"It’s an ugly thing, the way we treat both women and mollusks"
March 12, 2019 11:17 AM   Subscribe

The Ugly History of Beautiful Things, an ongoing series by Katy Kelleher: Pearls: Born from irritation and intrusion, luminous and complex, surprisingly durable: pearls are rich with symbolism and saturated with pain; Perfume: Sometimes it takes a touch of darkness to create something alluring; Angora: Angora rabbit fur is fluffy, and silky, and was especially popular with two influential 20th-century groups: Hollywood starlets and Nazi officers. (all links to Longreads)
from Pearls: Made primarily from cultivated pearls, the powder is the result of torturing a small animal, extracting the symbol of their pain, and crushing it down until its finer than sand. And yet, this process strikes me as particularly appropriate, considering the way we conceive of the pearl. Pearls have always been pain made visible, both in a literal sense and a metaphoric one. We live in a world that frequently asks women to showcase their pain, to polish it nicely for public consumption and present it. Often, female pain is used to help men mature. It’s a common enough trope in literature and television (consider Theon Greyjoy’s slow redemption on Game of Thrones or the comic book trope of “Women in Refrigerators”) but we see this in real life, too. We ask women like Christine Blasey Ford and Anita Hill to wrap their pain up in a bow, to turn it into something we can use. We ask victims of rape to relive their trauma over and over again in order to be believed. Pain must be made visible, made public, in order for it to be real. We expect pain to happen — it is, as Lili Loofbourow puts it, the “female price of male pleasure” — and we require that it be somehow made of use. It’s an ugly thing, the way we treat both women and mollusks.

And for what? This is the question I wonder. I understand the desire to own a beautiful thing, and the need to surround yourself with shining objects and glittering gems. Beauty deadens the pain of the world a little bit. It mitigates the ugliness of life. Yet it’s worth remembering that your Beauty Dust wasn’t created in a vacuum. It wasn’t made by magic. Chances are, it won’t even work.

Katy Kelleher previously: All the Whites You Cannot Name.
posted by not_the_water (3 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Katy Kelleher previously: All the Whites You Cannot Name.

On the subject of the colour white, Han Kang author of The Vegetarian has just released a kind of meditation on white things/objects/colour/death/mourning called The White Book. Might be worth your time if you're interested in that kind of a thing.
“If silence could be condensed into the smallest, most solid object, this is how it would feel.” The dominant theme is of transience, of fleeting life and the acceptance of human fragility. A snow storm in Warsaw erases the detail of its streets, yet when it falls on a black coat sleeve, it will “reveal its crystals even to the naked eye. Mysterious hexagons melting clean away.””
Also, great post, will be checking these links out when I have a spare moment.
posted by Fizz at 11:39 AM on March 12, 2019

I read the perfume one earlier today. Kelleher's style is enjoyable to me -- reflective and thoughtful and very present. Really looking forward to the others.
posted by snerson at 5:04 PM on March 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thank you for sharing these! This writer's essays are such a gorgeous and melancholy treasure. Looking forward to reading through.

As an aside, I emailed Ms. Kelleher last year about the MeFi post on All the Whites You Cannot Name, and she sent me a generous and lovely reply. I'll send her this post, too. This is such a weird, wild political moment in so many ways and I am so grateful for living writers who publish thoughtful works.
posted by wicked_sassy at 5:46 AM on March 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

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