Saturday, January 1, 2022

 535. Serenity and excitement

 Connected to the dilemma of stability and change, there is the dilemma of serenity and excitement. Serenity requires some stability, tranquillity, limited uncertainty, while excitement entails turbulence, the unexpected, uncertainty. Nietzsche discussed the contrast between Apollo as a symbol of harmony, and Dionysos as the paragon of excitement, transgression, turbulence, and drunkenness. The latter connects with the notion of thymos, a striving for action, manifestation of the self, discussed before. Thymos is a feature of discovery and crossing boundaries, as with adventurers, discoverers, entrepreneurs, scientists. and revolutionaries. After the exertion and risk of climbing a mountain, one can enjoy the serenity of a view from the top.

In love one finds the distinction, in ancient Greek, between desire, ’eros’, and ‘philia’, deep friendship. Such friendship gives a sense of connectedness, a feeling of relatedness, mutual commitment and trust, to the point that one can vigorously criticise each other in ways that one would not dare towards a stranger. This shows how the peace of friendship can engender the change of insight.

The notion of romanticism has several meanings. One is that of eros, passion, being in love, admiration, transcendence. Another is adventure, crossing boundaries, transgression, excitement and danger. A third is a sense of belonging to a greater whole, beyond oneself, of having a shared identity, transcendence, safety, belonging and a sense of protection. That is the field of romantic nationalism, supported by myths of a heroic past. Romanticism is also the feeling of being united with nature. Germans have an expression of ‘Wald im Kopf’, forest in the head. That is akin to a feeling of peace, serenity, but can also be a feeling of transcendence, a feeling of losing the shackles of the limited self.

The combination or alternation of serenity and excitement occurs in relations. A successful marriage has had eros, and, if all is well, develops into philia. They can follow upon each other, as stability and change do in the cycle of discovery. One can feel consolation in friendship, but also excitement at the offer of some surprising insight. Resonance can produce both excitement and serenity.

There is a related dilemma of order and control. Stability, harmony, laws and institutions, routines, rituals, are forms of order society cannot do without. But there is also an urge for Dionysian chaos, excitement, adventure, thymos, the romance of crossing boundaries. It is part of the gist of life, entrepreneurship and discovery. It is needed to prevent ossification. As argued before, the order of complete control is illusory and undesirable.

In puberty, adolescents need to wrest free from the order of home, to develop their own identity and direction. This requires interaction with other youths, in play, parties and at school, which were closed off by the lockdowns against Covid-19. There are compensations to some extent in telephone, face-time on the mobile phone, and Zoom, but young people need the jostling of push and shove, excitement and uncertainty in the taunt and retort of physical contact, dancing and quarrels and teasing to explore the limits of what one can take and inflict, and to experience the vicissitudes of love and sex.

Order, organisation, is achieved by differentiated elements relating to each other, like organs in an organism, and people in a community. That related differentiation is the essence of democracy. It decays when the elements no longer differentiate or no longer relate, as is now occurring in the US between republicans and democrats, but also occurs more widely, in people withdrawing into ‘filter bubbles’. This is related to the dilemma of unity and difference discussed before. One does not have to make a permanent choice between serenity and excitement, but like stability and change, they can alternate, or one can take a middle position


-          Do you prefer serenity or excitement

-          Can you combine them, how

-          Are you in a filter bubble

-          What are your sources of serenity, excitement


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