Sunday, February 05, 2006

Living With Passion

Berlioz composed Symphony Fantastique as a young man deliriously in love. His loves never went smoothly, and the symphony reflected his fixation on his beloved (idee fixe) that is transformed so that she even becomes a witch in the Witches Sabbath movement who watches him lose his head at the guillotine, much to the acclaim of the crowd.

Later, in his eighties, he returns to the scene where he first fell in love with the love of his life and is so overcome with the passions of his youth that he flings his arms around the tree under which he first met her, and weeps uncontrollably. In his 80s Berlioz lived and felt intensely.

Nineteenth century artists possessed the gift of profound and passionate commitment. Passion was a way of knowing the world that penetrated facades and resonated in the depth of one's being. That may be why music was so revered by philosophers and artists of the nineteenth century: passion was somehow more genuine than intellectual discourse. Truth was revealed through passion, while the intellect would often practice deception. Contrary to popular misconceptions, passion is not blind. Passion is visionary, with a gaze that penetrates the polite and disengaged, disingenuous individuals often serve to block inspiration and action.

This intensity was an attempt to bridge the divide that was created by philosophy and science in the latter part of the eighteenth and beginnings of the nineteenth centuries. Scientific values and method demanded the deliberate divorce of feeling and reason, a state that Geoffrey Clive describes as the demonic in his book The Romantic Enlightenment.

Later, this became the a value of the twentieth century Western world and served as the foundation of all education. Thus we have been schooled to be "objective" because feelings are too subjective and personal to enter into decisions and plans for action. Yet, before this division of the human spirit, individuals were governed by a balance of mind and emotion that might have served our society well and prevented the hideous destruction of our fellow human beings during the wars of the twentieth century.

There is some evidence that passion is returning to inform our values. Our passionate engagement with the world brings us a new energy and a deep appreciation for our unique identity that shapes our sensibility and discloses truth as the ever evolving embrace of time and being and place.

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