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The Ugly Man

April 6, 2012

Reading an essay by Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker about Albert Camus, who was evidently a handsome man. Not so, alas, for many other celebrities and commoners. Gopnik puts the problem of looks in a striking epigram: “The ugly man who thinks hard — Socrates or Sartre — is using his mind to make up for his face.”

Ha ha!

Jean Paul Sartre

An ugly if brilliant man, Sartre had to woo strenuously to hit his female marks.

While, Gopnik asserts, the handsome man or woman, using hisr (my epicene pronoun, like it? use it!) mind, suggests that there’s something in the mental life beyond the usual and quick gratifications of handsomeness.

Handsome is as handsome does, hey? But how many handsome people do right? Or do nobly? Or thoughtfully?

Think of the many ugly men in the news today and formerly. I think right off of Alan Greenspan and Henry Kissinger, powerful men whose ugly mugs we saw almost nightly on the news. Or, more contemporaneously, consider the list of ten ugly men that includes such actors as Nick Nolte, Steve Buscemi, and Lyle Lovett.

They’re not the men that most women would want to wake up with in the morning.

Or are they?

It’s the aphrodisiac of power and money that draws many women in.

Or, as my wife suggests, of a certain je ne sais quoi. What is this quality? Hard to say. Hard to put your finger on. (Unless you like to put your finger on every attractive opportunity.)

But if we’re thinking here about thoughtful ugly men, primarily, not just celebrities, it’s the power of the intellect we must keep in mind. The power of the mind over the body, or in concert with the body, the rhythms the mind can engender in unlikely mates, in creatures that would usually respond to more obvious blandishments.

Madame, said our urfather, the original ugly man, could be, I’m Adam. And she, looking curiously down her aquiline nose, replied, I’m your morning, I’m your Eve, I’m your flatterer, I’m your grief. (Or, as the existentialist Camus might have said, Eh, why not just blow our brains out?)

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