‘The Expressible and The Inexpressible’: Dominique Godfrey

This post is third in a series of responses to papers delivered at the Biennial Conference on Philosophy, Religion and Culture at the Catholic Institute of Sydney, 5th-7th October 2012.

Beauty as Resistance

Dominique Godfrey

Dom was one of two amazing women that I traveled up to Sydney with last weekend.  I liked her instantly when we met on Friday morning in Fitzroy and by the time we arrived in Sydney I knew we were kindred spirits.  Von Balthasar says that beauty and love work the same way as metaphors for knowledge – both refuse to be controlled by human hands; both are an opportunity of connection with God’s grace.  As such, our projects are very much aligned.

The transcendence of true beauty somehow lords it over us, disengaged by the power of beauty’s magic and mystery.  In Dom’s words:

“when something is interesting, we almost conspire with it. But when it is beautiful it somehow directs us, stands apart from us…
beauty is as ‘tears in the world that reveal a vaster space’ (Simone Weil)…
beauty is a personal experience, but it is not a private one. We desire to communicate and connect around it, to share our experience or encounter…
the universality of beauty does not belong to the object but to the experience…

It sounds like beauty is irresistible!  What then, might it be resisting?

Whilst Dom’s doctorate was in existential philosophy (‘Boredom’ in Heidegger), her initial training was in music, art and drama.  The postmodernism cultural phenomena of the last half century has had no interest in what’s beautiful – preferring instead irony, kitsch, shock or playfulness.  Hal Foster described it as an anti-aesthetic, though Dom explained it’s not so much that Beauty has been banished, but the discourse of Beauty that has been banished from postmodern art.  And if this is the case, it is secularisation that has wielded the whip.  As John Millbank argues, there can be no beauty without God, therefore in a secular world there can be no beauty, only prettiness or something less.  When visual pleasing sights, sounds, people and things are coupled with production or any other kind of purpose, they become what Dom called ‘toxic beauty’.

So, to reintroduce Beauty – not just as a notion, but also as an experience, is to refuse to collude with the secularising impulse of late-capitalist culture.  (These are my words here – the sociologist coming through.)

The discussion after Dom’s paper was really engaging – testimony to her clear presentation and welcoming disposition.  We explored some questions around power and beauty – that an attempt to define what is beautiful and what is not is really an attempt to construct boundaries: to include and exclude.  Perhaps we need to redefine beauty more strictly to emphasise its implicit nature of freedom.  However, wise and beautiful Dominique pointed out, it is not arguing about definitions that draws people into truth and goodness, it is enacting the beautiful and showing-not-telling, so our actions take on poetic form in order to persuade.

I was persuaded; and have committed myself afresh to the subversive pursuit of enacting the beautiful in everything I do.

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