Innocence and Experience in Passion

Kierkegaard= “Existence belongs to the realm of the contingent and changeable.”

No one starts with a clean slate. You join a situation already old, already lied about, already betrayed by human weakness and destroyed by spiritual wickedness. It is more than messy. But to get involved, your hands must get dirty. Prince Myshkin, in Dostoyevsky’s ‘The Idiot’, is too innocent, too standing back in a pure but unworldly love, to do anything effective. Indeed, what he tries to do only results in disaster. He is the ever youthful Percival, rushing in enthusiastically, full of the child’s passion, but ending up for this very reason with other innocent blood on his hands..

It therefore hugely helps to know your own stink in developing a nose for the stink of the complex clashing of forces fighting over, and fighting for, the destiny of the world.

Passion is the adult we do not become. Without the Daemonic to wound our passion, it is neither deepened nor strengthened, it does not come to its true calling, its real mission.

In the Greek language, it is possible to distinguish the more unchallenged passion, the childlike passion for ‘the mysterious and the prodigious’, as Kierkegaard called it, the passion to do good for the world, a passion that engages with a part of the world it cares about, from the more sober and serious passion, the passion that will suffer the profound, the mature passion only reached through a wound.

The modern term ‘pathiazomai’ — implying intense dedication to a cause, or that someone is highly enthusiastic about something — refers to the former, the ancient term ‘pathos’ refers to the latter. It is only the passion that emanates from our Songs of Innocence, and carries over into the world, in our ardent concerns, interests, hobbies, vocations, that is integral and non-injured. But this ardour, which is warm and eager, is not yet burning. To burn, we must be stricken by the Daemonic, forged in its fire.

Plato turns away from this realm, with its active and transitive verb ‘to exist’, and looks for unchanging and universal Essences of Being.

Existential birth is the turning point, when even the earlier innocent passion does not suffice, and we are thrown into the fundamental risk and pain of existing in the world, ‘condemned to the freedom’ in which we must decide, in the heart, to flee, tough it out, or give our passion to it, no matter where that takes us and no matter how that turns out.

T. Wahl [‘A Short History of Existentialism’, p 12, 1949]= “the existence of the [person] is.. cast into a supreme gamble.”