In Part 1, I stipulated that making traditional Neapolitan pizza as a culinary achievement and art requires “passion”. Further, I set forth, in part 10, that artistic creation fundamentally requires artists harmonizing their “passions” with “reason”—mastering their impulses, and that “mastering their passions [is] pertinent to a suffering that breeds strength and depth of soul”.
What is “passion”? And, what is its significance, not just meaning? What does it import? We often hear pizzaiuoli metaphorically referring to passion as a vital “ingredient” in making pizzas. The concept, in the hands of laymen, psychologists, and philosophers, has received diverse treatments throughout the history of Western civilization. And, to make it even more complicated, many of these treatments have been diametrically opposed to one another. Let us briefly explore this nebulous and paradoxical ingredient, passion.
Perhaps, the etymology of the word can provide us with a clue. The English noun “passion” (which is related to the adjective “passive”) is a derivative of the ancient Greek word πάσχειν (páschein), meaning “to suffer”. (Hence, the phrase “passion of Christ” before and during the crucifixion!) What have we suffered in the pursuit of mastering the art of the Neapolitan Pizza! Although I am not a Christian, I believe the image of Jesus of Nazareth can aid us in gaining some insight into this often misunderstood concept. A great many sages throughout history have advised us that, there is a wisdom to be learned in suffering, in taming the dragons of our desires.
§3. The Irrational:
In classical philosophy, passion is often associated with the “irrational”, with lack of discipline and self-direction, with the tendency toward uncontrolled behavior. For instance, according to classical Greek philosopher Plato, one has no freedom of the will when one is a slave to passion. Being mastered by passion, unchecked by reason, makes one less than human, per Plato. Parallel, but not identical, to Plato’s rationalization on this matter, various institutionalized religions have viewed human passions as reprehensible, something to be extirpated.
§4. Animal Drives & Creation:
Yet, for German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, passion has a primary role in human development! For him, “higher humanity” involves “higher spirituality”, which in turn involves sublimating—not annihilating—our basic drives, bringing them under control, and expressing them in more refined and creative ways. Our basic drives are often brutal and destructive in their original forms, but Nietzsche insists that they are the basis of all higher spirituality, culture, and art. Nietzsche wrote:
“Once you suffered passions and called them evil. But now you have only your virtues left: they grew out of your passions. . . . Once you had wild dogs in your cellar, but in the end they turned into birds and lovely singers. Out of your poisons you brewed your balsam. . . . And nothing evil grows out of you henceforth, unless it be the evil that grows out of the fight among your virtues.” (Thus Spake Zarathustra)
“Creation—that is the great redemption from suffering, and life’s growing light. . . . Willing no more and esteeming no more and creating no more—oh, that this great weariness might always remain far from me!” (Thus Spake Zarathustra)
“The greater and more terrible the passions are that an age, a people, and individual can permit themselves as means, the higher stands their culture.” (Will to Power)
“The discipline of suffering, of great suffering—do you not know that only this discipline has created all enhancements of man so far? That tension of the soul in unhappiness which cultivates its strength. . . , and whatever has been [attained] of profundity, secret, mask, spirit, cunning, greatness—was it not [gained] through suffering, thorough the discipline of great suffering? In man creature and creator are united: in man there is material, fragment, excess, clay, dirt, nonsense, chaos; but in man there is also creator, form-giver, hammer hardness, spectator divinity, and seventh day: do you understand this contrast?” (Beyond Good and Evil)
Nietzsche even went so far as hypothesizing that, “It does not seem possible to be an artist and not to be sick.” John Keats was consumptive, Lord Byron had a clubfoot, Homer was blind, Beethoven was deaf, and etc. Health as the ability or capacity to overcome disease! The creation of beauty is envisaged as the response of a fundamentally healthy organism to the challenge of disease.
Late 1980s, journalist Bill Moyers interviewed mythologist Joseph Campbell, whose works have been a source of inspiration for many artists of our time. The following is an extract from the interview:
Campbell: “. . . Well, the key word for me is compassion.”
Moyers: “Which means?”
Campbell: “Suffering with. ‘Passion’ is ‘suffering’. . . .”
Moyers: “Don’t many of the heroes in mythology die to the world? They suffer, they’re crucified.”
Campbell: “It happens when you awaken at the level of the heart to compassion, com-passion, shared suffering: experienced participation in the suffering of another person. That’s the beginning of humanity.”
Moyers: “You say that’s the beginning of humanity. . . . That the moment when gods are born. . . .”
Campbell: “And do you know who that god is? It’s you. All of these symbols in mythology refer to you. You can get stuck out there, and think it’s all out there. So you’re thinking about Jesus with all the sentiments relevant to how he suffered—out there. But that suffering is what ought to be going on in you. Have you been spiritually reborn? Have you died to your animal nature and come to life as a human incarnation of compassion?”
(The Power of Myth)
What is the alchemy of a great soul? In other words, how can one turn one’s passions (lust, greed, selfishness, and all the so-called sinful impulses) into gold? Passion, viewed from one perspective, is expressive of profound suffering that needs to discharge (or recreate) itself in order to find relief! A great artist knows how to turn her suffering into strength, not pity. Michelangelo’s “Pietà”, as shown hereunder, is a direct result of such alchemical transformation. As eloquently expressed by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, “Existence, if one becomes conscious of it, involves passion.”
Next Article: Part 12: Imagery, Imagination, and The Art of Ciro Salvo
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