On Beauty and Being Just

Princeton University Press
2
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Have we become beauty-blind? For two decades or more in the humanities, various political arguments have been put forward against beauty: that it distracts us from more important issues; that it is the handmaiden of privilege; and that it masks political interests. In On Beauty and Being Just Elaine Scarry not only defends beauty from the political arguments against it but also argues that beauty does indeed press us toward a greater concern for justice. Taking inspiration from writers and thinkers as diverse as Homer, Plato, Marcel Proust, Simone Weil, and Iris Murdoch as well as her own experiences, Scarry offers up an elegant, passionate manifesto for the revival of beauty in our intellectual work as well as our homes, museums, and classrooms.

Scarry argues that our responses to beauty are perceptual events of profound significance for the individual and for society. Presenting us with a rare and exceptional opportunity to witness fairness, beauty assists us in our attention to justice. The beautiful object renders fairness, an abstract concept, concrete by making it directly available to our sensory perceptions. With its direct appeal to the senses, beauty stops us, transfixes us, fills us with a "surfeit of aliveness." In so doing, it takes the individual away from the center of his or her self-preoccupation and thus prompts a distribution of attention outward toward others and, ultimately, she contends, toward ethical fairness.

Scarry, author of the landmark The Body in Pain and one of our bravest and most creative thinkers, offers us here philosophical critique written with clarity and conviction as well as a passionate plea that we change the way we think about beauty.

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About the author

Elaine Scarry teaches in the English department at Harvard University, where she is Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value. She is the author of The Body in Pain, Resisting Representation, Dreaming by the Book, and many articles on war and social contract.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Mar 21, 2013
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Pages
144
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ISBN
9781400847358
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / Semiotics & Theory
Philosophy / Aesthetics
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Part philosophical meditation, part cultural critique, The Body in Pain is a profoundly original study that has already stirred excitement in a wide range of intellectual circles. The book is an analysis of physical suffering and its relation to the numerous vocabularies and cultural forces--literary, political, philosophical, medical, religious--that confront it. Elaine Scarry bases her study on a wide range of sources: literature and art, medical case histories, documents on torture compiled by Amnesty International, legal transcripts of personal injury trials, and military and strategic writings by such figures as Clausewitz, Churchill, Liddell Hart, and Kissinger, She weaves these into her discussion with an eloquence, humanity, and insight that recall the writings of Hannah Arendt and Jean-Paul Sartre. Scarry begins with the fact of pain's inexpressibility. Not only is physical pain enormously difficult to describe in words--confronted with it, Virginia Woolf once noted, "language runs dry"--it also actively destroys language, reducing sufferers in the most extreme instances to an inarticulate state of cries and moans. Scarry analyzes the political ramifications of deliberately inflicted pain, specifically in the cases of torture and warfare, and shows how to be fictive. From these actions of "unmaking" Scarry turns finally to the actions of "making"--the examples of artistic and cultural creation that work against pain and the debased uses that are made of it. Challenging and inventive, The Body in Pain is landmark work that promises to spark widespread debate.
From one of our leading social thinkers, a compelling case for the elimination of nuclear weapons. During his impeachment proceedings, Richard Nixon boasted, "I can go into my office and pick up the telephone and in twenty-five minutes seventy million people will be dead." Nixon was accurately describing not only his own power but also the power of every American president in the nuclear age.

Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon each contemplated using nuclear weapons—Eisenhower twice, Kennedy three times, Johnson once, Nixon four times. Whether later presidents, from Ford to Obama, considered using them we will learn only once their national security papers are released.

In this incisive, masterfully argued new book, award-winning social theorist Elaine Scarry demonstrates that the power of one leader to obliterate millions of people with a nuclear weapon—a possibility that remains very real even in the wake of the Cold War—deeply violates our constitutional rights, undermines the social contract, and is fundamentally at odds with the deliberative principles of democracy.

According to the Constitution, the decision to go to war requires rigorous testing by both Congress and the citizenry; when a leader can single-handedly decide to deploy a nuclear weapon, we live in a state of “thermonuclear monarchy,” not democracy.

The danger of nuclear weapons comes from potential accidents or acquisition by terrorists, hackers, or rogue countries. But the gravest danger comes from the mistaken idea that there exists some case compatible with legitimate governance. There can be no such case. Thermonuclear Monarchy shows the deformation of governance that occurs when a country gains nuclear weapons.

In bold and lucid prose, Thermonuclear Monarchy identifies the tools that will enable us to eliminate nuclear weapons and bring the decision for war back into the hands of Congress and the people. Only by doing so can we secure the safety of home populations, foreign populations, and the earth itself.

Part philosophical meditation, part cultural critique, The Body in Pain is a profoundly original study that has already stirred excitement in a wide range of intellectual circles. The book is an analysis of physical suffering and its relation to the numerous vocabularies and cultural forces--literary, political, philosophical, medical, religious--that confront it. Elaine Scarry bases her study on a wide range of sources: literature and art, medical case histories, documents on torture compiled by Amnesty International, legal transcripts of personal injury trials, and military and strategic writings by such figures as Clausewitz, Churchill, Liddell Hart, and Kissinger, She weaves these into her discussion with an eloquence, humanity, and insight that recall the writings of Hannah Arendt and Jean-Paul Sartre. Scarry begins with the fact of pain's inexpressibility. Not only is physical pain enormously difficult to describe in words--confronted with it, Virginia Woolf once noted, "language runs dry"--it also actively destroys language, reducing sufferers in the most extreme instances to an inarticulate state of cries and moans. Scarry analyzes the political ramifications of deliberately inflicted pain, specifically in the cases of torture and warfare, and shows how to be fictive. From these actions of "unmaking" Scarry turns finally to the actions of "making"--the examples of artistic and cultural creation that work against pain and the debased uses that are made of it. Challenging and inventive, The Body in Pain is landmark work that promises to spark widespread debate.
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