“What then,” writes Marsilio Ficino “is the beauty of the body?” He answers the question this way: “Activity, vivacity, and a certain grace shining in the body because of the infusion of its own idea.”
I have pondered these two sentences for over thirty years.
Ficino was a Platonist and accordingly he undermined his own perception that the body might imagine itself–that the body could be beautiful and unique by asserting that “the ears be in their proper place, the eyes in theirs, the nostrils in theirs, etc.” This is the old Platonic idealization of arrangement and proportion–an idea more Apollonian than Dionysian. One may say that Nietzsche had it right: Greek tragedy began with Dionysus as its only character, hence it was an art of disambiguation and deformity. Later the Greeks embraced the Olympian gods and began to worry about the proportions of noses and the straightness of limbs.
Accordingly I believe that people with disabilities must be beautiful in a Dionysian way though we can and should steal Ficino’s sentence about activity.
People with disabilities put their bodies back together not in idealized, Platonic shapes, but in Dionysian infusions of thrilling oddity. See! The broken god is putting himself back together. The god is full of activity, vivacity. He has a certain grace though his feet will be wrong. His feet will be not quite neighborly. His feet will represent a separate realm of physicality and not the eidolon of Appollonian perfection.
Activity, vivacity, broken feet, blind eyes, arms and legs seasoned by catastrophes. How beautiful is the body that understands its own idea! The Dionysian body. Blind though it is, it still opens the windows when the moon rises.
Crippled though it is, it still rolls its chair down to the beach to see the shiny rain between sea and sky. The body takes these things into itself. This is the wisdom of the body. That it understands its own vivacious and incomplete idea. That it has its own relations to the strangeness of nature’s most unpolished gestures. How wise the crippled body is! It is the oldest body! It has a long memory!
The crippled body rejoices and mourns without shame.
It says the soul and the body are not inside and out.
These ruined limbs say their living must be thorough.
The Swedish poet Gunnar Ekelof wrote: “Deep in me abides a freshness that no one can take from me, not even I myself…”
These ruined limbs say their living WAS thorough, perhaps more thorough than the occasions of a straightened man.
The art of the broken body day after day is the infusion of its own roads in winter or on windless summer days.