Eaton’s chapter about defining beauty, art and aesthetics reminds me of my philosophy class probably 10 years ago. But I still remember we had a lot of arguments about “idea of beauty”, “form of beauty”, and so forth. And of course we did not have any conclusion about what is beauty, or what is the criteria to judge or measure beauty. Because beauty is not a scientific index as the journal impact factor provided by ISI Web of Science ( We do have IMDb scores, but I don’t think they equal “beauty/aesthetics scores”). For example, I remember someone did an experiment to make the “most beautiful human face”. They used visual software to put the most “beautiful” eyes, nose, mouth, etc., on a face with perfect shape according to the golden ratio. I suppose they wanted to quantify “beauty”, but such a made face is far away from “beautiful”. In addition, different cultures have different criteria of “beauty”: In western cultures,  symmetry is beauty because it is a natural law for most living organism (insects, birds, etc.). But in Eastern cultures, asymmetry (especially in architecture or gardening) is beauty.

If we refer to Hegel, his philosophy of art or “aesthetics” is put under his philosophy of absolute spirit. If ignoring all the vague and “cannot be understood” statements, in a simplest sense he connected art and aesthetics to spirit (absolute spirit is different from human spirit, but I just want to skip this otherwise it will be too confusing). So this goes back to the relation between beauty and beholder (more specifically, beholder’s feelings, emotions, knowledge domain, educational backgrounds).

Set The Great Gatsby as an example, since Reynolds talked about it. I feel a lot of critiques (or reviews) attributed its success to either the unique way of narrative (e.g. as both an insider and an outsider) or to the symbolic meaning of the “American dream”. But I did not feel “this is beautiful” even though I was aware of its narrative and metaphor. What I did feel beautiful is its ending:

And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world,
I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the
green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long
way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so
close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know
that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast
obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future
that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but
that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out
our arms farther…. And one fine morning——
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back
ceaselessly into the past.

I can say even if I did not read the whole book (although I did), I would feel this ending is so beautiful. Because I can taste the embedded sadness and sweet sorrow, which is my favorite writing style.

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