These days, by browsing some pages of The Brothers Karamazov, I stopped on a surprising passage which, until then, had not so much struck me. It would, it seemes to me, be useful to recall it, in order to complete the reflection that I published HERE – quite some time ago – on Dostoevsky’s famous sentence: "Beauty will save the world."
In this passage, Dmitri, the elder of the brothers, conveys the overflowing of his passionate heart to his younger brother Alyosha. He depicts himself at one and the same time as "mystical and sensual." He recites a poem of Schiller, the Festival of Eleusis, and dwells on a verse: "To insects – sensual lust!". The way he comments on it forces us to think again about beauty.
“I am that insect, brother, and it is said of me specially. All we Karamazovs are such insects, and, angel as you are, that insect lives in you, too, and will stir up a tempest in your blood. Tempests, because sensual lust is a tempest—worse than a tempest! Beauty is a terrible and awful thing! It is terrible because it has not been fathomed and never can be fathomed, for God sets us nothing but riddles. Here the boundaries meet and all contradictions exist side by side. I am not a cultivated man, brother, but I’ve thought a lot about this. It’s terrible what mysteries there are! Too many riddles weigh men down on earth. We must solve them as we can, and try to keep a dry skin in the water. Beauty! I can’t endure the thought that a man of lofty mind and heart begins with the ideal of the Madonna and ends with the ideal of Sodom. What’s still more awful is that a man with the ideal of Sodom in his soul does not renounce the ideal of the Madonna, and his heart may be on fire with that ideal, genuinely on fire, just as in his days of youth and innocence. Yes, man is broad, too broad, indeed. I’d have him narrower. The devil only knows what to make of it! What to the mind is shameful is beauty and nothing else to the heart. Is there beauty in Sodom? Believe me, that for the immense mass of mankind beauty is found in Sodom. Did you know that secret? The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man(...)”(1)
Breathtaking understanding of the human heart, torn between heaven and earth. In it, actually “the boundaries meet and all contradictions exist side by side”. This is why the same object can arouse contemplation or greed, and often both together! As I suggested it in the comment of May 2012, the beauty of Nastasya Filippovna captivates Prince Myshkin as well as Rogozhin, the two heroes of The Idiot, but while she inspires compassion and kindness to the first one, she fills the second of a destructive passion.
Recognize that our heart is mixed, to become aware of the greed and the selfish sensuality that coexist with our higher feelings – “God and the devil are fighting there...” – can lead us on the path of goodness and make us reach the real beauty. This is nothing less than what the tradition called "spiritual warfare."
Fiodor (the other one)
(1) Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, translated by Constance Garnett, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/28054/28054-0.txt