His definition of an amateur has helped me grasp my life vision more clearly. Oh that we'd all be better lovers! I've used Capon's chapter on cutting into an onion twice now at the college level and once for my sixth graders years ago. I retyped the whole chapter to simplify some of the language for them. I wish I had some of the pictures of those poor students as they teared up from all that onion in their eyes! So precious. We did the exercise as part of an outdoor education project one long weekend in the southern hills of Oklahoma. Several parents came to help chaperon. The whole gist of the exercise is to see the beauty in creation, even something as ordinary and repugnant as an onion. It was fantastic to watch these parents standing around behind the students--these highly affluent, the elite of Oklahoma City, some of them even on their cell phones. Such quizzical expressions. I was half embarrassed and half amazed that many of them did not "get it." I don't know if there is a better hands on teaching experience that reveals the idea of sacramental beauty.
I have a recording of me reading "Water in Excelsis." I sent it to Susanna early in our relationship when she lived in Tallahassee and I lived in Oklhaoma. I'll post it somewhere if I can find a good way to share it for downloading.
This below is only a few pages into the book.
The world may or may not need another cookbook, but it needs all the lovers–amateurs–it can get. It is a gorgeous old place, full of clownish graces and beautiful drolleries, and it has enough textures, tastes and smells to keep us intrigued for more time than we have. Unfortunately, however, our response to its loveliness is not always delight: It is, far more often than it should be, boredom. And that is not only odd, it is tragic; for boredom is not neutral–it is the fertilizing principle of unloveliness.
In such a situation, the amateur–the lover, the man who thinks heedlessness a sin and boredom a heresy–is just the man you need. More than that, whether you think you need him or not, he is a man who is bound, by his love, to speak. If he loves Wisdom or the Arts, so much better for him and for all of us. But if he loves only the way meat browns or onions peel, if he delights simply in the curds of his cheese or the color of his wine, he is, by every one of those enthusiasms, commanded to speak. A silent lover is one who doesn’t know his job.
Therefore, the man who said “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” was on the right track, even if he seemed a bit weak on the objectivity of beauty. …Like Caiaphas, he spoke better than he knew. The real world which he doubts is indeed the mother of loveliness, the womb and matrix in which it is conceived and nurtured; but the loving eye which he celebrates is the father of it. The graces of the world are the looks of a woman in love; without the woman they could not be there at all; but without her lover, they would not quicken into loveliness.
There, then is the role of the amateur: to look the world back to grace. There, too, is the necessity of his work: His tribe must be in short supply; his job has gone begging. The world looks as if it has been left in the custody of a pack of trolls. Indeed the whole distinction between art and trash, between food and garbage, depends on the presence or absence of the loving eye. Turn a statue over to a boor, and his boredom will break it to bits–witness the ruined monuments of antiquity. On the other hand, turn a shack over to a lover; for all its poverty, its lights and shadows warm a little, and its numbed surfaces prickle with feeling.
Or conclusively, peel an orange. Do it lovingly–in perfect quarters like little boats, or in staggered exfoliations like a flat map of the round world, or in one long spiral, as my grandfather used to do. Nothing is more likely to become garbage than orange rind ; but for as long as anyone looks at it in delight, it stands a million triumphant miles from the trash heap.
That, you know, is why the world exists at all. It remains outside the cosmic garbage can of nothingness, not because it is such a solemn necessity that nobody can get rid of it, but because it is the orange peel hung on God’s chandelier, the wishbone in His kitchen closet. He likes it; therefore it stays. The whole marvelous collection of stones, skins, feathers and string exists because at least one lover has never quite taken His eye off it, because the Dominus vivificans has his delight with the sons of men.
In a recent email my dear college professor Dr. Lundin has admitted to me that he's not the biggest fan of this idea of the amateur. Richard Wilbur's poem "Lying," Dr. Lundin says, gets closer to his "aesthetic center of gravity." I assume his concern is that Capon's approach gives too much power to the viewer rather than the viewer's surrendering to the object itself. This is definitely a concern I share. I'll have to do some more thinking on this!