Sunday, February 17, 2008


I have been moved by the nature of art recently. I keep stumbling upon the notion of passion versus reason; of true genius versus a full life; as though they are mutually exclusive. I don't believe they are.

I was listening to NPR (I can't seem to stop) and they were interviewing this man about his book, Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy.
"From this instant onward what we know as human history begins: that striving, seemingly endless, toward an ungraspable perfection, that tragic effort to reach what exceeds the grasp, to fail magnificently. This gene, this melancholy gene, has proved the code for innovation. It has produced over the centuries our resplendent towers, yearning heavenward. It has created our great epics, god-hungry. It has concocted our memorable symphonies, as tumultuously beautiful as the first ocean. Without this sorrowful genome, these sublimities would have remained in the netherworld of nonexistence....

...Melancholia pushes against the easy "either/or" of the status quo. It thrives in unexplored middle ground between oppositions, in the "both/and." It fosters fresh insights into relationships between oppositions, especially that great polarity life and death. It encourages new ways of conceiving and naming the mysterious connections between antinomies. It returns us to innocence, to irony, that ability, temporary, to play in potential without being constrained to the actual. Such respites from causality refresh our relationship to the world, grant us beautiful vistas, energize our hearts and our minds...."

You should go and read the rest of his conclusion. I am not sure I agree entirely, and I dislike it when people present age old notions as novel, life-changing epiphanies, but for the most part I think he has a point.

However it is essential to have balance. As Khalil Gibran once said in The Prophet;

"Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon which your reason and your judgment wage war against passion and your appetite.
Would that I could be the peacemaker in your soul, that I might turn the discord and the rivalry of your elements into oneness and melody.
But how shall I, unless you yourselves be also the peacemakers, nay, the lovers of all your elements?
Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul.
If either your sails or our rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas.
For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction. Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion; that it may sing; And let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes. "

I can't help running down the list in my mind. Hemingway, Plath, Woolf, Thomas, Poe, Van Gogh, and so many others. Genius, that terrible passion, that burns too brightly to last.


sharon said...

My happiness is the death of me as an artist. This I've always known.. But I think art has come a long way from the purpose it was intended for, and perhaps it was never meant for our own selfish expression but for the expression of something higher, like nature is the expression of it's Creator for instance. The sadness is that the ones we claim to be geniuses in the arts are really the ones who were just so completely self absorbed they lived and breathed nothing else. Strange that such imbalance is so very alluring... anyway, I think about this topic often, so left a too long comment. I'm glad I got to sit on your couch with you for 45 min. It was nice.

Doc said...

i like picture #3 the best.

Leah said...

Two words: Sieger Koder