Pathetic Beauty: Meaning and Connectedness in Everyday Aesthetics

Conference: The Kyoto Conference on Arts, Media & Culture (KAMC2022)
Title: Pathetic Beauty: Meaning and Connectedness in Everyday Aesthetics
Stream: Aesthetics and Design
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation
Aaron Ward, Toyo University, Japan


The anxieties and social isolation of modern life stem from an over-emphasis on competitive meritocracy and consumerism. The aim of the current paper is to present a perspective on how resilience to contemporary malaise can be developed through an appreciation of the Japanese aesthetic categorization of mono no aware. This is a form of pathetic beauty that wistfully aestheticizes the transience of everyday life as a means to an acceptance of human fallibility and mortality. The current paper, through an exploration of narrative, text and form in Zen Buddhist philosophy, classic Japanese literature, and haiku poetry, draws parallels with European existentialist thought and romantic poetry, to illustrate parallels in pathetic aesthetic practice. This cultural symmetry is analyzed through the lens of Roland Barthes’ concept of flat language, in which meaning and feeling are immediately conveyed through an ascetic and readily apprehensible use of poetic language. The pathetic mode of aestheticization is not restricted to legitimate culture and can also be found in popular Hollywood cinema. To illustrate pathetic beauty in a more approachable medium, a comparative examination will be made of expressions of this aesthetic in the dialogue, cinematography, and aesthetic formalism of Tom Ford’s A Single Man, a movie in which the protagonist rediscovers meaning and reestablishes social connectedness through an appreciation of the everyday. To conclude, discussion will be made of how cultural parallels in pathetic beauty relate to the development of Japanese Zen philosophy and Christian religious thought through their common root of Indian Buddhism.

Virtual Presentation

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