The Summing Up, LXXVI

This chapter, it’s beauty’s turn. Maugham opens the chapter with a paragraph about how he thought “it was beauty alone that gave significance to life.” He talks at length about his thoughts on it, on the examples of it in the arts; he finishes the paragraph saying he was wrong. Turns out beauty was just another red herring in his efforts to find the meaning of life. He talks about it quite a bit—it’s another long chapter—and about how it seems beauty is “relative to the needs of a particular generation.” From beauty, through aesthetics, he gets to art. About half the chapter is about art and whether it could be one of the meanings of life. No, because anything where you need to be educated to appreciate something can’t be one of the meanings of life. There’s a depressing subtext to this conclusion—Maugham spent years trying to find meaning and found none. He just found ways of disproving it.

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