Beauty has long been associated with those moments in life that cannot easily be spoken about—what is often called the ineffable. When astonished or transfixed by nature, a work or art, or a bottle of wine, words even finely voiced seem inadequate.
Are words destined to fail? Can we not share anything of the experience of beauty?
On the one hand the experience of beauty is private; it is after all my experience not someone else’s. But we also seem to have a great need to share our experiences. Words fail but that doesn’t get us to shut up.
Some shared responses to beauty seem possible raising our hopes that communication is not hopeless. Most everyone agrees the Mona Lisa is beautiful (if you can actually get close enough to enjoy the diminutive painting amidst the hordes at the Louvre). Most everyone agrees that Domaine de la Romanée-Conti makes lovely wine if you can afford a taste.
But disagreements are just as common. As Alexander Nehamas argues, beauty forms communities of like-minded lovers who share an affection for certain works of art (or wine) and who do find it possible to communicate their obsession. Something escapes the dark tunnels of subjectivity to survive in a clearing where others mingle. But in the process this excludes people who don’t get it. We are often bored to tears by something that fascinates others. Across that barrier words may well fail.
Beauty forms communities of rivals. The contretemps between conventional and natural wine is the latest to divide the wine world. May it not be the last.