A few years ago I sometimes went on a bike ride into the Japanese countryside with my Japanese girlfriend. Occasionally she would stop and look around and say, ‘Wow, that’s really beautiful’. I looked where she was looking and saw a paddy field and some trees and a bit of rising ground and I thought to myself, ‘Hmm, I suppose it is’.
Even so, it was just more scenery to me. It was just something to pass through on our way home. It didn’t move me at all and her enthusiasm left me feeling mildly autistic. I would have liked to join in and agree that the scenery was beautiful since doing so would have brought us closer together but I was feeling particularly distant from her and most other things besides. The problem was that all I could see were things. Objects. I could sort of see what she meant in my head but my heart just wouldn’t join in. My immediate reaction to her comment ‘That’s beautiful’ was to ask, ‘How can you tell? What exactly am I supposed to be looking at? That field? Those trees? Everything taken together?’
Of course I didn’t ask those questions because it is impossible to explain beauty to someone who just can’t see it. It is something you either feel or don’t feel. Somehow the wiring of her brain reacted to the Japanese scenery with the sensation of beauty. The countryside was the key that unlocked the pleasant chemical drip in her brain. But the key of the scenery didn’t fit my lock. In fact almost nothing did.
Even if I had asked her to explain why she liked the scenery my reason for asking wouldn’t have been to gain enlightenment into her soul but to meanly draw attention to the gulf between us. It would have been purely an act of malice to make her feel as separate as I did. At the time I felt a bit numb and lonely but not enough to be that nasty.
Perhaps if I had been in love then everything would have been different and I would have seen the beauty in the scene. In fact I would probably have found anywhere beautiful, even a coal shed. But I wasn’t in love and all I could see was agricultural terrain. For me the world was out there and I was in here and the twain weren’t meeting in any meaningful way. I was on a bike ride in Japan with a Japanese woman and I would have to work the next morning. Everything was the very geometry of reality and there was no need for talk of beauty or other mystical things. We split up soon after that.