Tuesday, July 25, 2017

You Cannot Say "Beautiful" about what is not yours: Krasiński & A Turkish Muslim Habit

While some danger always exists that Krasiński's deliberations on the destiny of women (with which he opens his Letters to Delfina Potocka in 1840) are hyperbolic flattery aimed at winning the submissive love of an otherwise independent and imperious mistress, there is a greater chance that Krasiński is - as usual - being quite serious in prophesizing the fate of women in human affairs.




The essence of Krasiński's prophecy is that a reversal of roles is on the horizon, portending a well-deserved revenge of women against men who have cemented their position of dominance over women as a master over a slave. This dominance, according to Krasiński, was often accomplished with white gloves on - that is to say, men pretended to a virtue proper to them in order to win the affection of women only to use and abandon women. Krasiński does not propose a revolution in the ideal of love between men and women, rather he sees the male betrayal of this ideal and the coming vengeance.

This vengeance will be disturbing because it will see women abandon the feminine ideal in order to lower themselves to the level of men (who Krasiński accuses of duplicity in their guile and merely pretending to the ideals of gentlemen) in order to best them in an ensuing war of the sexes. In this war, Krasiński - aspiring to the status of a true gentleman - is on the side of women.

As such, he spies a far off future when, following on the heels of revenge, women will find themselves elevated in the eyes of men to their proper status: as objects of manly worship. Krasiński goes so far as to propose that some element of the Divine revelation can only make itself known through the female body, that the spirit of women is closer to the spirit of God and therefore a fitting object through which men can progress towards the Divine.

This notion of beauty as a conduit towards truth is not foreign to us; it is a common trope in art (particularly fine art). Socrates, in his Symposium likewise tells of how Daiotima turned his passions towards the love of truth. Krasiński imagines a similar process taking place in the future, albeit on a global scale. He writes of women in his Letters just as he writes of nations in his other works: he calls both of them lutes in a cosmic symphony that unfolds the essence of Providence in the universe.

One hundred and seventy seven years after Krasiński's prophecy, it is hard to dismiss the thing as a fable. As with most of Krasiński's romantic form, what appears to be a flight of fancy is, in its essential content, a highly realistic  assessment of future events. Krasiński's prophecy has come to pass - ergo, we cannot deny that he was in point of fact a prophet on par with his Old Testament prototypes. Like Solhzenitzyn and many other lay contemporary and modern era writers, we are forced to read Krasiński as we read the Old Testament: with reverence (or at least fear and trembling). This is no mere "romantic poet" - this is an Oracle.

Judged from the vantage point of Krasiński's own imaginings, we are somewhere along the path of women's revenge. Manliness has indeed been crushed in Western culture, although as Krasiński correctly foresaw, the destruction of the manly ideal began with its betrayal by men, who pretended to it as a charm with which to win women, but never remained with it. At present, women are no longer charmed by a shadow of the manly ideal. Western men have been reduced to eternal boys, or rather worse - eternal juvenile delinquents. Western women have likewise abandoned feminin idealism for feminism and all that this ideology carries with it. Thus the present mean of Western men and women is mean.

Have we come to the end of this prophesied stage of vengeance? Has our civilization turned a corner and begun to exalt the feminine ideal as Krasiński conceived it? Unlikely. Recently, in larger company, a Muslim woman explained that in Turkey, it is not acceptable to say "beautiful" of someone who is not yours. The Europeans in our company did not understand. Upon learning that this meant a man could say of his wife, daughter or sister "she is beautiful", but not of a stranger, the modern Europeans were taken aback. "How antique!" I alone felt that this Muslim Turkish custom was itself beautiful. Krasiński prophesied the disease and the cure, but was he exhibiting the typical Polish naivete about Western civilization and the West's capacity to repair itself?

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