The Vehement Passions Kindle Edition
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Breaking off the ordinary flow of experience, the passions create a state of exception. In their suddenness and intensity, they map a personal world, fix and qualify our attention, and impel our actions. Outraged anger drives us to write laws that will later be enforced by impersonal justice. Intense grief at the death of someone in our life discloses the contours of that life to us. Wonder spurs scientific inquiry.
The strong current of Western thought that idealizes a dispassionate world has ostracized the passions as quaint, even dangerous. Intense states have come to be seen as symptoms of pathology. A fondness for irony along with our civic ideal of tolerance lead us to prefer the diluted emotional life of feelings and moods. Demonstrating enormous intellectual originality and generosity, Philip Fisher meditates on whether this victory is permanent-and how it might diminish us.
From Aristotle to Hume to contemporary biology, Fisher finds evidence that the passions have defined a core of human nature no less important than reason or desire. Traversing the Iliad, King Lear, Moby Dick, and other great works, he discerns the properties of the high-spirited states we call the passions. Are vehement states compatible with a culture that values private, selectively shared experiences? How do passions differ from emotions? Does anger have an opposite? Do the passions give scale, shape, and significance to our experience of time? Is a person incapable of anger more dangerous than someone who is irascible?
In reintroducing us to our own vehemence, Fisher reminds us that it is only through our strongest passions that we feel the contours of injustice, mortality, loss, and knowledge. It is only through our personal worlds that we can know the world.
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"This is really a quite extraordinary work, an attempt to reclaim for modern use a vocabulary we gave up two centuries (or more) ago, and more importantly, to reclaim or re-recognize the intense energies that go with that vocabulary―still present and alive. Fisher's whole project is enormously compelling. Its scope and force are unmistakable, and will provoke important discussions."―Michael Wood, Princeton University --This text refers to the paperback edition.
- ASIN : B002WJM6JA
- Publisher : Princeton University Press (January 10, 2009)
- Publication date : January 10, 2009
- Language : English
- File size : 1400 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 279 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,889,348 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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Economic considerations get an early jab in this book's consideration of how an early poem, Homer's ILIAD, shows how "leaders goad, insult, or create anger in the fighters so that something stronger than fear will block fear or make it less likely. This important feature by which the passions can be controlled by preemption has been elaborated in an extraordinary way by Albert Hirschman in his classic study of thirty years ago, THE PASSIONS AND THE INTERESTS. Political society, Hirschman observes, has a deep interest in becoming, first and foremost, an economy, because avarice is the single one of the passions that requires conditions that block out the interruptive, short-term episodes of anger, grief, falling in love, or any other disruption of the smooth unfolding of the predictable future. . . . Episodes of passion within the individual resemble the state of war or a natural disaster in public life. Normal life is suspended for a time, and the pursuit of individual and common interests is set aside. Hirschman has described how our modern political life that identifies each person or group with his, her, or their interests, rather than with passions, permits a brushing aside of the passions and their disruptive effect in social life, while ultimately honoring the one remaining passion of avarice with its link to a stable world of effort." (pp. 33-34).
Mortality plays a much larger role than comedy (and Nietzsche is not mentioned at all) in this book. Humor is reduced to being a reaction to harmless variations of the usual comic bits, far removed from our normal expectation that evil can be gleefully destroyed. "The scale that I have evoked here extends from comedy and laughter at harmless evils, evils without consequence, to evils that have consequences on a familiar scale where we feel pity, sympathy, and fear, to, finally, the shudder of terror we feel at the larger unraveling of the world in cascading consequences, unique in their severity and finality, and so disproportionate to the initial cause that the subsequent events terrify us about causality itself." (pp. 38-39). The Stoics get credit for being at the beginning of our intellectual tradition in this field. "But Stoicism was at war with the passions and viewed them as suffering rooted in false belief. The Stoics contrasted passions with actions, bending an earlier history back against itself." (p. 5). Our intimate familiarity with gothic novels and frightful movies "or any other fear-based form uses most of the inner details of the fear experience, among them suddenness, surprise, dilated experiences of time, and nearly unbearable suspense in the moments of pause before the dreaded thing at last happens." (p. 9). Consideration of the emotions that readers and spectators feel help create sophisticated expectations for "the shape of time . . . the familiar arc and pace of time within the vehement states themselves. Wonder, anger, grief, and fear reveal different ways that time is rushed, dilated, ordered, and used up. Works of art modeled on those states follow distinct recipes for the use of time." (p. 9). "Literature's reliance on moments of experience, rather than summary, generalization, or long perspectives of time, gives to vehement states an important position as one central matter for literature. This includes the fact that the duration of such states and their consequences, the time span of rage and its immediate consequences, the time span of falling in love and its immediate consequences, of grief and its immediate consequences, happens to match the particular kind of timescale on which literature operates best." (pp. 21-22).
Chapter 2, Paths among the Passions, includes an intellectual assessment. "No topic in our culture shows such persistence and self-identity even in passing through the phase of Christian theology as the account of the passions of the soul from the time of Homer, Plato, and Aristotle to the edge of modernity with Descartes, Spinoza, Hobbes, and Hume, and then continuing in the later reprise of this work in Darwin and modern scientific psychology." (pp. 32-33). By the time the book gets to Chapter 6, Rashness, "Oedipus Rex" gets to share the stage with "Romeo and Juliet" on page 95. Chapter 7, Mutual Fear, finds, "The ultimate usefulness of fear for a theory of political life increases within modernity." (p. 113). Read up on the spiritualization of this quest, if you dare.