From Round to Square (and back)

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Middles (9)—By a Nose

[a] Centered  RF
It is right there in the middle of your face, and is so obvious that you might not consider it worthy of an entire blog entry. Round and Square has never been concerned about such things as obviousness, or even relevance (narrowly defined), though. In fact, diligent readers will notice a persistent theme that has been unchanged over the months since the blog began—there is a whole bunch of stuff out there that is so "obvious" that we almost never think about how it plays out in our lives. This is how we get whole blog posts on "exilic response," "displays of authenticity," and "do-overs."

Let's stick to noses, today. We will start with a key structural element—the nose is in the middle of the face. It is a structural constant in a widely varying aesthetic universe, and this matters a great deal more than most people have considered. Artists aren't "most people," and they understand completely. Noses are difficult. Just a little too big or small (or oddly proportioned) and the whole picture or statue is messed up. That middle is pretty important when it comes to aesthetics.

[b] Som-nose-lent  RF
Now let's take a quick look at language. I'm just thinking of (and in) English for now, but everyone can come up with at least a dozen phrases in any language after just a few minutes of thought. Noses can convey closeness in competition—he won by a nose; she nosed her competition at the line. Noses can mean "obviousness"—it is as (clear) as the nose on your face. Experienced shoppers are hard-nosed, and like to nose around for bargains. Hard workers keep their noses to the grindstone, and thumb their noses at leisure. Others have their noses in everyone's business, and some of them even brown their noses. Enterprising people follow their noses and don't look down their noses at opportunities—never paying through the nose for anything. And it's as plain as the noses on their faces that they will not gain much by rubbing other people's noses in their successes. Aficionados have noses for wine, and watch for any nose-dive in Bordeaux prices. The best thing of all is not to get one's nose out of joint over anything.

[c] Westernose  RF
Noses are a great topic of diversity, too. I know this well after living in China for large chunks of the last twenty-five years. The topic of noses is never very far from the surface, even in what many Westerners would regard as "polite" conversation. If the topic of Nixon's 1972 visit to China (groundbreaking by almost any standard), comes up, the size of his nose is probably not far away. I cannot begin to count the number of times that a conversation about Ping Pong Diplomacy has turned, in China and Taiwan, into something along the lines of "we could not believe how big your noses were; we were shocked."

Although it threatens to ruin any good feeling generated by the discussion so far, I would be remiss if I did not point out a terribly cruel and inhumane side of the issue. From early times until the present, it has been part of a form of punishment that defies normal humanistic understanding. If you follow the news or read history, you know what I mean. In other words, it is "centered" in especially loathsome ways every bit as much as happy and vibrant ones.

And, finally, noses are certainly not very far from the surface in literature. That is where we will "end" today, because—even though we have only begun to scratch (so to speak) the surface of the nose—a few stories will probably go further toward extending discussion than a prolonged dissertation on the topic.

[d] Proboscis  RF

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