it blooms because it blooms

This is a difficult age to maintain poetic wonder. Our flights of fancy are continuously called to order by scientific facts. Yes, science has made a mess of our metaphors.

Take these lines from a very old poem, “without why” (1) :

“The rose is without why; It blooms because it blooms
It cares not for itself, asks not if it is seen”

Lines to “praise purposelessness” and to console us for all of our ignored endeavors, our unseen pictures, our unheard songs.

Now Darwinism has of course revealed the eminently selfish purpose behind the rose’s boisterous bloom or the peacock’s dashingly colored plumes: mere stratagems to attract bees or mates and ensure reproduction.
So there goes the consoling metaphor of the disinterestedly, solitarily blooming rose.

Shall we then turn to Walter Benjamin for poetic justice? Benjamin who wanted to salvage the intrinsic meaning and significance of all human “thought things”, save them from the need to be validated by either usefulness or public acclaim.
And so he arrives at the wonderful paradox : “no poem is intended for the reader, no picture for the beholder, no symphony for the listener”. An intoxicating phrase, implying that even a never read poem would still have its claim on intrinsic worth and significance. A tempting paradox indeed, but Benjamin did realize that this affirmation of his could not be vindicated in the human realm. (2)

So let’s descend to a worldlier philosophy – let’s hear what the eminent Mr. Hegel has to say on the matter.
He compares the "naively self-centered" origin of natural beauty (“the variegated richly colored plumage of birds shines even when unseen” ) with the work of art that has as its purpose to exist solely for our mind and spirit. “[the work of art] is essentially a question, an address to the responsive breast, a call to the mind and the spirit”. (3)

This call to another human sensibility is inherent in a work of art. Maybe that’s why I can contentedly roam about art galleries on my own but shrink back from solitary nature walks.
The art works are there for me, they need my attention as a sentient and thinking human being. But nature …. I could get choked by existential angst when alone in nature, of even the most dazzling kind. Natural beauty can be so devastatingly indifferent to the human being, so meaningless … Unless... unless we shoot pictures of it, paint it, sing it – to share the experience and thus to humanize it.

notes without why
(1) Angelus Silesius, 1657, “Ohne Warum” (as quoted in English by Hannah Arendt in “Men in dark times”)
(2) Walter Benjamin, The Task of the Translator”: “For example, one could speak of an unforgettable life or moment even if all men had forgotten them. If the nature of such a life or moment required that it not be forgotten, that predicate would not contain a falsehood but merely a claim that is not being fulfilled by men, and perhaps also a reference to a realm in which it is fulfilled: God’s remembrance”
(3) and here I shun all Darwinian references – this is about aesthetic sensibilities, about intimations of the sublime, no less. Don’t anyone dare to point out that art is just another evolutionary ruse to advertise one’s genes to potential mates.

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