Wien: Bounds of the North American Purple-loosestrife Plant
It’s the night before the election, and beauty lies in timing. I have never voted in a presidential race before, and there is little more satisfying than standing in a place of blamelessness.
I should be working on my report on the loosestrife plant. It’s an invasive species that dots the landscape with beautiful purples and greens. Fighting the loosestrife is an exercise in rationale. Our aesthetic perception of the plant tells us that this thing of beauty deserves a place, while our reasoning tells us that the loosestrife drains resources valuable to endemic plants, throwing off the balance of the ecosystem.
Beauty lies in timing, and my grandmother lies in a hospital in New York, resisting an invasive species of her own. The reproducing individual must believe itself beautiful enough to replicate.
My sister texts me:
“Bobbie still with an attitude tho. When I saw her yesterday she waved and was like ‘this doctor is very cute, you should talk to him.’”
Here, my grandmother, in an effort to get great-grandkids, encourages my sister to hit on the hospital’s employees. The beautiful craves replication — the Wien women have great legs.
The cancer cell must think itself worthy of reproduction, growing itself until it runs into other cells, then growing itself some more.
It is a thing of beauty to have a room in which to weather the storm, to have roommates who have experienced incomprehensible loss and still find room to empathize with yours.
To appreciate beauty requires a displacement. I will displace this hospital to look at this doctor, displace these tubes to imagine a light in her eyes. The “natural” beauty of national parks has required the displacement of their indigenous inhabitants; the “clean” beauty of our campus requires the displacement of our trash.
It’s a thing of beauty that Corinne, gluten-intolerant and allergic to more things than most, brought us back bagels from Massachusetts.
It’s a thing of beauty that Kayuri drove me to West Lebanon to pick up costumes for my show; it’s a thing of beauty that I let her play country music.
It’s a thing of beauty that we allow ourselves to be gross around one another. Our state of unbeauty, anti-beauty gives us space.
“A distorted echo of a famous phrase of Wittgenstein’s: the human body is the best picture we have of the human soul. His point, infinitely contestable as everything he wrote is, is that we can have no picture of the human mind save as embodied, and so in speaking of it we are ultimately speaking of the bodily gestures and expressions which give mental states their form and mental language its criteria.” — Arthur C. Danto, “The Politics of Imagination.”
The beautiful body is the one that carries out the actions of its soul. It is true that this is an especially Western European conception of a body/soul divide, and here it’s constructed as a one way street, wherein the soul can inform the body but the body cannot inform the soul.
The body is beautiful because unlike the loosestrife or the cancer, it knows its limits; the body must rest.
If we imagine a cancer cell as a thing that thinks itself beautiful enough to produce itself over and over again, we see that too much beauty is harmful.
Around each other, we let our beauty take a rest. Last night, Kayuri wore a bubblegum pink nightgown decorated with phrases like “Princess” and “Live Laugh Love.” Corinne took a photo of her and she poked her head through the armhole of the nightie, the Hunchback of 310.
It’s now Tuesday, it’s beautiful out, and the three of us meet in front of Collis to walk over to Hanover High. In full view of a tour group, Kayuri tips her water bottle and spills its contents on some pro-Trump chalk.
She turns to me and says, “I’ve been doing my civic duty all morning.”
We meet up with Corinne and start on our way, along with Diana, who voted this morning. Her tactic is yelling at the chalk. I admire Diana and I’m also a little afraid of her.
We turn and I start playing “The West Wing” theme song on my phone. Kayuri feigns embarrassment, but she’s seen so much West Wing it’s hard to believe she’s anything less than thrilled.
None of us are the type of women to kid ourselves. Over our sophomore summer we saw Hillary Clinton come to campus, speak in the BEMA and espouse white feminism, taking the “All Lives Matter” route. We’ve heard her silence regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline and seen her interventionist policies in the Middle East.
It’s a weird mixture between mourning and celebration. Our first election! Our first election...the whole affair feels bland. There is no euphoria, just a feeling of sameness.
Voting this way is sad, but it leaves us room to imagine the third party vote, the protest vote, the disenfranchised and foreign for whom a change in administration will have no material repercussions.
As we exit Hanover High, three enormous men in GDX gear enter.
“Well, ladies,” says Kayuri, “looks like our votes just cancelled out theirs.”
There’s beauty to finding humor in the situation.
We’re wondering where all this chalk is coming from, if there are just covert ops. Members of the RNC disguised as students. I think of the beauty of the conspiracy theory, the beauty of those who can make connections the rest of us cannot see, through numbers and final initials, through anagrams and dates in time. Is this not how the constellations were formed?
On the phone, my mother tells me she leaned over my grandmother’s bed and said she’d submit one vote for each of them.
In the class where I’m dedicated to the purple loosestrife, we learn that deciduous trees actually have a mechanism to cut off their leaves once they stop photosynthesizing. Beginning about a half a year ago, my grandmother stopped paying her bills. The beauty of the body is that it knows when to stop — when the soul has better things to do.
In another class we discuss whether certain theorists are existentialists or Marxists in their feminisms. Broadly, existential feminists hold that we are trapped within a sex/gender system that will only allow minor subversions, so we might as well have fun while we’re in it. Marxist feminists see the overthrow of the sex/gender system as the only legitimate ends, ones which we must continually strive for. What’s saddening about the second camp is that you may die before you see the day it happens.
The existential feminists in us want to feel like we are forming results we will see within our lifetimes, even if their consequences might be dire. An intersectional Marxist feminist may see a third-party vote, voter refusal or protest votes as a necessary means to equitable ends, if the ends are the demise of the two-party system, which sees itself worthy of a replication that will swallow its host.
Here, I suppose, are two types of beauty: the beauty that knows when to stop and the one that refuses to, the one that continues fighting even after the death of its holder.