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Kay Young

The Aesthetics of Elegance and Extravagance in Science and Art

Few pleasures are greater than those of gazing at the starsboth those in the night sky and in our own man-made heavens of the theater and cinema. Colette (12)


The chemist and philosopher Michael Polanyi writes in Personal Knowledge of the fundamentally elusive nature of knowing the meaning of Nature: Whence this elusiveness? It is a reflection on the canvas of the highest scientific achievement of the fact that we can never tell exactly what we mean, or even whether we mean anything at all. Indeterminacy of meaning is not eliminated, but only restricted, when we eventually decide to accept a theory as a true statement of something new about nature. For, while we heavily commit ourselves thereby to a belief concerning certain things, such a belief can have no bearing on reality unless its scope is still left indeterminate. (150) Polanyi devotes Personal Knowledge to a discussion of what makes reality ineffable and beyond articulation and to a re-imagining of the avowed purpose of scientific inquiryto establish complete intellectual control over experience in terms of precise rules which can be formally set out and empirically testedto the role personal judgment plays in the application of formulae and ideas to the facts of experience (1819). What interests me about Polanyis ideathat scientific knowledge
Kay Young is a professor of English and Comparative literature at University of California, Santa Barbara, Co-Director of the Literature and Mind Initiative, and an academic fellow at the Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis in LA. She is the author of Imagining Minds: The Neuro-Aesthetics of Austen, Eliot, and Hardy and Ordinary Pleasures: Couples, Conversation, and Comedy, both of the Ohio State University Press Theory and Interpretation of Narrative Series. Currently, she is at work on a new project on metaphor and metamorphosis in narrative, of which this essay will be a part. NARRATIVE, Vol 19, No. 2 (May 2011) Copyright 2011 by the Ohio State University


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is personal knowledge in its mix of the pursuit of the ideal of objective verifiability with the real of subjective judgmentis the space that acknowledgment opens for a meeting between the sciences and the arts in their mutual desire to know as human beings know. However apparently different their objects of studythe nature of Nature and the nature of experienceboth pursuits depend on how human beings can know things, which is to say, through subjective judgment, interpretation, and creativity for their exploration. How is it possible to know and express the nature of the universe or the nature of organic life? However indeterminate answers to those questions may be, Polanyis consideration of the human role in shaping the search for their answers creates a bridge, I want to suggest, between scientific and artistic inquiry and expressionthe imagination. To imagine as a physicist the underlying elegance of the universe or as a biologist the extravagance in organic life invites humans to experience physical reality in metaphor as a means of holding those aesthetic ideas in mind. However difficult the abstractions elegance and extravagance and however difficult their mathematical symbolizations, elegance and extravagance embodied and represented in human form are natural, easy, and immediately available to our imagining minds. The current research on embodied cognition teaches us that we understand abstractions physically by using the body to concretize ideas. For instance, enacting the future by pointing the body forwardphysically looking aheadenables the mind figuratively to imagine the future because of its embodiment.1 Likewise, to experience Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn on film makes possible both an imagining of human elegance and, I want to suggest, an imagining of the scientific idea of the aesthetic of eleganceas its objective correlative. That we have aesthetic knowledge of human elegance helps make possible imagining the idea of the universes elegance. T. S. Eliot writes of the concept: The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an objective correlative; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.2 While Eliot is making a claim about how we can experience emotion in art by way of a formulaa set of objects, a situation, a chain of eventsmy assertion is that that formula applies as well to how works of artaesthetic objectscan, as analogs, enable us to experience what it means in science to imagine the elegance of the universe or the extravagance of organic life. A mathematical formula or theoretical formula of explanation and prediction becomes possible to experience as a human formula of aesthetic narrativethe objective correlative of a human situation and a chain of events embodied by a set of objects in artistic media. To the extent a work of art is an objective correlative to sciences aesthetic understanding of Nature, the act of imagining the universe, organic nature, and experience in the shared aesthetic terms of elegance and extravagance reveals the minds aesthetic nature. I write nature in this essay as Nature so as both to acknowledge the desire to capture it in human terms, as personified, in some of the works I consider and to signify its idea in the largest and broadest terms. In addition, while I consider how Nature generates subject-object positions and often genders those positions, I do not take up the political implications of these positions and representations, however sug-

The Aesthetics of Elegance and Extravagance


gestive and charged. Instead, my focus is on recognizing something of the shared part aesthetic ideas plays in scientific and artistic thinking and practice, and, too, on how that part suggests a confluence between science and art as modes of aesthetic inquiry and as creations of the aesthetic mind.


Richard Feynman begins his essay, The Making of a Scientist, this way: I have a friend whos an artist, and he sometimes takes a view which I dont agree with. Hell hold up a flower and say, Look how beautiful it is, and Ill agree. But then hell say, I, as an artist, can see how beautiful a flower is. But you as a scientist, take it all apart and it becomes dull. I think hes kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other peopleand me, too, I believe. Although I might not be as refined aesthetically as he is, I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. But at the same time, I see much more in the flower than he sees. I can imagine the cells inside, which also have a beauty. Theres not just beauty at the dimension of one centimeter; theres also beauty at a smaller dimension. (Feynman 11; emphasis mine) What is the beauty in the flower? What kind of seeing is imagining the cells inside? What understanding of beauty is it that Feynman claims for the scientist? Im asking these questions because of how remarkable accounts of revolutionary theoretical physicists are in their attention to beautythe beauty of the universe, the beauty of their discoveries about how the universe workswhich is to say, in their understanding of scientific inquiry as aesthetic. Heres Copernicus on his imagining of a heliocentric versus a geocentric model of the universe: Contemplating its sense of balance and beauty, we discover in this orderly arrangement the marvellous symmetry of the universe, and a firm harmonious connection between the size and motion of the spheres (Falk 34). Kepler discusses his refashioning of the Copernican model this way: I have recognized it in my mind as true and in contemplating it, I am filled with unbelievable delight at its beauty (Falk 46). And Einstein describes his 1915 general theory of relativity as beautiful beyond comparison (Falk 105) because it takes us one step closer to the grand aim of all science, which is to cover the greatest number of empirical facts by logical deduction from the smallest number of hypotheses or axioms (Falk 116). Einsteins depiction of the grand aim of all scienceto deduce the fewest, simplest, most generalizable principles that apply to the greatest number of empirical factsKeplers recognition of the truth in my mind, and Copernicuss contemplation of the relationship of the orderly arrangement in his mind to the symmetry he perceives in the universe define the experience of thinking scientifically as beautiful. Each imagines a form of invisible beauty, some core principle or essence from which


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the universe functions, made visible, in the sense of imaginable, through a like aesthetic category for beauty in the mind. This conception is something like Feynmans idea of the beauty to be found at a smaller dimensioninvisible to the naked eye, but visible to the imagining mind. One of the most striking features for me of the aesthetic experience that these physicists describe is its uniformity or its desire for a simple, unified oneness. The drive to see throughinsideto the simple, the general, the logical, the reasonable, the orderly, the harmonious, the balanced, the symmetrical in nature, the onemeans to be in search of a classical aestheticthe aesthetic of elegance. Elegance, the aesthetic quality or state of being elegant, manifests itself in relation to three realms: 1. The embodied: as refined grace of form and movement, tastefulness of adornment, refined luxury. 2. The verbal: as of spoken or written compositions, literary style, etc., tasteful, correctness, harmonious simplicity, in the choice and arrangement of words. 3. The scientific: as of scientific processes, demonstrations, inventions, etc., Neatness, ingenious simplicity, convenience and effectiveness; so of a prescription. (Oxford English Dictionary) Refined grace of form and movement, tastefulness of adornment, refined luxury defines the classical aesthetic in embodied terms, terms which the OED then translates into verbal and scientific forms, processes, and language. However dated a classical verbal aesthetic may seem post-Enlightenment, elegance as a scientific aesthetic has not lost its value or importance as a means to recognize and evaluate scientific discovery. In part this sense of ongoing, shared belief in the value and usefulness of elegance can be explained through the success rate of the elegant solution: physicists have come to know that the simplest solution is usually right in that it usually yields the most success in predicting results. But theoretical physicists also seem to share an aesthetic taste for elegance that informs their work, as revealed by Einstein who when asked toward the end of his life, How would you feel if the final laws of nature turned out not to be simple? replied, Then I would not be interested in them (Falk 207). The title Brian Greene chose for his first best-selling discussion of string theoryThe Elegant Universeattests to the power of elegance in the scientific community. What I want to suggest is that while the discoveries of physics profoundly challenge over time how we see and understand the physical nature of reality, the underlying aesthetic of elegance that drives those discoveries has not. How startling that physicists seem not to question the elegant beauty of the universe and of its hidden truthsthat those beliefs continue from one generation of scientist to the next and seem not to waver. Many physicists today describe how to read Natures secrets with a particular metaphora tapestry. About the nature of metaphor, James Wood writes compellingly, Metaphor is analogous to fiction, because it floats a rival reality. It is the entire imaginative process in one move (202). While a metaphor is not a narrative, the idea that it floats a rival reality as a concrete means by which to call into being equivalence grants metaphor a power through which we can imagine Natures being. String

The Aesthetics of Elegance and Extravagance


theory, in Greenes words, with its loops of string and oscillating globules uniting all creation into vibrational patterns that are meticulously executed in a universe with numerous hidden dimensions capable of undergoing extreme contortions in which their special fabric tears apart and then repairs itself (Elegant Universe 386), suggests a metaphoric tapestry composed of vibrating strings. Joined together on film only once in sympathetic dancing, singing, talking, and kissing vibration, Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire star in a film about fashionStanley Donens Funny Face (1956). Greenes metaphoric title of his second bestselling work on string theory and the nature of the universe, The Fabric of the Cosmos, is in Funny Face a moving, visual, singing narrative about the fabric of cosmetology. Cosmology and cosmetology share the same rootcosmoswhich means skilled arrangement. If the story Greene seeks to discover is the fashioning of the universe, the story of Funny Face is the fashioning of a universethe quality woman. Both are about the pursuit of what they name her secretsthe metaphor of the feminine truths that await revelation. The male scientist in search of Natures secrets becomes the male photographer-director in search of a Hollywood female star whose star qualities are his to discover, objectify, situate, and narrate as catalyst to a chain of events that follow in response to her presence on film. In the words of Funny Face, from waif, gamin, lowly caterpillar, a visibly inelegant Audrey Hepburn, when skillfully arranged by the hands of a cosmetologist-fashion designer, transforms into a bird of paradisea human embodiment of elegance. So many of Audrey Hepburns films narrate this transformationthe Cinderella story of the beauty that awaits discovery. This transformation is not the premise of Astaires films: apparently born to top hat, white tie, and tails, Fred Astaire from start to finish embodies visible male elegance in motion. Astaire requires no transformative fashioning to reach discovery. Instead, its the discovery of his female partner that is the transformative work of his films: who is the woman for him to encounter, who will move as his counter through space, with whom he can come to vibrate in partnered difference to share a new time and space together? However telling Astaires presence and movement on film is of the embodied aesthetic of elegance already revealed, what he does not embody is the secret of that elegance awaiting uncoveringhe wears it in tails and dances it with every step through space he takes. The metaphor of invisible eleganceher secretsholds the fascination of the invisibility of female anatomy and creates the roles that invisibility engenders: the feminine as the embodiment of mysteries and the masculine as their discoverer. It is to Hepburn, therefore, that I turn because of how her work on film embodies the idea of the elegant universe. The premise of Funny Face is that hers is a funny facenot self-evidently or recognizably beautifulin fact, more immediately and apparently odd. However, the work of the film, as Feynman describes scientific inquiry, is to reveal Hepburns underlying elegancethe beauty insidethrough the development of a set of photo narratives skillfully arranged by Fred Astaire who takes on the role of the uncovering theoretical physicist, here as the discovering photo journalist. The surprise begins from a series of unintentional shots of Hepburns face. As the Richard Avedon figure of the film, Astaire intended to photograph Avedons real model, the remarkable Dovima, who poses for Astaire in a Greenwich Village bookstore where Hepburns


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characterthe androgynous Joworks. But it is Hepburn as the bookish Jo who mistakenly becomes the object of the cameras eye, an accident of photographic inquiry which leads to the discovery of the elegance that lies within, made visible by the enhanced magnifying focus of the cameras lens and the reproductive powers of film. About how an object of mechanical reproduction makes possible discoveries of seeing that are not possible to the eye, Walter Benjamin writes: Evidently a different nature opens itself to the camera than opens to the naked eyeif only because an unconsciously penetrated space is substituted for a space consciously explored by man. Even if one has a general knowledge of the way people walk, one knows nothing of a persons posture during the fractional second of a stride. The act of reaching for a lighter or a spoon is familiar routine, yet we hardly know what really goes on between hand and metal, not to mention how this fluctuates with our moods. Here the camera intervenes with the resources of its lowerings and liftings, its interruptions and isolations, its extensions and accelerations, its enlargements and reductions. The camera introduces us to unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses. (23637) How the lens transforms the nature of space and time on film through its properties of capture can bring to light the invisiblewhat are for Benjamin the unconscious optics. If the camera works to make visible to the eye what the psychoanalyst works to make conscious to the mind, Astaires camera lens captures the unconscious optics of Hepburns beauty made conscious on film. Significantly, revealing Hepburns beauty requires not just the camera lens but also her reproduction as a series of still photographs. The story the film narrates is that it is the still, focused image which makes it possible to see the beauty within: eliminating the living distractions of changes in space, time, and motion, the still photo creates the chance for studied contemplation. Now able to see what the camera and photos show him, Astaire intentionally works to reveal Hepburns beauty to the public eye through a set of fashion shoots on location in Paris, staged photo studies of her beautys capacity to reveal the look of happiness or Anna Karenina. From being arranged by the visions and hands of others (Astaires most of all) to make visible the nature of different character states, Hepburn, through her own skillful self-arrangement, eventually comes to take command of her image and to embody Winged Victory. Take the picture! she tells a fallen, startled, overwhelmed Astaire on the steps of the Louvre. What is it about the nature of Hepburns look, sound, bearing, presence on camera that bears comparison to the physicists idea of the beautiful, elegant abstract laws of nature, as the human correlative of that abstract aesthetic idea? Audrey Hepburns elegance has everything to do with how she wears clotheshow fashioning Hepburn is about seeing the clothes take shape and come to life on her lean hourglass, geometric formher dark wide eyes and wide face framed by dark hair in contrast to her swan-like, white neck, long limbs, and thin waist. The A-lines become As and the hats become broad, and the colors become vivid set on her, set against her, as if coherence and contrast meet through her form, a tapestry which connotes a single

The Aesthetics of Elegance and Extravagance


essence or core. Somewhere between Audrey Hepburns face, form, and grace, Hepburns elegance is mathematicalher bird of paradise is a set of intersecting lines with supplementary angles (Figure 1). Her happy girl with balloons is the Arch of Triumph, which is a parabola (Figure 2). Composed to be a flower, underneath the broadest brim and arms brimming with flowers, she is a circle (Figure 3). Her movement down the stairs makes her a set of inverted triangles meeting at her waist that compose a stairway (Figure 4). Embodying the Winged Victory, Hepburn is aflamea flying, victorious red line (Figure 5).

Figure 1.


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Figure 2.

Figure 3.

The Aesthetics of Elegance and Extravagance


Figure 4.

To the austere symmetry, clarity of line, and harmony of parts that the simplicity of Givenchys designs makes visible, Audrey Hepburns presence on film brings that certain quelque chose of royaltyin the European-inflected accent and lilt of her voice, arrow-straight erectness of her posture, perpetual grace of her movements through space and treatment of others, unfailing poise and intelligence. But to the idiom of class that would seem to separate her from others, Hepburn brings a profound vulnerability, gentleness, and compassionthe waif who has known sufferingthat soften and warm the sculpted angles of her features and disciplined training of her


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Figure 5.

body to make her the rarest of beings: so very cultured and so very human. The underlying elegance of the universe finds its objective correlative in the capturing of how Audrey Hepburn, star, icon, woman radiates onenessthe truth of beinghow she appears is who she is.

The Harvard neuropsychologist Nancy Etcoff writes that our extreme sensitivity to beauty is hard-wired, that it is governed by circuits in the brain shaped by natural selection (24). And further: [W]e possess an innate beauty template which we are unlikely to access directly but against which we measure all that we see (11). That beauty template makes us susceptible to beauty and makes that susceptibility ubiquitous in human nature. Clarity, symmetry, harmony, and vivid color are the properties Etcoff identifies as what by nature we identify with beauty. Nature and our place in it have contributed to human natures heightened attraction to and appreciation of those qualities in part because of how they mark vitality, fertility, energy, and healththe fundamental properties of life. Drawing on research in cognitive neuroand evolutionary-psychology, Etcoff asserts, [T]he properties of beauty are the same

The Aesthetics of Elegance and Extravagance


whether we are seeing a beautiful woman, a flower, a landscape, or a circle (15). Clarity, symmetry, harmony, simplicitythe beauty of eleganceare not, I would assert, of the same order as the vitality of color and, by expansion, what its drama of visual presence suggeststhe flamboyance of form, the richness of variety, namely, what marks a different aesthetic of beautyextravagance. Extravagance, the quality of being extravagant or exceeding just or prescribed limits, is defined as presenting itself in four recognizable forms: 1) Of going out of the usual path; an excursion, digression; also the position of erring from (a prescribed) path 2) Of decorum, probability or truth; unrestrained excess, fantastic absurdity (of opinion, conduct; outrageous exaggeration or violence (of language) 3) Of notion, statement, piece of conduct, etc.; an irrational excess, an absurdity 4) Of excessive prodigality or wastefulness in expenditure or household management, etc. An Extravaganza relates to a work of art or performance or mode of behavior: 1) A composition, literary, musical, or dramatic, of an extravagant or fantastic character 2) What resembles an extravaganza; bombastic extravagance of language or behaviour (Oxford English Dictionary; emphasis mine) Whereas the aesthetic of elegance manifests understatement, restraint, simplicity, and rationality of order and design, what I am naming the aesthetic of extravagance manifests overstatement, excess, lack of restraint, exaggeration. If elegance seeks the unchanging oneness of truth that lies somewhere underneath or inside the contingency of experience, extravagance celebrates contingency in its marked and prodigious expressions of variety and ongoing change. Highlighting both the difference of their objects of scientific inquiry and how those objects frame their aesthetics, Darwin writes in The Origin of Species about physical laws in relation to organic processes: Throw up a handful of feathers, and all must fall to the ground according to definite laws; but how simple is the problem compared to the action and reaction of the innumerable plants and animals which have determined, in the course of centuries, the proportional numbers and kinds of trees now growing on the old Indian ruins! (On Natural Selection 15). For Darwin, the natural world of organic life follows not a simple, definite law but rather a process that pits organism against organism, species against species in a state of ongoing and complex struggleto adapt, survive, and procreate in an environment of limited resources and shifting conditions. What could be more inelegant than ongoing competition, battle, or copulationthe excesses of adaptive radiation? Darwins theories of natural selection (the principle of preservation) and sexual selection (the principle of dimorphic inheritance) create the infinite complexity and diversity of organic life. It is the complexity, variety, and changenot the beauty


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inside that will push past clutter and contingency but the beauty of variety that is its resultwhich Darwin celebrates and seeks to understand. Here Darwin describes the process of natural selection: During the incessant struggle of all species to increase in numbers, the more diversified these descendants become, the better will be their chance of succeeding in the battle of life. Thus the small differences distinguishing varieties of the same species, will steadily tend to increase till they come to equal the greater differences between species of the same genus, or even of distinct genera (On Natural Selection 6768). Here Darwin describes the process of sexual selection: [W]hen the males and females of any animal have the same general habits of life, but differ in structure, colour, or ornament, such differences have been mainly caused by sexual selection; that is, individual males have had, in successive generations, some slight advantage over other males, in their weapons, means of defense (2930). And here, in The Descent of Man and Relation to Sex, Darwin describes the beauty that results from sexual selection in human beings: If everyone were cast in the same mold, there would be no such thing as beauty (354). And here, at the conclusion of The Origin of Species, Darwin describes the beauty that results more generally in Nature from natural selection: Thus, from the war, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wondrous have been, and are being, evolved (On Natural Selection 117; emphasis mine). Darwin concludes The Origin of Species in the way that he begins it, by differentiating the simple fixity of orbits arising from the laws that underlie the physical universe from the complexity of organic life arising from the laws that underlie the biological universe, and from this contrast claims the evolutionary aesthetica grandeur in this view of life. Darwin, I would suggest, makes a claim for a scientific aesthetic of prodigality, drama, definition, and changethe variety of the extravaganzato define the process of selection that is at work inside nature and what results outside, endless forms most beautiful and most wondrous. If Audrey Hepburns felt-quality on film of beauty within and without makes imaginable, because embodied, the aesthetic of elegance, I want to suggest the felt quality of Marilyn Monroes beauty on filmsensuous, sexual, alluring, and variousoffers an embodied human correlative which makes imaginable the scientific aesthetic idea of extravagance. Perhaps more than any other filmmaker, Billy Wilder understood and captured Hepburns and Monroes distinct presences and powers of feminine beauty as human aesthetic experiencesas works of arton film. His Sabrina (1953) and Love in the Afternoon (1957) focus the cameras eye and narrative line on Hepburns classic purity of line, expression, and presence surrounded by the sophistication of Paris and its fashions. Wilder summarizes what distinguishes Hepburns quality on film as, After so many waitresses in movies, here is class (Yapp, Audrey Hepburn 173). Wilders The Seven Year Itch (1955) and Some Like It Hot (1959) objectify and narrate Marilyn Monroes presence on film as that classless American

The Aesthetics of Elegance and Extravagance


waitress whose bodythe embodiment of Womanserves up to hungry human eyes the legs, breasts, and buttocks of the female sex, or feeds to the scientific imagination a human objective correlative to signify the embodied extravaganza of excessive sexual force. As just The Girl who gets her fan caught in the door of a New York City apartment building and as Sugar Kane Kowalczyk who escapes Chicago for Miami in hopes of exchanging her string of no-good tenor sax players for some harmless millionaire in glasses who reads The Wall Street Journal, Marilyn Monroe portrays in Wilders films all woman and no class. But she is much more. Icon, goddess, sex symbol, star, the Monroe mystique is a product of the drama of her complex life, the body of her film-work, and her body on film. With her soft purring voice, pure naivet, big-eyed childish capacities to startle and pout, peroxide-dyed dumb blonde persona, heavy-lidded come-hither look, invitingly open mouth, famously curvaceous hourglass shape, wiggling walk, impeccable comic timing, capacity to fall, coo, and fall for the most celebrated and powerful American men of her day at the height of their careers and theirs to fall for and then abandon herMarilyn Monroe is comic-tragic/child-sex symbol/movie star-suicideall excessan infinite variety.3 She is Shakespeares Cleopatra and Darwins entangling bank whose extravagant beauty communicates the urgency of response.4 Clark Gable said of Monroes effect during the filming of The Misfits, Marilyn is a kind of ultimate. She is uniquely feminine. Everything she does is different, strange, and exciting, from the way she talks to the way she used that magnificent torso. She makes a man proud to be a man (Yapp, Marilyn Monroe 155). Such intense powers of sexual attractionMonroes capacity to make a man proud to be a mancan as well, Nancy Etcoff observes, give rise to feelings of being overwhelmed and obliterated, feelings expressed in our names for the experience of such beauty: breathtaking, femme fatale, knockout, drop-dead gorgeous, bombshell, stunner, ravishing. We experience beauty not as a rational contemplation, but as a response to physical urgency (Etcoff 9). Audrey Hepburns beauty of elegance evokes from the camera focused contemplation, the appreciation that comes with admiring from afar: the onefrom which nothing can be taken or to which nothing can be added. Monroes beauty of extravagance provokes the cameras attention and demands a response of more. We want to see more, touch more, experience more, as if the experience of her presence denies the possibility of satiation. Trumpeted, bluesy, non-verbal, solitary, Marilyn Monroes entrance in Some Like it Hot is a study of her look, her walk, and her presence. But before we see Monroe appear, we watch Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon when they first lay eyes on her. It is the cameras witnessing of the mens rapt attention which provokes not just our desire to see what prompts such a response but the cameras, as well, to capture that object of their stunned seeing and to make her the cameras own. The cameras eye, like the mens, becomes transfixed and stares at her face and chest bouncing; then after she passes it returns to the mens eyes to watch how they re-focus their attention down her back; then it adjusts its angle to study where their eyes have come to reston the full, bouncing buttocks (Figures 6 and 7). The train she is moving past during her entrance shoots out a whistle of steam aimed at her buttocks, to which in response Monroe arches her back and wiggles by even more quickly (Figure 8).


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The jokethat even a train is provoked by Monroes presence and must ejaculate by blowing off steamis not lost on the two men. Curtis and Lemmon, dressed in drag to avoid discovery and assassination by the mob for their witnessing of the St. Valentines Day Massacre in Chicago of 1927, stop dead in their tracks, as the train enacts what they must hide: Lemmon. Would you look at that! Look how she moves! Just like jello on springs. Must have some built-in motor or something. I tell you its a whole different sex! Curtis. What are you afraid of? Nobodys asking you to have a baby! Whether to a camera in cruise mode, a train in heat, or a man in drag, Monroe is the object of selection, in response to whom a lens stays focused in close-up, an inanimate thing grows suddenly animated, and a man transforms to assume whatever shape will most attract her (Figure 9). Jack Lemmons attention to Monroe registers on his face, first as sexual hunger, then as curiosity, and then revelatory discoveryI tell you its a whole different sex! However provocative Monroes effect on Curtis, as he evolves from Joe to Josephine to Shell Oil, Jr. la Cary Grant (that helpless millionaire in glasses whom she believes herself to be seducing as he is seducing her), the most complex evolution that Mon-

Figure 6.

The Aesthetics of Elegance and Extravagance


Figure 7.

Figure 8.


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Figure 9.

roes presence inspires throughout Some Like it Hot is Jack Lemmons. As moving pictures designed to tell a story from one narrative frame to the next, a movie makes imaginable transmutation and evolution: film captures and records and makes visible change across time and space. The narrative of Some Like it Hot tells as story what its medium as film conveystransformation. As Lemmons eyes and monologue reveal, when his character Jerry first sees Monroe, he experiences her as an object of intense sexual attraction, but when he examines her in the guise of Jerry/Geraldine, he studies Monroe more as an object of her sex and concludes he cannot succeed as Geraldine. What evolves over the course of his examination of Sugar is Jerrys curiosity about and attachment to what it means to be that whole other sex. Im DaphneJerry spontaneously names himself. Not man, not woman, Jack Lemmons Daphne evolves in creative, improvisatory imitation of the whole other sex-presence of Monroe, an imitation of which he grows so convinced, he needs reminding hes a boy. That Jerry/Daphne is a boy is a fact his tango partner and future husband Osgood seems to neither notice nor care about. Stimulated by the urgency of self-preservation (the threat of the mob) and the urgency of Monroes sexual presence, a third sex and a man turned on by it emerge: Daphne the phallic woman and Osgood the seeker of the Zowee!5 Monroes extravaganceher heightened excesses of femininityimagined on film as comic art embodies and provokes and, therefore, makes imaginable as its objective correlative the scientific idea of endless forms most beautiful, of evolutions infinite variety.

The Aesthetics of Elegance and Extravagance


The desire to find a way to share the nature of the universe in human terms prompts Brian Greene in The Fabric of the Cosmos to cast his discussion of space, time, and the texture of reality in terms of a narrative of ordinary human longing, or how the desire to escape confusion becomes an extraordinary search to discover the secrets of life, secrets which are believed to be worth the confusion, worth the hardship of the search because they are believed to be the truths that account for life. Heres Greenes narrative of the physicists life story: [P]hysicists spend a large part of their lives in states of confusion. . . . To excel in physics is to embrace doubt while walking the winding road to clarity. The tantalizing discomfort of perplexity is what inspires otherwise ordinary men and women to extraordinary feats of ingenuity and creativity; nothing quite focuses the mind like dissonant details awaiting harmonious resolution. . . . But dont lose sight of the fact nothing comes easily. Nature does not give up her secrets lightly (470; emphasis mine). Greenes physicist is a figure worthy of epic, an Odysseus who makes his way through by wiles of ingenuity and creativity to the idealized homeharmonious resolutionthe Penelope still waiting to receive him. Greene begins his prior work, The Elegant Universe, by giving that Odyssian physicist a nameEinsteinthough in this narrative he becomes more a Moses on the verge of the Promised Land after decades of wandering in the desert: During the last thirty years of his life, Einstein sought relentlessly for a so-called unified field theory. . . . [H]e was driven by a passionate belief that the deepest understanding of the universe would reveal its truest wonder: the simplicity and power of the principles on which it is based. Einstein wanted to illuminate the workings of the universe with a clarity never before achieved, allowing us to stand in awe of its sheer beauty and elegance (ix; emphasis mine). The universe Einstein journeys through is difficult. But unlike Moses who kicks the stone and never enters Canaan, even after thirty years and even after not discovering the unified field theory, Einstein never abandons the belief in the beauty of Natures secretsthe simplicity and power of the principles on which [the universe] is based. Nature, who holds tightly to her secrets, reveals those secrets when we are able to see them. In his Autobiography, Darwin narrates how, following his journey around the world (from December 27, 1831 to October 2, 1836) aboard the V. S. Beagle, his remaining life is spent in devotion to unlocking what as a naturalist he observed from that journeyNatures secrets fossilized and suggested in the variety of transmuted forms he observes: I devoted my whole time to arranging my huge pile of notes, to observing, and to experimenting in relation to the transmutation of species. During the voyage of the Beagle, I had been deeply impressed by discovering in Pampean formation great fossil animals covered with armour like that on existing armadillos; secondly by the manner in which closely allied animals replace one another in proceeding southwards over the Continent; and,


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thirdly, by the South American character of most of the productions of the Galapagos archipelago, and more especially by the manner in which they differ slightly on each island of the group; none of the islands appearing to be very ancient in a geological sense. It was evident such facts such as these, as well as many others, could only be explained on the supposition that species gradually become modified; and the subject haunted me. (On the Origin 438; emphasis mine)

Darwin haunted by a variety of transmuting organic forms, Einstein in the dark labyrinth of the cosmos seeking relentlessly its illuminationthese narratives of the extraordinary scientist share in their expressions a recognition and understanding of Nature as an object of study and as a subject of secrets. As much as curiosity fosters the desire to study the object, longing fuels the devotion to know her secrets. When gendered female and embodied by the feminine metaphor she, Nature replicates reproductive reality and gives the male scientist a role as the one who seeks to know her naturethe secrets of her being. The secret lies at the heart of plot; there is no plot without a secret. To assert that Nature has her secrets is to narrate Nature or to express the desire to make Nature narratable or to be like a narrative. And to tell the story of female Nature explored relentlessly for her secrets by the male scientist is to make the narrative erotic, romantic, and detective. If physicists describe a way to help us read the secrets of the cosmos through the metaphor of a tapestry, Darwins chief metaphor to help us read and so see the co-adaptive, mutually bound, interrelational nature of Nature is the entangled bank: It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us (On Natural Selection 117). Throughout The Origin of Species, as much as Darwin writes of the entangled relation of organisms and environment, does he as well write of the invisibility of those entangled relations because of the expanse of time required to observe how they create change and variety and so demonstrate their entanglement. It is that invisibility which makes the workings of organic Nature so difficult for us to imagine and for him to narrate and which constitutes one of Natures secrets. Likewise, Greene writes of the inability of language to convey the physical nature of the cosmos because of languages very relation to space and time: But in the raw state, before the strings that make up the cosmic fabric engage in the orderly, coherent vibrational dance we are discussing, there is no realization of space or time. Even our language is too coarse to handle these ideas, for in fact, there is no notion of before. In a sense, its as if individual strings are shards of space and time, and only when they appropriately undergo sympathetic vibrations do the conventional notions of space and time emerge (Elegant Universe 378; emphasis mine). Our language is too coarse to handle these ideas, Greene writes, because verbal language, being of space and time, cannot handle before time and before space.

The Aesthetics of Elegance and Extravagance


While Greene may desire to narrate how the universe works, language forbids that narrative because of its embedded relation to space and time. There can be no narrative without or before space and time. To discover the elegance of the universe requires a non-verbal, non-narrative way in. It requires non-representational representation or a way of imagining that is not bound to space, time, and motion, freed to represent natures properties of being. In contrast, to understand Nature, Galileo asserts, one must be able to read its language. Here, for Galileo, Nature is not she but it, the metaphor of the grand book, which reflects the ungendered nature of its language as Galileo reads it: [Nature] is written in this grand book, the universe, which stands continually open to our gaze. But the book cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and to read the letters in which it is composed. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these one wanders about in a dark labyrinth (Falk 6162; emphasis mine). While the universe as book written in a language of mathematics creates a metaphoric relation between nature and mathematics, that metaphor does not explain their relation. The string theorist John Schwarz acknowledges: It seems to be a profound truth that important theoretical advances in physics dealing with fundamental issues tend to have elegant answers. The fact that mathematics is the right language for doing this stuff is already a deep truth that I dont think anyone understands; they just know that its so (Falk 175; emphasis mine). To know a deep truth but not to understand it is a mental state the theoretical physicist must feel willing and able to inhabit. Unembodied, symbolic, logical, nonrepresentational, the language of mathematics frees the theoretical physicist to imagine the universe in terms of a pure aesthetics of elegancesimple, general, unchanging, transcendenta deep truth. Etcoff summarizes how Darwin and biologists to follow read organic Nature not as a grand book written in the language of mathematics but as a system of signs that communicate through and as the language of beauty: Most biologists think that irresistible beauty in biological forms is about more than popularity. They argue that beauty is not arbitrary or capricious but a form of communication (170); Flowers are alluring landing strips for pollinating insects: they are the plant worlds sex objects (57); Beautiful human features are a language, devoted to the adaptive problem of how to visually signal ones own value as a potential mate and how to assess the mate value of others through their visuals (70); Throughout the natural world, beauty is the harbinger of sexual reproduction (57); The body of the male animal is sculpted by his need for the female. To fight off competitors he develops canines or antlers or grows massive in size. To charm the female, he displays beauty (169); Females prefer flamboyance to subtlety (170; emphasis mine). Darwin writes: The unarmed, unornamented, or unattractive males would succeed equally well in the battle for life and in leaving numerous progeny, if better endowed males were not present (Descent 258). Nature as organic life teaches us to read life with our senses, particularly our eyes, and to feel how our bodies respond to life, both as the means to survive and procreate and as the means to see our way through to the invisible properties that underlie natural life.


Kay Young

Scientists are drawn to narrate what it means to be theoretical physicists: how they work, imagine, believe in, and make use of the aesthetic of elegance to guide their search into the secrets of the universe. However, this turn to verbal narrative falls short as the medium of revelation because of its already bound relation to space and time and motion. Without sufficient knowledge of mathematics, how can nontheoretical physicists imagine the underlying elegance of the universe? Likewise, however immediately present to our senses are forms of beauty, how can the extravaganza that is organic lifetransmutation and evolution radiating in infinite complexitybe imaginable? How are we to know the elegance and extravagance of Nature? Everything about you is perfect, Gary Cooper tells Audrey Hepburn. Crawling on the floor, a Cinderella in search of her lost slipper in Coopers Ritz Carlton suite in Paris, Hepburn replies: Im too thin. And my ears stick out. And my teeth are crooked. And my necks much too long. However imperfect each feature, Coopers response to her list of faults suggests a truer way of seeing hernot in parts, but as a whole: May be so. But I love the way it all hangs together (Love in the Afternoon). The human presence of Audrey Hepburn, captured by the camera and narrated on film, makes imaginable to the human mind an elegance of onenesspure, intact, simple, wholewhose almost mathematical language of being makes her the fabric, the tapestry of the cosmos of Funny Face. Marilyn Monroe, in all her wonderful excess, compels the cameras attention on her female body and the evolutionary life processes that burst forward in urgent response to her heightened femininity, where, as Darwin writes of the process of life, the vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply (On Natural Selection 19)the very essence of comedy. If the cameras love affair with feminine beauty makes visible what it means to imagine the aesthetic ideas of elegance or extravaganceas their objective correlativesfor science and art to imagine the universe, organic nature, and human experience in such terms makes evident the fundamentally aesthetic nature of the human mind.

The Aesthetics of Elegance and Extravagance


1. See Natalie Angiers Abstract Thoughts? The Body Takes Them Literally. 2. See Eliots essay, Hamlet and His Problems. The idea was introduced by Washington Allston in his Lectures on Art. About the history of the objective correlative, see Objective_correlative. 3. The baseball hero, Joe DiMaggio, and American playwright, Arthur Miller, were two of her husbands. Among the list of the celebrated with whom she had sexual relations, President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy may have been two of her lovers. 4. About Cleopatras appearance on her purple barge along the Nile, Enobarbus says: Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale Her infinite variety. Other women cloy The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry Where she most satisfies (Antony and Cleopatra II.ii 23237) 5. Freud first discusses the idea of the phallic woman in Fetishism (1927) and then in Femininity (1933).

Angier, Natalie. Abstract Thoughts? The Body Takes Them Literally. The New York Times, February 2, 2010, sec. D2. Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. In Illuminations, edited by Hannah Arendt, 21751. Translated by Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books, 1969. Colette, Sidonie-Gabrielle. Hepburn . . . and Hepburn. The American Weekly, March 23, 1952. Darwin, Charles. The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 18091882. 1958. Edited by Nora Barlow. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993. . The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1981. . On Natural Selection. New York: Penguin Books, 2005. . On the Origin of Species. Edited by Joseph Carroll. Toronto, Canada: Broadview Press, 2003. . The Origin of Species. Edited by Julian Huxley. New York: Mentor Book/The New American Library, 1958. Eliot. T. S. Hamlet and His Problems. Etcoff, Nancy. Survival of the Prettiest. New York: Doubleday/Random House, 1999. Falk, Dan. Universe on a T-Shirt: The Quest for the Theory of Everything. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2002. Feynman, Richard P. The Making of a Scientist. In What Do You Care What Other People Think?, 1119. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001. Freud, Sigmund. Femininity. New Introductory Letters on Psychoanalysis. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, edited by James Strachey, vol. 22, 11430. London: Hogarth Press and The Institute for Psych-Analysis, 1964.


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. Fetishism. In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 21, 14957. Funny Face. Directed by Stanley Donen. Screenplay by Leonard Gershe. Music and Lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin. Hollywood, CA: Paramount, 1957. Greene, Brian. The Elegant Universe. New York: Vintage/Random House, 2000. . The Fabric of the Cosmos. New York: Vintage/Random House, 2004. Love in the Afternoon. Directed by Billy Wilder with I. A. L. Diamond. With Maurice Chevalier, Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn. Los Angeles, CA: Allied Artists, 1957. Polanyi, Michael. Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1974. Sabrina. Directed by Billy Wilder with Ernest Lehman. Story by Samuel Taylor. With Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and William Holden. Hollywood, CA: Paramount, 1954. The Seven Year Itch. Directed by Billy Wilder with George Axelrod. Story by George Axelrod. With Marilyn Monroe, Tom Ewell, and Evelyn Keyes. Hollywood, CA: Paramount, 1955. Shakespeare, William. Antony and Cleopatra. In Shakespeare: The Complete Works, edited by G. B. Harrison, 121964. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968. Some Like It Hot. Directed by Billy Wilder with I. A. L. Diamond. With Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and Marilyn Monroe. Century City, CA: United Artists, 1959. Wood, James. How Fiction Works. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. Yapp, Nick. Audrey Hepburn. New York: Fall River Press in Conjunction with Getty Images, 2009. . Marilyn Monroe. New York: Fall River Press in Conjunction with Getty Images, 2009.

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