A Thing of Beauty—for You, Me, and Roger Shattuck


In a book called Candor and Perversion, Roger Shattuck writes, “Forty years ago in a Paris bookstore near the Odéon, I happened upon a large, slim volume of intermingled writing and drawing. That book was the first object I acquired for purely aesthetic reasons.”

Shattuck goes on to lament the altogether passive response others had when, in his enthusiasm, he showed them his prized possession.

Often we find the beautiful in places where others see only a peculiar drabness. If they see anything at all. (Appreciation of the beautiful depends on close observation, an intentional noticing.) So it’s no surprise that Shattuck’s aesthetic tastes were not especially contagious.

When I came across this passage about ten years ago, and then again today in the commonplace surroundings of my living room, what struck me was Shattuck’s ability to recall “the first object [he] acquired for purely aesthetic reasons.” I thought to myself: What was the first object I acquired for purely aesthetic reasons? Is there a “first object”? That is, have I ever acquired anything for purely aesthetic reasons?

And then I wondered: Is it possible to appreciate something for purely aesthetic reasons, untainted by other reasons I might have? It must be, if Shattuck acquired just such a thing. So, If it is possible, how is it possible? And, Is it possible to appreciate an object for aesthetic reasons if it is also appreciated for other reasons?

It’s so easy to ask questions that are not so easy to answer. No wonder we ask but do not stick around for the answer. (Perhaps we inoculate ourselves against guilt about this with the relativist bromide that “there is no answer.” How can one be so confident of this if one hasn’t looked for an answer? Skepticism is such a convenient disguise for intellectual laziness and indifference.)

But I digress.

What I’d like to know is whether you can recall what object you first acquired for purely aesthetic reasons. If so, what was that object?

Quotations: On Atheism


“I try not to believe in God, of course, but sometimes things happen in music, in songs, that bring me up short, make me do a double take. When things add up to more than the sum of their parts, when the effects achieved are inexplicable, then atheists like me start to get into difficult territory.” —Nick Hornby, Songbook

“Agnosticism is not a state in which the mind of an intelligent being can permanently rest. It is essentially a condition of suspense—a confession of ignorance—an abdication of thought on the highest subjects. Generally, however, under the surface of professed Agnosticism, there will be found some more or less positive opinions about the origin and nature of things all of them agreeing in this, that they negate the belief in God. It is not, in the nature of things, possible for the mind to remain persistently in this neutral, passive attitude. It will press on perforce to one or other of the views which present themselves as alternatives—either to Theism, or to Materialism and dogmatic Atheism.” —James Orr, The Christian View of God and the Word

“The number of reasonable atheist questions versus condescending atheist sneers that I have run across just directed at me in [sic] less than one in four.” —SF writer, and former atheist, John C. Wright

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