Beauty is Unbearable

Black and White photo of Albert Camus with his cigarette

Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair, offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity that we should like to stretch out over the whole of time. – Albert Camus

I was watching a film the other day and in it there was a romantic story arc involving the main character. Some of the interaction between the characters wasn’t what you or I would consider practical, or even remotely realistic as the two main characters embraced for a cinematic kiss. As a result, I threw my hands up and sighed, perhaps even yawped in my living room. “That never happens!” I exclaimed, but in the movie, it did.

It’s as if I suddenly became self aware and became reminded all the different times in different films that the dashing protagonist that the audience identifies with gets the girl, when everything comes together perfectly for a happily ever after at the end of the movie. Many times we smile and rejoice at moments like these, I mean, normally I always do too. However, perhaps because I’ve had the absurd struggle still spinning around in my head I was more aware of this gap, the displays of beauty in film and reality. Because of this, I lamented.

Why do we find certain things beautiful? Aside from physical attraction, why do we view certain things in nature, beautiful? A sunset, a blooming flower, a complex snowflake shimmering with the interlocking lattice. What do these all have in common? When compared to our current situation, they illustrate a certain, and undeniable frailty. As if we’re finally made aware that we’re missing something. Now imagine beauty as action, between people, acts of selflessness, love flourishing, moments that make us forget about the wretched world that we currently live. Like how I felt watching the film, I lamented because that never happens. Most art that is beautiful does this to us. Reminds us where we are, or where we aren’t. These are signposts to the human condition that we are condemned to.

Somehow we are infatuated by this idea, beauty. As a result, we attempt to create art that repeatedly conveys this message of beauty to us in multiple ways. One way is that it shows us us where we could go, a perfect world, the hero wins, gets the girl, evil loses, justice is served, happiness ever after. Staring at the horizon, it’s so far away and possibly impossible to ever reach, but still, just look at it. Often it makes us put our heads in the clouds, distracting us from the wretched world that we currently live.

Another way, a more profound way is to use negative space. Instead of showing us where we could go, it only shows us the here, the now, the tragedy. It shows us the cracks splintering all over the place, showing us that something is missing, a gear is broken, the world is off its hinges. It focuses on the flaws, the pain, the hurt, the gigantic hole that is missing a crucial piece. It makes us conclude, there HAS to be somewhere better, but never shows if it’s possible. More often we can identify with this, it invokes a communal feeling. As if the pain that we feel, we aren’t the only ones feeling it. We want to feel connected to each other, true intimacy is just another beautiful thing as well.

Ever have a sad song that you identified with? It’s almost as if it’s a reminder that saturates you when you play it. Sometimes it feels like a taunt and that makes it unbearable. Whether we see it directly or see it indirectly as the missing puzzle piece, beauty is often shown in reality as only flashes and shimmers. As if suddenly turning on the light in a dark room burns out that very light bulb and then everything immediately returns back darkness. Beauty has a certain rare quality to it. I’m reminded in the irony of picking flowers. Although it seems like it suspends its beauty, it ends up killing them. There is a desperate longing in all of us to the point where this beauty breaks forth uninhibited and becomes permanent everywhere, manifesting in everything.

Beauty makes me unable to sit still, tapping my foot in nervous anticipation. The question as to whether catching that illusive lightning in a bottle is even possible is irrelevant, I have to chase it. I have to invert myself and contribute, because If I don’t, I will sink in despair at the rarity of it and I feel like if anything is going to push back the borders of darkness in this world, it’s beauty.