Some Scarry Topics: From Beauty to TWA 800

Professor Elaine Scarry points to a print hanging on the wall of her office, an anatomical diagram of a human leg, surrounded by notes in Leonardo Da Vinci's backwards handwriting. Intently, she traces the writing as it merges with the drawing of the leg.

Physicians and artists superimposed inanimate objects on the body during the Renaissance, she explains--books, texts, and compasses appeared under the skin.

This is classic Scarry: insightful, erudite and a little off-the-wall.


In both her research and teaching, she distinguishes herself as one of Harvard's most offbeat and original thinkers.

Scarry is the Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value, an endowed position formerly held by Stanley Cavell.

"General Theory of Value?" Scarry says there is no such thing.

Scarry says she interprets her title to simply mean she is "interested in art and beauty, but in a general sense, about how and why we make the judgments about the things that we do."

Her work at Harvard has covered nearly as broad a span as that. Her trains of thought, which often originate in her chosen field of English literature, have ended up in all kinds of places.

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