spacer
Ransom Fellowship
spacer articles movies music books art faith discernment spacer
 
articles
publications
search
people
links
faq
blank
about
contact
press kit
Ransom Blogs
spacer
spacer
current article  
spacer
spacer
spacer
On Ugliness (Umberto Eco, 2007) spacer On Ugliness (Umberto Eco, 2007)
BY: Denis Haack
spacer
The Truth of Ugliness
Last night before sleep I looked at some photos—pictures of beauty and ugliness—that had been gathered on a web news site. There were collections of moments of victory at the winter Olympics, and another of drops of water freezing into snowflakes magnified so we could glimpse the delicate prisms of crystals as they formed. Then I clicked on a collection of shots from the protests that have beset Independence Square in Kiev in recent days. The sight of the violence and bloodshed was heart rending: lifeless bodies laid out on tarps, police officers beating and being beaten, inadequate emergency triage centers helping the wounded, protesters with clothing in flames as they attempted to keep government forces out of the square by lighting their barricades on fire. The eyes of Olympians alive with excitement, the eyes of Ukrainians wracked with pain, anger, and fear. Another set of photos was a tour of the “Museum of Corruption,” the ostentatiously opulent palace ousted Ukrainian President Yanukovych had built for himself while the country’s economy languished. In these the beauty of art, craftsmanship and exquisite materials was twisted into an ugly display of arrogant greed. Beauty and ugliness are everywhere in our broken world, if we have eyes to see, and it can be debated which one takes precedence.

Novelist Umberto Eco points out that it’s not quite accurate to assume ugliness is simply the opposite of beauty. He notes that “all the synonyms for beautiful could be conceived as a reaction of disinterested appreciation”—terms like harmonious, sublime, pretty, delightful. In contrast he notes, “almost all the synonyms for ugly contain a reaction of disgust, if not of violent repulsion, horror, or fear”—terms like abominable, revolting, indecent, displeasing. (p. 16). The idea of beauty lends itself to quiet reflection, while ugliness evokes a deep, visceral reaction. Just as standards for beauty are not identical across cultures and time, so it is with definitions of ugliness. And to complicate things further, there is in the West a long tradition of belief that “any form of ugliness can be redeemed by a faithful and efficacious artistic portrayal” (p. 19). A good artist can make a lovely painting of a heap of rotting, repugnant trash.

In On Ugliness, Eco stimulates us to think through the meaning and depiction of ugliness in a lusciously illustrated book that covers 2500 years of Western art and literature. Eco separates the various depictions of ugliness over this span of history in a variety of helpful categories: the obscene, witchcraft, the apocalyptic, comic, industrial, kitsch, decadence, and more. Naming the manifestations of ugliness in this way allows the role, meaning and effect of ugliness to take on sharper relief. On Ugliness also showed me the importance of understanding ugliness if we want to be discerning about beauty. Not because beauty cannot be embraced and enjoyed before first gazing on ugliness, but because isolating ourselves from ugliness can cause us to mistake sentimentality for beauty. On Ugliness also reminds me that although beauty attracts us because we are made for it, courage is required to intentionally face ugliness. It is because there is such a reactive element in recognizing ugliness that we need to be certain we can face it in our broken world without merely being reactionary. After all, as the sets of photos I looked at demonstrate, ugliness smears much of life in a fallen world.

I wouldn’t put Eco’s book on the bedside stand in your guestroom. And I shouldn’t have to mention that you will find some of the illustrations and excerpts included in the book to be revolting. It is, after all, On Ugliness.


image

Questions:
-

Source:
Recommended: On Ugliness edited by Umberto Eco, translated by Alastair McEwen (New York, NY: Rizzoli International Publications; 2007) 439 pages + appendices.
spacer
spacer
spacer
about the author
spacer
Denis Haack
Denis is the author of The Rest of Success: What the World Didn’t Tell You About Having It All and has written articles for such journals as Reformation & Revival Journal, Eternity, Covenant, and World. He holds a Master of Arts in Theological Studies degree from Covenant Seminary in St. Louis.
spacer spacer spacer
other articles from this author
spacer
Rumours of Glory: A Memoir (Bruce Cockburn, 2014)

Culture Care (Makoto Fujimura, 2014)

A Beautiful, Unrelenting Foe

spacer
related articles
spacer The immigrant who shaped America

Rumours of Glory: A Memoir (Bruce Cockburn, 2014)

Culture Care (Makoto Fujimura, 2014)

A Storybook Bible for Grownups

When Nigeria is Home

God in the Sink (Margie Haack, 2014)

The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East (Eugene Rogan, 2015)

Fool's Talk (Os Guinness, 2015)

How (Not) to be Secular (James K.A. Smith, 2014)

Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions (Phil Zuckerman, 2014)

Our Only World: Ten Essays (Wendell Berry, 2015)

The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt, 2013)

Subjects With Objects (Jonathan Richter and DKM, 2013)

The Pilgrim’s Regress (C.S. Lewis, 1933)

Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times (Os Guinness, 2014)

Over the Earth I Come (Duane Schultz, 1992)

F.F. Bruce: A Life (Tim Grass, 2011)

Broken Hallelujahs: Why Popular Music Matters to Those Seeking God (Christian Scharen, 2011)

Echoes of a Voice: We are Not Alone (James Sire, 2014)

Visions of Vocation (Steve Garber, 2014)

spacer
spacer spacer spacer bottom
Ransom Fellowship
Ransom Fellowship
spacer This web site is old and creaky. The email function functions poorly when it functions at all. Worse, it all looks old. So we are starting work on building a new site, and hope to have it functioning by fall.

Our vision will not change, nor will our attempt in this little spot of the Internet to invite you to join us in thinking about the things that matter most. Thanks for visiting.

Denis & Margie Haack
Anita Gorder
spacer
spacer
bottom

Home | Articles | Publications | Search | People | Links | FAQ | Donate | About | Contact | Press

All material © 2000-2017 Ransom Fellowship Ministries
Site design by JaM Multimedia