Saving Beauty by Han Byung-Chul surprised the shit out of me with the most arresting opening pages I have read in 30 years.

The smooth is the signature of the present time. It connects the sculptures of Jeff Koons, phones, and Brazilian waxing. Why do we today find what is smooth beautiful? Beyond its æsthetic effect, it reflects a general social imperative. It embodies today’s society of positivity. What is smooth does not injure. Nor does it offer any resistance. It is looking for Like. The smooth object deletes its Against. Any form of negativity is removed. […]

The artificial skin of [a] smartphone keeps it smooth at all times…. Smoothness is not limited to the outside of the digital apparatus. Communication via a digital apparatus also appears smoothed out, as it is mostly polite remarks, even positivities, which are exchanged. “Sharing” and “Like” represent communicative means for smoothening. Negativities are eliminated because they represent obstacles to accelerated communication.

Jeff Koons, arguably the most successful living artist at present, is a master of smooth surfaces. Andy Warhol also professed his commitment to beautiful, smooth surfaces, but his art still had the negativity of death and disaster inscribed into it. His surfaces are not entirely smooth…. In Jeff Koons’ work, by contrast, there exists no disaster, no injury, no ruptures, also no seams. Everything flows in soft and smooth transitions. Everything appears rounded, polished, smoothed out. Jeff Koons’ art is dedicated to smooth surfaces and their immediate effect. It does not ask to be interpreted, to be deciphered, or to be reflected upon. It is art in the age of Like. […]

His smooth sculptures cause a “haptic compulsion” to touch them, even the desire to suck them. His art lacks a negativity that would demand distance. It is the positivity of smoothness alone that causes the haptic compulsion. It invites the observer to take an attitude without distance, to touch. An æsthetic judgement, however, presupposes a contemplative distance. The art of the smooth abolishes such distance. […]

Hegel… limited the sensual in the arts to “the two theoretical senses of sight and hearing.” They alone have access to meaning, while smell and taste are excluded from the enjoyment of art. The latter are only susceptible to the “agreeable,” which is not “the beauty of art.” […] The smooth only conveys an agreeable feeling, which cannot be connected to with any meaning or profound sense. It exhausts itself in a “Wow.”

Yes, dear God, unprompted he starts talking about the Citroën DS.

In his Mythologies, Roland Barthes points out the haptic compulsion which is triggered by the [then‑]new Citroën DS.

It is well known that smoothness is always an attribute of perfection because its opposite reveals a technical and typically human operation of assembling: Christ’s robe was seamless, just as the airships of science fiction are made of unbroken metal. The DS 19 has no pretensions about being as smooth as cake icing, although its general shape is very rounded; yet it is the dovetailing of its sections which interest the public most: one keenly fingers the edges of the windows, one feels along the wide rubber grooves which link the back window to its metal surround.

There are in the DS the beginnings of a new phenomenology of assembling, as if one progressed from a world where elements are welded to a world where they are juxtaposed and hold together by sole virtue of their wondrous shape, which of course is meant to prepare one for the idea of a more benign Nature. As for the material itself, it is certain that it promotes a taste for lightness in its magical sense. […] Here, the glass surfaces are not windows, openings pierced in a dark shell; they are vast walls of air and space, with the curvature, the spread and the brilliance of soap bubbles[.]

The book is poorly typeset (with a credit to the typesetter) and deteriorates into a conventionally incomprehensible book about “cultural theory.”

And here is a baffling endnote (with endless permutations of Ä/an/ae):

Cf. Wolfgang Welsch, Ästhetisches Denken…. Welsch interprets anaestheticization, or anaesthetics, not as anaesthesia, but as non-aesthetics, and tries to find positive aspects in it.

Now apply this lesson to an ongoing bugbear of mine, consensus gay culture, and to the near-impossibility of photographing the male nude.

  • The only points of interest with, on, or in these undifferentiable granite-smooth musclegays are the textures of wangs in underpants.

    Two overmuscled men in white Hilfiger briefs

    I’m sure they’re crashing bores in real life, and cannot do anything with those muscles.

  • Now consider someone who is not a gay, which fact may be apparent at a glance.

    Muscular man with arm tattoos in ribbed T‑shirt, backwards ballcap

    As with the musclegays, the skin illustrations are a zero, but everything under the mildly rumpled ribbed T‑shirt suddenly becomes of interest.

Smooth removes any form of negativity.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2019.05.11 16:39. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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