Volume 1: Where on Earth
Easthampton, Massachusetts: Small Beer Press, 2012; $24.00 hc; 281 pages
Volume 2: Outer Space, Inner Lands
Easthampton, Massachusetts: Small Beer Press, 2012; $24.00 hc; 333 pages
Morality and aesthetics are old, old companions, subjects of human pondering and conversation for millennia. Rare is the philosopher who has not opined on each, rarer the critic who does not wield both in praising the virtuous and punishing the wicked. Yet the two domains seem not to share so much as a common border. Aristotle, working his way through the entirety of human thought, taught that the Good and the Beautiful are different (heteron), the Good being always in motion, the Beautiful often motionless. He did admit that the Good could be beautiful and that the Beautiful could outweigh the Useful and Needful; he was, after all, Greek. Later thinkers worked back and forth through various oppositions, placing the Good or the Beautiful foremost depending on how the Universe was constituted (divine ground-of-being or insensate material). Artists occasionally chimed in with formulations for Truth being Beauty, Beauty Truth, gnomic un-utterances that puzzle and vandalize Greek pots. (Again, Greeks.) Some artists did do more but typically in a didactic or satiric way. Aesop and Jean de La Fontaine wrote fables, tales with a moral, the Good wrapped up in the Beautiful, in much the manner of a distasteful pill molded inside a bit of strong-flavored cheese. Very, very few could blend the two or even grow the Beautiful out of the Good, not as a sensual misdirection but as from a seed planted in fertile soil. It would take perhaps the work of both a philosopher and an artist, both geniuses. Enter William James and Ursula K. Le Guin.