97. Eros vs. Thanatos, Part 4: Symmetry


Die Fahne Hoch!
Frank Stella, 1959

In previous posts we have seen ways in which Eros (love) can imply, lead to, or be thwarted by Thanatos (death). Here is yet another example of a relation between the two that focuses on symmetry. For centuries people have connected beauty to symmetry and ugliness to asymmetry. And, since beautiful things that are highly symmetrical often inspire love, love connects to symmetry as well (for more details and criticisms regarding beauty and its relation to symmetry, see my post here). However, it should also be noted that symmetry, as Michael Leyton has argued in his work Symmetry, Causality, Mind (MIT Press) is really a form of indistinguishability that “prevents the inference of history”, that is, it prevents us from extracting any information about where something came from (586). And this indistinguishability can invoke a sense of temporal suspension: “According to our analysis, symmetry is the destruction of time. It is the absence of process, development, growth, action. In contrast, asymmetry means change—it means interaction, progressive organization, unfolding.” This connection between symmetry and timelessness allows Leyton to go on and assert that “life requires asymmetry” and that “death is, technically, an example of symmetry” (35). But if this is the case then, perhaps, when we long for those symmetrical faces we are really longing for a timeless state in which life will end. Perhaps we really have a death wish as we gaze at those pleasing pockets of symmetry that shine to us from within our asymmetrical, yet living, world. And perhaps those who introduce more symmetry into our world are really introducing more beautiful death.

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