A Crass and Callow Child

"All grown-ups were once children... but only few of them remember it."
-the little prince

The Well Kept Skin of a Beast

I lay under the cover of linen and light in a room meticulous fashioned. Soon I will rise, I will brew coffee and sit on the patio in the garden, staring at the apple trees, listening to the harsh voices from the jays. The unburnt clouds leave the morning chilled and provide an atmosphere brooding and melancholy to contend with my mood. Soon, I put on my gloves and take up my instruments of labor, pulling from the soft ground each unwanted plant. I go like this for hours, and the work is satisfying. 

There are far more weeds in the world and in this garden than desirous plants. I am in Portland Oregon, thinking about evil. Over my head, casting a shadow on the grass, a butterfly flew and landed in the fir tree near me. It had great yellow wings with black stripes and dots of blue and red at the bottom of its wing. I learned later that it’s name was the Oregon Swallowtail. It sat unmoving, and I too, fascinated by the thinness and frailty of it’s wing and by the fur which grew over the stalk of the wing. I thought of petting it, but I imagined it would fly away immediately, so I refrained from doing so. After some time, I ceased to look at it’s wing, and began to inspect it’s abdomen and body. It was nearly all black and fur covered, with thick muscular legs. From its face protruded its curled proboscis like a thinly wrapped wire. It was not a beautiful insect, despite the allure of it’s wings. A thought came over me, that if I were to rip those wing from it’s body, those delicate, felt wings, what would one say of that butterfly? Certainly not that it was still the same picturesque and idyllic creature? Would it take on the appearance of a locust, a wretched vermin whose sight would make one cringe? Who could honestly think of such a creature as this as beautiful, when all that was required to strip it of it’s beauty was the subtraction of it’s wings? An individual may be beautiful during youth, but when age has wasted their form, and days have amounted to the desecration of their features, we say that there beauty has gone. But has their beauty gone, or merely their youth? The individual is unchanged, relatively, despite physical changes. One would not dispute that they still remain the same human being and the same individual. Why then, are they not beautiful? I think that the butterfly with no wings is just as the individual without beauty. In both cases, something has been robbed, stripping the figure to some more grotesque but truthful self.

We commonly hear the phrase, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I find this to be far more true than is often realized, even so to the point that I would revise the statement to, beauty is in the eye of the voyeur. One does not wish to see the grotesque self which has been laid bare. We require adornment, we require the colorful wings to stare at the butterfly. We are like voyeurs who chose to half blind ourselves so that our contentment may commence. Am I not a voyeur myself, who pulls weeds from the ground where I desire no weeds?  Usefulness always dwells in utility, and when beauty becomes fallow, so does value. 

There is a  small spider which had laid its web between two strawberry plants. The web is so thin and fine, that I can vaguely make out the pattern like tarlatan fibers; the two insects caught in the tenuous threads float strangely in mid air. One of the two has been wrapped already so that I could not see what kind of insect it was; the second was a very small fly of unknown sorts, and as I watched, the spider made it’s way up to the fly and began the wrapping process, leaving it eventually in a pallid cocoon. 

When I was younger, I had a acute fear of insects, particularly spiders. As I have grown slightly older, my repulsion has not simply desisted, but has been redacted for a peculiar fascination and obsession. This spider, in particular, so petite and fragile, I found myself enthralled by, gazing long as it worked it’s thin legs around the body of the living insect. How awful the process was, and how little remorse I felt for the insect, I who would like to think that I have a tender care for all living things. This is how shallow I am in my sentiments. I have my speculations surrounding the cognizance and consciousness of animals, but I enjoy wondering if the spider felt any regret at its process of feeding. The lives of most insects, people would consider revolting and think there appearance grotesque. Again, I find the naivety and voyeurism of human perception, demanding beauty before truth. The greatest refusal of truth may in fact be, the un-objective pursuit of beauty and happiness. We either shrink from that which is unpleasant to our sight, or we convince ourself that there was in the first place, something called beauty which existed in the first place. 

This is why our discourse has run dry. Who would care to know that there is less beauty in the world than something which we have come to name evil. We cannot approach the butterfly with no wings, because our hands would be burnt from holding to much truth. Thoreau states that “Many an irksome noise, go a long way off, is heard as music, a proud sweet satire on the meanness of our lives”. There is no truth to ugly for us to find beautiful if we remove ourselves far enough from it. This would mean that we cannot stare closely at the spider who devours his meal vulgarly, and we cannot look soberly at the earth to see that it is a cannibalistic. Have we lost the capacity as social beings, of looking straight at and fronting the world in all of it’s beauty and evil? But who would truly be desirous to know a world in which we found that beauty was less abundant than evil.

It is for these reasons that we have even created such a concept as evil. Evil is merely the fancy of folk who required an opposite end from which they could designate the merit of what they considered good. We think that rudeness is bad while etiquette and politeness is good. Murder is evil while service and selflessness is righteous. Was the spider a murderer or did it merely follow the instincts which have been imbued upon it? Surely we won’t mourn the insects which it devours, yet we feign sorrow for the so called tragedies which we hear about by radio or paper and then forget shortly after. Evil, then, is something which is only permitted when outside of the vision of the individual; something which dwells within our periphery. We think of ourselves as moral creatures, capable of righteous or evil differentiation, but who has really seen anything of evil in the world since evil is not permitted within our gaze. Only what is righteous by our own standard is allowed to permeate our perception, and thus that which is truly evil is unknown to us. I am a voyeur in this garden; I look about myself, to the apple and pear trees, to the foxglove and the roses and the strawberries, and I see the well kept skin of a beast. The writing of Nietzsche has demanded for a hundred and fifty years that our art, our self proclaimed beauty has taught us the “viewing ourselves as heroes-from a distance and, as it were, simplified and transfigured-  the art of staging and watching ourselves. Only in this way can we deal with some base details in ourselves” (Nietzsche, 133).

Tragedy is always a surprise, and don’t I wonder why. People are seldom prepared for that which is not beautiful or happy, and when we come into direct and blatant contact with cruelty and pain, we are shocked as if it’s existence was impossible. The question I ask myself is, is it better to live in obliviousness to the cruelty and pain of life, and to live like so many others, with the concept of evil which exists solely in a sort of mental periphery. The garden is beautiful and lush, but only from the patio, and only as a voyeur. If I look closer, I will see that I have rent and set a massacre to the ground to cultivate the illusion of beauty; I will see the cocoons beneath the web which harbor the husks of some insects who have glutted the stomach of my spider; I will see the grotesque underbelly of a butterfly whose wings act like a veil against the ugliness of it’s own body; I will see the living and the dying; I’ll see evil and the abundance of instinct which is imbued upon all things that grow. Yes, there is something in the world which most people refer to as evil, but the mystery of grace is that there is beauty in spite of it. It is pain which often turns people away from God; Yet God is more apparent in the wake of pain than in its absence. A great selfishness of human rationality is the belief that we are something worthy of salvation, such that when we are not, it is considered it a theological injustice. Who would ever think of there-self as something to admire? How could I? If I could look past my skin, pull myself from Nietzsche’s stage, and view the evil which I have internalized, I think that I would understand better that my own existence, that of this garden, my spider, is the presence of mercy in the wake of vulgarity. I wonder if we do ourselves injustice by only seeing the beauty and not the evil? Would the beauty of this garden become more apparent if I could come into a fuller understanding of it’s ugliness? Perhaps the greatest illusion is not that the world is beautiful, but only that we think it is.