the state of beauty

selections from the screwtape letters (screwtape is a senior devil writing to a junior devil. God is referred to as the Enemy.)

…in a rough and ready way, of course, this matter is decided for us by spirits far deeper down in the Lowerarchy than you and i. it is the business of these great masters to produce in every age a general misdirection of what may be called sexual ‘taste’. this they do by working through the small circle of popular artists, dressmakers, actresses, and advertisers who determine the fashionable type. the aim is to guide each sex away from those members of the other with whom spiritually helpful, happy, and fertile marriages are most likely.

at one time we have directed (the male taste) to the statuesque and aristocratic type of beauty, mixing men’s vanity with their desires and encouraging the race to breed chiefly from the most arrogant and prodigal women. at another, we have selected an exaggeratedly feminine type, faint and languishing, so that folly and cowardice, and all the general falseness and littleness of mind which go with them, shall be at a premium. at present we are on the opposite track. the age of jazz has succeeded the age of the waltz, and we now teach men to like women whose bodies are scarcely distinguishable from those of boys. since this is a kind of beauty even more transitory than most, we thus aggravate the female’s chronic horror of growing old and render her less willing and less able to bear children.

you will find, if you look into any man’s heart, that he is haunted by at least two imaginary women – a terrestrial and an infernal venus, and that his desire differs qualitatively according to its object. there is one type for which his desire is such as to be naturally amenable to the Enemy- readily mixed with charity, readily obedient to marriage, coloured all through with that golden light of reverence and naturalness which we detest; there is another type which he desires brutally, and desires to desire brutally, a type best used to draw him away from marriage altogether but which, even within marriage, he would tend to treat as a slave, an idol, or an accomplice….it is that ‘tang’ in the flavour which he is after. in the face, it is the visible animality, or sulkiness, or craft, or cruelty which he likes, and in the body, something quite different from what he ordinarily calls Beauty, something he may even, in a sane hour, describe as ugliness, but which, by our art, can be made to play on the raw nerve of his private obsession.

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3 Comments

  1. This book changed the way I approach temptation and the Moral War on earth (between God/good and Satan/evil). This excerpt makes sound sense as does the rest of the book. I got the audiobook for this a few months ago and the narrator adds to the voice of Lewis.

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  2. i was compelled to post this because it resonated deeply within me. at the same time, i hesitated, only because some things are more powerful when kept close, perishable and oft-exploited when voiced. but the moral corruption in society which can be so exquisitely masked as “freedom,” “choices,” “variety,” and the rest – things to celebrate in some ways, for certain – is something that has come to my attention again and again. the errant use of the concept that the mind, the spirit, or any of these intangibles are divorced from the body i believe to be at the root of moral corruption. i think blake said “the notion that the soul is separate from the body should be expunged.” so it is not so much a christian idea (which is typically that the soul is indeed separate from the body), but a holistic idea: what we do with our physical self we are doing with our soulful self.

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