I had imagined that having a blog would lead to a back and forth with others of similar interests, and it seems that is finally happening to some degree. Two instances of inter blogging have provoked some thoughts leading to the following reactions. This is the first one.
A fellow Keatsian blogger discussed in a post and in a response to my comment that a state of depression fueled Keats’s creativity and that adhering to the golden mean would vitiate the creative expression of writers, who, like Keats, experience intense feelings and pour them into their art. The question of whether moderation (and its goal of tranquility) is at odds with creativity has puzzled me for a while. I am almost led to propose a conundrum: if everything is to be taken in moderation does that include moderation? Leaving such tail-chasing aside, I would agree that an emotional maelstrom might appear an artistic catalyst. Seneca allowed a passionate and immoderate mindset for writing: he referred to the statements of Plato and Aristotle and their views on the mixture of madness and genius typical to great poetic creativity, then articulated his own belief: “ . . . in any case only a mind that is excited is capable of great and transcendent utterance. . . . It must tear itself from the trodden path, palpitate with frenzy. . . ” Similarly, Keats, in a poem included in a letter to his brother George, described the poet as being in a “trance,” capable of perceptions like no other person. Keats also stated in his letters that, when immersed in writing, he was in a sort of fever and that the presence of any person, “burst on him like a thunderbolt.” It might seem, then, that there is an exception to the golden rule of moderation when it comes to writers or other creators—that for them, being in the thrall of non-moderate emotion is important. I, however, don’t think that is exactly the case.
First, the truly agitated person, spinning in giddy delight or sunk into despair, does not do great work, generally. Personally, I could think of nothing less conducive to productive writing than just having found out some news that would send me into the transports of joy (whatever such news might be I have trouble imagining) or just having received one of those inevitable and dreadful phone calls. I might try to escape those high or low feelings by writing, but they would not be driving or aiding the process. I think writers get into the zone, such as the state of mind that Keats described for himself and that such a state is a form of tranquility because the mind is engaged and life is purposeful. Simply stated, for those who like to write, there is nothing that feels better than getting lost in the act of writing, which is a focused but not immoderate emotional state–it is not one of exaltation or despair. That is not to say that Keats did not know suffering, feel depressed, and wish for death. Without his loses, he would not have written what he wrote, would not have been who he was. As he described it, one can only know what is tested on the pulses. He knew those experiences, but he did not feel them while writing, and he struggled, by recourse to his philosophy, to keep his head above them—to fight his “horrid morbidity of temperament.” That is the most anyone can do, unless a sage (Seneca admitted that such persons were scarcely to be found).
Therefore, aiming at moderation and the resulting tranquility will not ward off misery at all times. We will still suffer and have enough experience to supply our work, should we turn poetic. With the tool of our reason and our goal of tranquility, there is some way out at least and we need not succumb to ragged emotions, irrationally charging around like King Lear, seething with anger, gnawed by remorse, or simply whining and complaining.
‘if everything is to be taken in moderation does that include moderation?’
With this, you hit on one of the intellectual issues with the policy of “everything in moderation.” It is self-defeating in application.
Another issue is: How does one define the extremes in any given choice? The standard of what constitutes “extreme” on either side changes based on perspective. Thus, moderation is relative to subjective or arbitrary extremes, which makes the “moderate” path entirely subjective. A subjective guide to living would defeat the purpose of a guide, because it amounts to “do whatever you want.”
Everything is subjective–we have to do our best with that as a given. If a person exerts his reason to defeat harmful or excessive emotions through the approaches outlined by Seneca, then he/she will achieve somehting that feels moderate, that is less angonozing.
“there is nothing that feels better than getting lost in the act of writing, which is a focused but not immoderate emotional state–it is not one of exaltation or despair.”
Laura, I think you are on to something there. I have always thought of this creative state as an emotional high or low but you are correct. It much more similar to the state Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described in his book “Flow”.
I’m not familiar with that book–will take a look. Thanks for commenting and responding. It’s great fun. Laura