Byung-Chul Han’s “Saving Beauty” 05/15/21

In “Saving Beauty,” Byung-Chul Han writes at length about the horror of the smooth. Real beauty in art or nature creates a feeling of the sublime, which is close to fear, and sometimes not expressed as pleasure at all. Think of seeing someone so beautiful it hurts.

In today’s world, everything is instead smoothed out, so that nothing is really beautiful or sublime, preferring instead to be “liked.”

A necessary component of the “liked” object versus the “beautiful” is its mystification and proximity.

“For Roland Barthes, the sense of touch ‘is the most demystifying of all senses, unlike sight which is the most magical. The sense of sight keeps a distance, while the sense of touch destroys it. Without distance, there can be no mysticism. De-mystification lets everything become available for enjoyment and consumption. The sense of touch destroys the negativity of what is wholly other. It secularizes what it touches. In contrast to the sense of sight, touch is incapable of wonderment. The smooth touchscreen, therefore, is a place of de-mystification and total consumption. It produces what one likes.”

Therefore, according to Han, the only way to have something be truly beautiful is to have parts of it obscured:

“Only the rhythmic oscillation between presence and absence, veiling and unveiling, keeps the gaze awake. The erotic also depends on the staging of appearance-as-disappearance, on the ‘undulations of the imaginary.'”

Writing on what, exactly pornography is, Han indicates that “pornography is a lack of ambiguity,” and I’ve never heard it put so well before.

What does this mean for novels? It’s the drum I’ve been beating in this blog before, whether I’m talking about Dark Souls, Petscop, or novels that I enjoy: there is a necessary mystification process to create truly beautiful work. “Show, don’t tell” is a part of this, but it’s not quite right: “don’t show, and don’t tell: lie.”

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