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Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Beauty and Camelot

“Beauty is an ecstasy; it is as simple as hunger.” –Somerset Maugham.

What do you think? Is this true? Is it as necessary to the human creature to be nourished by beauty as it is to be sated? Or is Maugham saying that one is as keenly aware of beauty when it is present as one is of hunger? Is that the same question?

Or is hunger a metaphor? Is Maugham really saying that beauty is like desire or longing? Layered and complex, a more personal thing. You know, the old “I can’t tell you what beauty is, but I know when I see something beautiful.”

Do you remember those old Canon Sureshot commercials with Andre Agassi? It was a long time ago–he might have even still had hair. Agassi would do all kinds of silly stuff with a tennis racket, snap a few pics, and then stare into the camera: “image (pause) is everything!” Remember?

This week the United States marked 50 years since the assassination of JFK. Of note is that the image of Kennedy and the Kennedy White House as Camelot came AFTER his death; no one spoke of him or his administration like this while he was alive. It was his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, who gave birth to this imagery. “There will be great Presidents again, but there will never be another Camelot.” The image has endured.

Was this true? Was Kennedy a truly great President in his too brief 3 years in the White House? Was his America truly Camelot, Kennedy as Arthur, leading from a place so pure that all who followed would surely be the better for it? We know so much more about him now, 50 years later, than any but his closest friends did at the time. Does our awareness of the reality of the man, so at odds with the image, taint our feelings about “Camelot”?

The answer to that, my friends, is much like Beauty; you may not be able to put it in words, but you know where you stand on the question, whether Kennedy was truly Arthur, or simply an actor playing the role.

But Camelot, ah now, Camelot is something different altogether. Young or old, Americans look back on that time as something truly different. Better. Hopeful. Expectant I think is the right sense. It was a time when Americans expected tomorrow to be better. Born high or low, most sensed that each day dawned with the likelihood of better. At least it seems that’s our sense of it looking back some 50 years.

For some there is a sense that this has been lost, and this was certainly a recurring theme in the reportage seen everywhere this week. After all, the verse from which sprang Jackie’s “Brandstorm” quote was written in the past tense as well: “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.” Is this true? Has Camelot come and gone, or is this, too, just an image?

Beauty and Camelot are much the same. Each can be considered an ecstasy, each as obvious as hunger or as inscrutable as desire. Indeed, each invoke a certain longing, something so personal as to be an irreducible part of who we are. We long for beauty, and we are nourished when we behold it. We long for Camelot, for ourselves and for most of us on behalf of our fellow travelers as well.

We must not let our longing blind us to the fact that, like beauty, in North America Camelot is now. Camelot did not die with Arthur; the “shining moment” was neither brief, nor did it recede into the myst like some modern “Brigadoon”. Look around you. See…really see what beauty has grown since November 23, 1963. Look in the middle where most of us live, not at the margins where lie the extreme. Arthur may have died, yes. He may or may not have been real, and we may or may not have seen one like him grace our round table since. No matter.

You live in a spot known as Camelot. Your shining moment is now.