that thing or event may symbolize a practice, idea, or value that chafes us within, or incites disgust, such as with my friend and the ugliness of clear-cut.

As I sit with these thoughts, I find my mind migrating toward people that seem to overcome the visceral reflex and intellectual judgments of “the ugly”. Sister Helen Prejean seems a fitting example here. She must find the crimes of death row inmates repugnant, and if there is any arrogance or righteous attitudes among them, that repugnance , I would guess, must be even higher. If she does experience disgust and repugnance and find them “ugly” creatures, she seems to have found an alchemical secret of transforming her Bodymind experience of repulsion to connection.

Prejean claims that the less lovable a person is, the more we must find the means to love them. If we are bound by our humanity within the loops of Bodymind, bodily responses and intellectual judgments informing our perceptions, which inform our bodily responses and intellectual judgments, then how does one transcend the obviousness of the ugly as she seems to have done?

As “ugly” is within us, I believe that within us, too, we can find the alchemical secret that seems to cut through, or see through the loops of our perceptions, bodily responses and intellectual judgments. Within myself is “the ugly”. Back to Nietzsche’s quote, he wrote it in context of investigating how certain values come to be esteemed. In so doing, he makes the claim that we all know “ugly” from within. We create this name and it is useful. However, its reverberations may crowd the moment and we get lost in them. We forget that it is a category within us and we stop there, left in our sensations of disgust and repugnance, locked in our judgments they inspire. Are we thus tied to actions of walking away from, detaching from or compartmentalizing that which incites those feelings and leaving them as “other” or forgotten? I don’t believe so.

As “ugly” is a category found within human Bodymind, it necessarily carries with it the possibility of compassion. Compassion (acting from empathy), not only “overcomes” the barriers between us and that which we feel to be “ugly”, but could not exist without “ugliness”, ugliness that I know to be mine. To place ugliness on an outside entity, I must have entertained it internally.

It’s as if that which repels and repulses not only uses the same highway system as compassion, it is the same highway system. The only difference is how our awareness travels it. If I follow my judgments on external ugliness inward, I find myself. And in so doing, I have found a way to respond to it through connection rather than retreat or enmity. The reverberations of “ugliness” dissipate, unveiling a cleaner terrain from which to act and from which to connect through empathetic action.

I might guess that Sister Helen Prejean knows she lives a different life than those with whom she works, however, I would also guess she doesn’t feel entirely alienated from them. She has found the inner roadway of compassion by riding the wave of the emotions that might come from being face to face with humans that have actualized their internal ugliness onto other people’s bodies and lives until she finds their roots in her own internalized self-disgust wrought by her own “ugliness within”. She has cultivated that kindness (of the same “kind”) to extend to the nether lands of human behavior incited by others’ own “ugliness within”. As remarkable as I find that to be, I also find it to be simple, not in the sense that it is easy, but rather that the means for doing so are entirely within our reach every moment, indeed they are within us, within human Bodymind.

And by now you may be wondering, what does the above topic have to do with this art project? Simply put, we have habits of perception, thought and interpretation which this art project attempts to interrupt. The interruption is not a destruction, but rather an illumination of other possibilities within human Bodymind. The art itself makes no suggestions of what those possibilities might be, for that is up to each viewer individually. The possibilities are not radical. They come from small tweaks as illustrated by this above story of ugliness and compassion, small tweaks made possible by the slightest off-beat, the subtlest variation and the needle left to skip if only for a moment. The smallest tweaks that have the power to turn repulsion into love.