Buying into beauty

Geez Magazine; July 2007

Early one morning, as if in inspiration for this piece, a beautiful sunrise filled my window. Instinctively, and since no one else was available, I picked up my pug Beatrice to show it to her. She couldn’t give a crap.

That got me thinking: what's with this obsession with enchantment? The more I thought about enchantment, the more I grappled with its consequences. Whether it's wanting to share a sunset, take a picture, write a story, buy a dog, build a church, have sex, pick a flower, or hunt a deer, recognizing the beauty in something inevitably inspires an instinct to possess it.

As a would-be minimalist, this comes as a humbling surprise to me. Despite my modest living, without electricity, plumbing, or a coffee maker, I’m consumed with an obsessive desire to possess just about anything so long as it is - shall we say - enchanting. The fact that the objects of my enchantment aren't commercial goods hardly elevates me above the shop-til-you-drop commercial connoisseur.

This is why I worry that expanding the horizons of our enchantment is at risk of subliminally subsidizing consumer culture.

Take graffiti for instance. I’ve seen art on alley walls that (dare I say it anymore?) ought to be in a museum. And it appears that I’m not alone, as the art of graffiti has become increasingly popular. More than one graffiti blogger that I’ve come across is pissed off or has “issued their resignation” now that graffiti has transitioned from the “art of revolution” into corporate publicity and amateur vandalism on a massive scale. Whatever it once was, there is now a popular and highly profitable market for a bit of spray paint and a concrete wall.

And as I sit here renewing my subscription to Geez, I realize how ravenously I gobble up anti-consumerism, as enchanted as I am by it. As Heath and Potter put it in The Rebel Sell, “The market obviously does an extremely good job at responding to consumer demand for anti-consumerist products and literature.” Whether or not I joined the clubs or bought the books, I was certainly sold on the idea, opting to adopt a simpler, more sustainable way of life. It’s confusing and in some ways disappointing to realize that I’ve simply changed the nature of my consumption, disenchanted by commercialism, mesmerized by minimalism.

But then this begins to sound like a Catch-22: damned if you consume, damned if you don’t (because you do). So what’s the point?

Awareness, perhaps. Of the potential consequences of enchantment and the many forms of desire and consumption. Of the Buddhist principle of the impermanence of all things and the suffering caused by possessiveness. Of the Biblical teaching to live in the moment rather than store up for the future. Of what Beatrice taught me when she cared more about tearing up my slippers than sharing a sunset with me. To leave beauty where we find it, where it is whole, unspoiled, momentary and unmarketed. To experience enchantment in solitude and silence, and to be grateful for the moment, not for the memory.