Sweetness and Light
The essence of Matthew Arnold's 1867 essay Culture and Anarchy, as he wrote in the preface, is "to recommend culture as the great help out of our present difficulties." I struggled to remember Arnold's theory of sweetness (appreciation of beauty) and light (pursuit of knowledge) as I walked around Notre Dame this morning. All roads lead to Notre Dame lately, and every time we go out, that's where we end up. It's no surprise since it's always been my favorite place in Paris. Yet lately I've experienced physical reactions with increasing weight each time I step inside. This morning, I attmepted to put the reaction into words, and uttered something along the lines of "simply being inside, I breathe in passion, dedication and beauty, and exhale indifference, practicality and cynicism." In other words, I go in sour and dark, and emerge sweeter and lighter. Sweeter because I'm awed and inspired by not just the vast amount of architectural beauty, but the juxtaposition of the weight of the stone and the weightlessness of the space it defines. And lighter because I'm impressed by the amount of knowledge and intellect it must have taken to build a structure that after 900 years, still causes everyone who enters it to look up and gasp. Either that, or they've got some incredibly potent incense going on in there.