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"What is Beauty?" Paper

Humanities                              Unit #2:  What is Beauty?                            P. Lee-Muratori

Seminar Paper #2:  Beauty

“Beauty is power the same way money is power the same way a gun is power.”

—      Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters

“For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are barely able to endure, and it amazes us so, because it serenely disdains to destroy us.  Every angel is terrible.”

—      Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies


Writing Process Deadlines:

First Draft Due: 12/15

Peer Discussion (both on-line at and in class):  12/22

Reflection for Revision: 12/22

Final Draft (7-10 pages):  1/5/15

Writing Conferences with me are available as desired.  My schedule is posted on the wall outside the English office.  I am also available before and after school most days (except Thursday) with an appointment.


MLA Format:  12 Font, New Times Roman, Double-spaced, 1-inch margins, MLA

Heading and Citations, and Works Cited page

The Writing Prompt: 

    Beauty is described as “striking,” “heart-stopping,” and “breathtaking.”  A beautiful person causes the beholder to “drop dead,” be “knocked out,” or to suffer the effect of a “bombshell.”  Clearly then, colloquial language depicts beauty in terms of violence even as people are fascinated and attracted by it.  As we have seen in our class readings, current research abounds regarding the perceived benefits of beauty:  greater choice in mates (Eder and Murstein), jobs (Lanier and Byrne), and status (Webster and Driscell), high grades (Lanier), fewer traffic tickets (McElhinny), and shorter criminal sentences (Sigall and Ostrove).  If beauty is such a desirable quality, a source of delight, emulation, and desire, why is it so strongly associated with physical responses related to pain, fear, or death?  Using Exposure, by Katherine Harrison, Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov, and/or Survival of the Prettiest, by Nancy Etcoff, and Malena, by Guiseppe Torniatore, Mulholland Drive, by David Lynch, and/or Magnolia, by Paul Thomas Anderson, explore this dichotomy.  A novel/film, or nonfiction/film pairing is suggested.  

    Start organizing your thoughts with a basic reflection on the works you will use.  Here are some questions to start your exploration:

Š      What causes the negative stereotypes, objectification, and/or demonization of the beauty in the works you have chosen to explore?

Š      Rather than view beauty as a quality that includes and embraces symmetry, proportion, sensuality, sexuality, spirituality, emotionality and intelligence, society often objectifies beauty by breaking it into fragments (Think about Agnolo Firenzuola’s treatise of feminine beauty in the Renaissance).  Why does this happen?  How does this occur within your choice of film and novel?  What causes this?  Are/Is insecurity, jealousy, loss of control, and/or powerlessness operating as motivations?

Š      How is violence utilized in your chosen works?  Is it demonstrated toward the beauty?  By the beauty?  By the gaze?  What factors cause destruction physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually?

Š      What part does pathological narcissism play in relation to growing violence toward beauty?

*If you have an approach you would like to pursue that differs from the ideas above, run it by me before getting started.  I am interested in your choices of topic and text.  The best papers are those which are generated by your own interests, passions, and curiosity.

As always, your project hinges on developing an arguable thesis.  You want to remember the “significance piece” we discussed in our Read Around activity last unit.  How does a reading of one inform the other?  How does the discussion of your text/film affect the reader? What do they learn about the nature of beauty and power?  What is gained or lost in this representation of beauty/power?