Music & Poetry: Musings on the Self-Destructive Addiction to Beauty

The artist is the creator of beautiful things.

To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.

The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Beauty attracts.

Regardless of what your definition of ‘Beauty’ is, you can’t deny that this statement holds true. It’s natural. We are attracted to what we find pleasing. Why, then, do we find the painful beautiful? We know it hurts and yet, like a moth to the flame that will burn it, we gravitate towards it. What compels us to subject ourselves to suffering that can easily be avoided?

Music is my flame; both the aural and the literary. There are some pieces that penetrate the very core of my soul and send me into near-crippling despair. I still engage with them. Often, I actively seek them out. It nearly destroys me every time but does it stop me? No. No matter how physically and emotionally painful it is for me, there are some pieces of music or poetry that, as F. Scott Fitzgerald puts it inThe Great Gatsby, has me “borne back ceaselessly into the past.” The worst part: I don’t even try to escape it. Somehow I don’t feel I’m alone in this.

Perhaps it’s because of the deep-seated associations we make between ourselves and the ‘inanimate.’ It’s not the music or the poetry that we find so devastating in its beauty, it’s the association with it that we have made on a largely subconscious level that ruins us. The music or the poetry, then, is harmless in its magnificence but the damage is caused by how we interpret that beauty.At the end of November, three years of planning came together and my parents and I boarded a plane and officially moved to England. After being here for the better part of three weeks, I’m slowly beginning to feel totally comfortable and settle in. But, only having our WiFi set up since yesterday, I haven’t really read any poetry nor listened to any music I collected over the last two decades. Today was the first time I listened to any kind of music. All the emotions came flooding back with a vengeance that would terrify Lucifer.

Honestly, I don’t miss Cape Town. It was years of inaccessibility and a pervading sense of captivity for me. I miss the people (and my old house and high school). Having lived there until less than a month ago, EVERYONE I knew other than the handful that moved to England a couple of years ago, is several thousand miles away. Whoever said that the digital age built bridges between geographical areas was lying. It helped, yes, but technology is a piece of string if anything, not a bridge. I’m not going back to Cape Town, though. Not in any real sense. Frankly, I don’t want to go back to a place that was so inaccessible for me. Yet, I still hear its siren song. The people still remain at the forefront of my mind.

To tell you the truth, I’ve been so busy with setting up the various admin things that one needs when first landing in Wiltshire that I haven’t had time to think about the people in Cape Town. Playing my music again ripped through the ‘activity bubble.’ I can’t stop playing the same playlist practically on a loop since it first played. I’m letting it tear through me.

Honestly, I’m not entirely sure why.A few years ago, I discovered a poem by a woman whose dog died. As a way of coping, the poem was essentially a letter from her dog telling her to let him go. It’s devastatingly beautifully written. I stayed up the whole night playing it on a loop for several hours. It got no better with each repeat, it still cut through me as if it were the first time I heard it. I’ve actively tried to forget its title since then. I don’t think anyone would blame me. By Albert Einstein’s definition, I’m insane – I’m repeating the same behaviour expecting a different outcome. Or am I?

Yes, I am repeating the same behaviour which I consciously know to ruin me emotionally. But am I expecting a different result? I don’t think so. I’m aware that it is excruciating and yet my subconscious is compelled to revel in the painful beauty. At least on some level, I’m expecting to be exposed to that inexplicable characteristic I find so alluring. My motive is simple: do the thing because it is beautiful and damn the consequences. There is no alternative outcome I hope for. I am fully aware that the track I’m about to play or poem I’m about to read will destroy me. I do it anyway.

I wrote everything you read above 2 weeks ago, soon after arriving in England. I didn’t mean to give myself this two-week break but it’s helped me develop a new perspective I know I wasn’t aware of when I first started this post. Why do we knowingly inflict pain on ourselves? It lets us know we’re still alive on a metaphysical, almost ethereal level. I’m a firm believer in the notion that there is a difference between ‘living’ and merely ‘existing.’ Existing is simple, all we need is for our various biological mechanisms to keep doing their thing. Living is more complex. To live we must feel, experience, and revel in the emotions humanity gives us, both good and bad.

Let me know your thoughts.

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