All that is beautiful comes from beautiful

Posted in Uncategorized | June 12, 2012 | by emilyharney | Leave a Comment

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For our third gathering of the Miriam Read & Reflect group, Okwui Okpokwasili led us in an exploration of beauty—how we feel it in our lives, how it lives in Miriam, and what Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies  can show us about it. The Duino Elegies, in addition to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Chenjerai Hove’s Bones, is one of the key sources informing Nora Chipaumire’s creative process.


We started out looking through a whole host of images provided by Okwui to get us thinking about different definitions of beauty and discussing perhaps the most obvious definition: surface beauty, defined by others and pop culture, fashion, men. But inspired by the Rilke, another definition quickly emerged: a beauty that is awe-inspiring and terrible, that comes from being fully open to intensity of experience, both despair and love.

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’
hierarchies? And even if one of them pressed me
suddenly against his heart: I would be consumed
in that overwhelming existence. For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains
to annihilate us.

One question that arose is do these things always exist at the same time? Is one a hint at the other? In everyday experience when people experience something beautiful are they also touching a greater experience?

And how does context change the understanding of beauty? Where can beauty come from? Can you see beauty in ugliness? And when is it not okay to call something beautiful, when in another context (our out of context) the same combination of materials may be perceived as beautiful?

In Miriam, Nora begins the piece in darkness, among a pile of trash bags and rocks—a crime scene. Is there beauty in the scene? And if it is in her own body, how is it complicated by the fact that hers is a black, African body among the refuse? And that it is twinned with and provoked by another in Okwui Okpokwasili’s character?


Again from the Rilke:

Who shows a child as he really is? Who sets him
in his constellation and puts the measuring-rod
of distance in his hand? Who makes his death
out of gray bread, which hardens — or leaves it there
inside his round mouth, jagged as the core
of a sweet apple?. . . .  Murderers are easy
to understand. But this: that one can contain
death, the whole of death, even before
life has begun, can hold it to one’s heart
gently, and not to refuse to go on living,
is inexpressible.