The spectre of David Hume looms large over Edinburgh. He was born in the Lawnmarket, right in the heart of the old town of our nation’s capital. Here his statue sits, guarding the entrance to the High Court and supplying a little shade for the bagpipers in the summer. This is less than ten minutes’ walk away from the best bar for live music in Auld Reekie, Bannerman’s.
A few years ago, when gigs were still allowed, we went to Bannerman’s to see heavy metal band Slough Feg. They’re a great band and are fantastic live. Early Iron Maiden style twin guitar melodies, and great vocals with really inventive lyrics, Slough Feg are one of the best bands given the slightly disparaging term, traditional heavy metal. They are named after The Lord Weird Slough Feg, the villain from the Slaine comics, possibly the best series to come out of 2000 A.D. in the 80s and 90s, and in The Horned God stories, one of the best comics ever written.
After the gig we were speaking to singer, guitarist and SF main man Mike Scalzi, who told us that he loved Edinburgh as David Hume was his favourite philosopher. Do you have a favourite philosopher? I don’t, and this was not a conversation I could easily get into so we mumbled some generic band pish like ‘great show’, ‘really enjoyed it’ or perhaps ‘where are you guys playing next?’ etc. to avoid any philosophic embarrassment. Which was just as well, Mike Scalzi, is actually a philosophy professor and therefore is exactly the kind of person who has a favourite philosopher.
And a while ago I came across this quote, beautifully painted on an archway wall next to an Edinburgh Tesco which made me think of that gig and our encounter with Mike.
“Beauty in things exists in the mind which contemplates them”
This is the shortened version; the full phrase from Hume’s Of the Standard of Taste and Other Essays first published in 1757 is…
“Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.”
A similar quote, though perhaps less wordy is about beauty being in the ‘eye of the beholder’. This phrase apparently dates from Ancient Greece but was only popularised in English in the late 19th century. I have two memories, or really thoughts regarding this phrase. One of which I might even have made up, but I love how the human brain makes these connections. The main one is ‘Eye of the Beholder’, the second single from Metallica’s ‘…And Justice For All’ album. This was one of my favourite tapes when I was a kid (and their last good album?!?). The song though, is not one of Lars’s favourites and it hasn’t been played live in full since 1989. Unlike Lars, I like the song; it’s no ‘Harvester of Sorrow’ but it’s a decent album track and the lyrics, about limitations on freedom of speech are memorable.
I always imagined the eye of the beholder as a thing, a noun, something you could visit, like the Mona Lisa or the statue of David Hume. I pictured something akin to if Camera Obscura had been in a Conan story, probably made of gold on a raised dais, surrounded by many barely dressed women and possibly a snake; a giant eye that saw everything and knew Conan was coming to steal it. Like Sauron only less scary. This may have come from an episode of the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon, another of my childhood favourites, but I might have made that up.
So where are we at with this? Hume’s quote resonates, it turns the importance of art from the artwork itself to the viewer. This is a wonderful way of thinking when looking at the outdoors. Think of your favourite outdoor view, the one that really blew you away, the one you’ll never forget. Beauty is subjective; it’s all in your mind, your ‘mind’s eye as you are the ‘beholder’. Would this view of yours be the same as someone else’s? Unlikely.
Those grand mountain vistas and beautiful sunsets over exotic locations that I’m sure you were just thinking about, the ones that are so popular on Instagram, are only noticed by grown-ups. Children do not care for such things because their world is right in front of their faces. It is the insects under the logs and the handful of fallen leaves. The daises and dandelions and buttercups may cover the field, but it is the one in front of their eyes that they notice and pick.
Details make life interesting and little eyes see the details. So I say narrow your vision, pay attention to the small things; notice the details. The world is directly in front of your eyes. Use them well.
Currently listening to New Organon by Slough Feg
and …And Justice For All…