--from the peony archives
Gondolas, lights, and music-- he insinuated that I was moody; telling me I do "a good imitation of a nut." (Can you believe it?)
"That's good," I thought, recalling a poem about Venice written by Nietzsche. Robert Harrison, talking about the Philosophy of Moods, describes how Nietzsche-- a man of many moods-- once sang the poem in the middle of the night on a train from Turin back to Germany in a state of madness:
At the bridge of late
I stood in the brown night.
From afar came a song:
as a golden drop it welled
over the quivering surface.
Gondolas, lights, and music--
drunken it swam out into the twilight.
My soul, a stringed instrument,
sang to itself, invisibly touched,
a secret gondola song,
quivering with iridescent happiness.
--Did anyone listen to it?
Nietzsche in the mood.
Trouble is we still live in an age of bread and circuses. Any real enchantment or imagination any of us may have will immediately be shot down as the ravings of a nutjob
The ravings of a nutjob-- don't you love it? But, nut-imitation skills-- or any imitation skills really!-- are not a bad thing to have, if you think about it. Remember how much pleasure Masetto had in Book Three of the Decameron? (Well, at least at first!)
as the dawn was already changing from vermilion to orange, as the sun hasted to the horizon, the queen rose and roused all the company.
And carrying out her duty, she appointed Filostrato to be storyteller of the day. In those days, storytelling was important business and Filostrato took his job seriously-- telling the group about the young man, Masetto da Lamporecchio, who so pines for the lovely ladies of a nearby nunnery that he "feigns to be dumb" in order to obtain a gardener's position at the covent, whose women,
with one accord make haste to lie with him.
Listening to the story, who among the assembled ladies and gentlemen were not moved?
Why tell stories if no one is any longer capable of being moved by them, right? I have been spending a lot of time talking about imagination and storytelling, but, in the end perhaps what I am really trying to get at is this capacity to be engaged with life. That is, one's capacity of being moved by mood.
Being in the mood.
As I said here,
I know some of you may blame Peerless Helen. I mean, of course, all those dead Trojan soldiers for one thing. Virgil, too, I think came down hard on her. But, it's interesting to note that the ancients themselves had a more ambiguous understanding of Helen, whom they called, Peerless Among Women. For the ancients lived in great awe of the moods-- and so in one sense that great Mood that overcame Helen inspiring her--overcoming her--to run away with Paris, well by acting on it, was she not going with the Flow (it is hard in a sense to judge now because we cannot but help see it through Christian or even Roman terms, can we?) The above is pure Dreyfus-- but I like it.
And so, when my man Caesar called me moody, I asked him whether he thought that someone not prone to moods would be able to truly be moved by things? That is the question, is it not? If the strings are not pulled pretty tautly on the stringed instrument of our souls, nothing will revereberate within us. So, no, I don't think the opposite of "high strung" is laid back. I think the opposite is 鈍感= dull, insensitive, obtuse, flat.
This is much on my mind since I've been thinking of Heidegger and his concept of mood. For Heidegger, moods are very different from how we ordinarily think of them today. As Dreyfus explains
Until recently, if philosophers thought about moods or feelings at all, they thought of them as inner mental states. On this view, often called "Cartesian" after the French philosopher René Descartes, people are not really in a mood but moods are in people. A person's private feelings are expressed (made outer) by bodily movements, which can then be observed, interpreted, and responded to by another person through his or her movements.
For Heidegger, then, moods are not something inside a person but rather are something that a person can be in. That is, moods come over us; overcoming us. The German word famously reflects this, as philosophers like to remind us that die Stimmung [stimmungen?] means mood in terms of atmosphere ("ambiance"). Often likened to music or to weather, Heideggerean mood wraps itself around our bodies. It is something that we unconsciously attune ourselves too. Indeed, it is one way we have to grasp the way the world discloses itself to us.
Robert Harrison explains it thus:
"mood is a form of attunement between nature and spirit; between habitat and inhabitant"
People are wrapped in mood. This is different from emotion, like anger or sadness, which has a cause. Mood is something more general that comes without cause from outside us-- like a song, calling. Hence, moodiness could be seen as a kind of sensitive attunement.
Nietzsche steps out into the dark Venice night. Surrounded by the sound and smell of water, a mood overcomes him like a song-- quivering across the surface of the water.
Gondolas, lights, and music--
drunken it swam out into the twilight.
And he asks, Did anyone listen?
It is not unlike a Confucian scholar whose meticulous actions-- perfectly attuned to the situation-- are guided by a Confucian sensibility, or mood. Like the sound of jade reverberating off the walls of the great hall, the Confucian scholar just feels it-- this thing called virtue or proper conduct is something to which he attunes himself as embodied know-how guided by mood. And as Robert Harrison's guest, Sepp Gumbrecht suggests, in the same way that a violin will internally reverberate when bowed, this mood is internalized in the sense that it becomes almost impossible to really differentiate between outer environment and inner self as they are indeed inter-dependent.
Mood is how we situate ourselves in our circumstances sensitively. That different cultures across geography and time have emphasized or have sought to cultivate this sensibility to a greater or lesser degree is commonsensical. Sepp Gumbrecht holds up the ancient Greeks as one culture that placed great emphasis on cultivated sensibility (think of Helen of Troy). But we can also think of this in terms of cultivation in Confucian traditions. Confucian sensibility.
And so as a Medieval lady in Japan is overcome by longing during the time of long June rains, far away in in Florence, a group of ladies and gentlemen gather around the fountain in the garden to tell tales. As Filostrato tells of the wondrous adventures of the young man Masetto in the convent of young ladies, those listens were envloped in a wondrous and intoxicating mood. And who among those present was not moved?
And I leave you with Saburo Teshigawara's dance piece exploring stillness (danced to music by Gurdjieff).