January 9, 2013

Don't Get Carried Away! A Book about Passions

Manfred Paul, Verena - Geburt, 1977


I keep to my promise. I will start this year 2013 with a positive review. I did not have to look hard to find the right material. A catalogue on my book shelf presented itself in all its beauty. Even the design of its cover is alluring. First of all: the title is German language at its best - “Die Leidenschaften”. It is written in the color of pink on a black and white picture of a woman being carried away – in pleasure? or is it pain? Die Leidenschaften is a catalogue of an exhibition that I, unfortunately, have not seen. The exhibition took place at the Deutsche Hygiene-Museum in Dresden and just finished on December 30, 2012. Yet its accompanying catalogue is much more than the usual outlay of pretty pictures. More than a book even, it resembles an encyclopedia in which you can delve into again and again, one item stirring up your curiosity for the other. Also in life one passion brings you to another – like, for instance, love turning into hate.

Eleven passions are talked about in Die Leidenschaften - love, desire, happiness, amazement, hate, rage, fear, shame, grief, envy and disgust - and five acts make up the drama: exposition, conflict, climax, turning point, resolution. The book is set up as a reader: thematic texts followed up by excerpts of novels, poetry, philosophy, and it doesn't even shun the genre of children books. The images range from high art to popular culture and artifacts. Of course, I immediately looked up “happiness”. The chapter made me smile not because it is hilarious or tries to make you, appropriately, happy but it, and actually the whole catalogue, has a subtle humor to it. “Laughing is the most visible expression of happiness”, so I read later. Right on. Sometimes catalogues make you happy, but how often do they make you visibly happy? It was a combination of visuals and text that did the trick: a photograph of pink shades from the second half of the 20th century juxtaposed with a short story of Winnie the Pooh.

Maybe I could so very much relate to this juxtaposition because Catherine Nichols, who co-edited Die Leidenschaften together with Gisela Staupe, is a friend of mine. And as it is with friends, rather the same things make us happy. Yet this is not just an arbitrary constellation of pink shades and Winnie the Pooh in the section on happiness. La Vie en Rose is not just a pun. And the bear Winnie the Pooh spreads wisdom about many (positively oriented) passions – like: “Piglet: How do you spell love? Pooh: “You don't spell it ... you feel it.” The best explanation of passion is given by Catherine Nichols herself in the chapter “Davongetragen” (again, what a beautiful word!), drawing upon the study of affects by the philosopher Chrysipp. Passions are emotions that carry us away. Chrysipp compared the energy that goes with passions to that of a running person: on the contrary to a walking person, who can halt every moment, a running person is difficult to stop at a given moment – the impulse is stronger than the will: “Don't get carried away!”

It is not the first time that Catherine Nichols introduces me into the topic of passions. A few years ago she lend me a book on disgust. Do you know that disgust is one of the strongest bodily feelings? The body says no and it is impossible not to obey it. Back then Catherine Nichols was feeding my interest for (un)lucky places. One my favorite (un)lucky places is Kottbusser Tor where ugliness and beauty meet. It is a place both pleasing and cruel where passions always seem to roar high. The owner of the shoe repair shop Abgelaufen at Kotti once told me that it is like standing on hot coals and he had been doing so for 24 years. People pass by, vent their frustration, one laughs, and then the next one arrives. How is it to deal on daily basis with people getting carried away? He considered himself to be one of these “minimal” people, so the owner told me. And during our conversation he shared with me a few of these minimalist ideas: “When God closes a door, then he opens another one. When your destiny at a place, your job, is finished, then it is finished. You just look for another job. Over and out.”

Philosophy in the face of passion is not an anomaly. Actually, I learnt that recently upon reading about a new book that came out: LoveKnowledge by Roy Brandt. The title is a reference to Philosophia as the translation of the Love of Knowledge. Coincidentally the Belgian chocolate I ate today had a quote by AndrĂ© Gide written on the inside of its wrap, saying: “I have no use for knowledge that has not been preceded by a sensation.” Cote d'Or was clearly trying not to make me feel bad about the guilty pleasure of eating its Mignonnette “Saveur Noisette”. If you check Die Leidenschaften on “desire” then you will find on page 103 an excerpt of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. My next Mignonnette “Saveur Moka” said: “There is no sincerer love than the love of chocolate.”

About Die Leidenschaften: http://dhmd.de/index.php?id=1966

and the shoe store Abgelaufen at Kottbusser Tor: www.abgelaufen.com

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