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The Symptom of Beauty by Francette Pacteau

I found this a dark but informative read. Pacteau tells us that ‘as a woman – it is my own unhappy relation to representations of female beauty which impelled me to write about the subject in the first place’ (location 2971).

It contains a series of essays describing man’s obsession with ‘beauty’ in women and the consequences of failing the recognise the fallacy  in attempting define and project beauty into women, so clearly described by Kant. Pacteau pulls apart the aesthetic interpretation in a number of books and stories, including contemporary examples featuring celebrities such as Grace Jones. She also analyses the fallacies from the perspective of a psychologist, referring to Freudian theory.

Above all, the book conveys a sense of harm to women through idealised and exploitative images, and concludes as follows:

Narcissus died of love, trapped in the body of his specular rival. Aimée struck out in hatred of her ideal and survived, in a way. The rest of us, less celebrated, live our lives in the shadowy intimation of a perfection yet to come, reached for in the everyday objects of mis-recognition which elude our ever-infantile grasp – again and again.


Pacteau F (1994). The symptom of beauty. Reaktion Books, UK. Kindle edition [last accessed 15.5.15]


Kant I (1892). Critique of Judgement [ebook]. Second edition (1914) , McMillan and Co, London. Available from: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/48433 [accessed 15.5.15]

McRobert, L. (1996). The symptom of beauty. History of European Ideas22(2), 160-162. Available from, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1016/S0191-6599(96)90061-3#.VU-6GmDG6Ho [accessed 15.5.15]

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