On Fear and Beauty

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Flying whales are absolutely amazing & are the closest thing too ‚beauty/fear‘ I could think of.

As I mentioned in an earlier entry, I am currently reading Mary Ruefle’s lecture collection Madness, Rack, and Honey. This morning, I read a chapter titled “On Fear”, which prompted me to think about my relationship to some of the thoughts presented there.

Mary Ruefle takes up the connection between hope and fear which has often been made: “[…] what are we to make of Wordsworth, ‘Fostered alike by beauty and by fear’? Or Milton’s ‘equal poise of hope and fear’? Or Blake’s ‘fearful symmetry’?”

Another quote, which might be known to most from #aesthetic photosets from tumblr is “Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it” from Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, a book I loved even though I probably would not have remembered this particular quote if it weren’t for the tumblr fandom.

I like all these quotes, especially the phrase fearful symmetry, because, I don’t know, the words just sound really well together and are a joy to pronounce.

But: even though I came across this beauty/fear thing quite often in my readings, I never felt any connection to it. I do not want to – I obviously cannot – say that all those quoted people are in any way ‘wrong’. Still, I somehow wonder where the idea comes from and most importantly, why I do not share it.

There are people and things I find beautiful and there are things and people I fear. There is no overlap.

Developing a fascination for things you fear, yes, I can understand that. When I was a child, I was very afraid of hot air balloons. Sounds ridiculous, but the mere sight of these things catapulted me into a state of panic – even more horrible it was when they were so close that you could hear the sounds they make! (While they do not trigger panic attacks anymore, I still do not like the sight of them.) Summer evenings were difficult; sometimes I hardly dared to look up when walking the streets, for fear one of those colorfully looming threats had managed to sneak up on me. And while this phobia limited my ability to fully enjoy the summer, I also had a folder in which I put pictures of hot air balloons as well as drawings I made. I definitely found them fascinating. But beautiful was not and is not a word I would chose.

Both fearing something (somebody) and seeing beauty in something (somebody) are extremely powerful experiences and I can understand why people would want to connect them. Same goes for the idea of hate and love being so incredibly close together, and I can understand this (a little bit) more than the other one.

Still – what I find beautiful I do not fear not, even when I revere it.

Maybe it is because – for whatever reason – beauty for me is very closely connected with a sense of warmth and safety, which leaves no space for fear.

Maybe I fear too little? I do not think so. A wonderful and for me really relatable quote from the same lecture by Mary Ruefle is “As far back as I could remember, every minute of my life had been an emergency in which I was paralyzed with fear”.

Maybe I experience too little beauty? I do not think so, either.

I could keep wondering where this connection is that other people see and I don’t, but I decided not to. I’ll just file it on this pile of things I do not understand about many people and many people probably do not understand about me. Maybe one they I’ll see, maybe not. It’s really ok.

Instead, I’ll talk a little more about things that sprung to my mind when reading “On Fear”, or rather the whole book.
It’s a collection of lectures on poetry, by a poet. Therefore I should have had expected that the subject of poets would crop up now and then.

This is always very difficult to read for me. Look: Poetry, both writing it and reading it and also writing about it is a very central part of my life. But almost every time someone says something about the writer or the reader I feel super alienated. I know that most people do not seek to hurt me personally by giving me the impression that I am not real enough. I know (I guess) that Mary Ruefle does not want me to hide both my poetry and my thoughts on poetry where no one will ever find them because they are wrong simply by existing. This is why I will not quote specific examples, neither from Madness, Rack, and Honey nor from other sources.

It is just … I wonder, if people who make statements about writers honestly believe in what they say or if I am supposed to recognize that they just extending the personal into the general as a stylistic device?

Somebody once asked me, if I wanted everyone to always clearly and precisely state the exact premises which they work with before they make a statement. In all honestly: yes.

Yes, in such a world, there would probably much too many words floating around and nobody would ever get to the point. Sometimes I myself forget to mention the premises on which I work. Sometimes I do, and then I overexplain and people get impatient. Sometimes I do not even know what the hell the foundation is on which my my impressions and opinions are built.

Still, some silly, naïve part of me thinks that this could give an additional level of safety to daily communication. So many people complain how difficult (or even impossible) communication is, but I hardly see people actually trying.

The reason why I am especially adverse to statements the like of “all real writers do …” is, that most of my life I spent wondering if I was a real human at all. Which is sad. And I am, by now, mostly over it. Yes, I am human. Very much so. And I will not let anyone take that away from me ever again.

Anyway. This entry extended into directions I could not pre-estimate. I enjoyed writing it, so I guess, that even when I started out in disagreement – or at least, confusion – I am thankful for Mary Ruefle for making me think.

Maybe somebody reads this and feels the same. Or reads this and feels weirded out. In either case: thanks for reading!

❤️, Rosa.


Mary Ruefle: Madness, Rack, and Honey. Published by Wave Books in 2012 & the ISBN is 978-1-933571-57-5.

The whale gif was made by tumblr user knightofleo and is taken from this music video by Emilie Nicolas.