Intensities and associations in the end


Halfway through the afternoon Carla, Man and Narrator are sitting in the Vondelpark outside Het Blauwe Theehuis (The Blue Teahouse) [1].

Blauwe Theehuis[2]

“This morning I had mixed feelings about our proposal to start preparing the next part of our quest. On one hand, our proposal fits nicely with the overwhelming emptiness of the virtual digital world made of bits and monitors wherein we experience everyday world in our century; so I had noticed in the tram to the Vondelpark a mother giving her attention all the time to the 5 inch screen of her mobile phone instead of to her toddlers. On the other hand, in my opinion this part of our quest is not completely finished. In Florence – at the previous part of our quest – we had planned to give attention to the paintings in Holland. I also had in mind to address feelings, emotions, and the seven deadly sins according to Dante during this part of our quest. I am aware that these topics are quests in themselves. Maybe we can treat these topics in a nutshell, just like the treatment of capitalism this morning; I can nicely align the development of painting with the development of capitalism”, says Carla.

“You’re right. The transition is too abrupt, but the next few days it’s pretty stable weather for sailing: an opportunity not to let pass easily”, says Man.

“Could you summarise these subjects, so we can see how much attention will be needed”, says Narrator.

“Oil painting during and after the Reformation had boomed in Holland, because the inhabitants wanted to show their welfare within private homes – to themselves and to others – through images that showed landscapes designed by humans – as God’s steward –, paintings of tables displaying wealth of glassware, food and dishes and of course paintings of themselves and acquaintances in wealthy clothes. These paintings have characteristics of a desire to retain and acquire wealth. This way of looking, I have taken from John Berger’s “Ways of seeing” [3]; he shows a striking example of this display of prosperity with the painting “Mr. and Mrs. Robert Andrews” by the English painter Thomas Gainsborough. Many of the oil paintings by Dutch masters include a similar display of wealth and prosperity of the individual human being.

Mr and Mrs Rober Andrews[4]

In addition to the display of wealth and prosperity, these paintings ought to show always some moderation as a good steward of God suits. Essentially, many paintings show the election by God in the here and now and in the afterlife of the owner or of the person portrayed. This is in a nutshell the summary of my contribution on traditional oil painting in Holland to intensities associations. I am aware that I have done injustice to many masterpieces”, says Carla.

“I have always felt some discomfort seeing paintings made by most Dutch masters. You have aptly summarised my discomfort”, says Man.

“As idol in Amsterdam, I paid no attention to painting, I lived a life as a desirable exotic – non-Dutch – appearance. I myself was the shining chosen star to which everyone was attracted and around which life revolved. After I had left behind this life as idol, I never had time for viewing the Dutch masters. After our sailing trip I will visit several museums”, says Narrator.

“Could you give a similar summary on the seven deadly sins according to Dante?”, asks Man to Carla.

“OK. As brief as my summary of oil paintings in Holland.
The seven deadly sins of the Catholic Church had already been described in a systematic overview by clerics in the fourth century AD. In the sixth century AD, these deadly sins had been officially defined in a list by Pope Gregory. This list was used by Dante Alighieri in the Divine Comedy. Besides the Catholic church has seven virtues opposite to the seven deadly sins.
Vice[5]

Hieronymus Bosch had depicted the seven deadly sins in a painting [6].

Zeven hoofdzonden - Bosch
[7]

I will give a brief explanation of the seven deadly sins.

Lust is usually understood in the light of excessive thoughts, wishes or desires of a sexual nature. In Dante’s purgatory, sinners are purified of lustful/sexual thoughts and feelings by flames. In the hell of Dante sinners are blown by hurricane-like glowing winds that match their lack of self-control of lust in earthly life. During our search we have not encountered lust; in Aldous Huxly’s “Devil of Loudun” [8], lust as cardinal sin is treated: I think we can skip this cardinal sin during our quest.

Gluttony refers to both excessive eating and consuming things past the point of usefulness. Gluttony denotes waste by excessive energy: one of the pitfalls for God’s steward.
Greed/desire is a sin of excessiveness like lust and gluttony. Greed refers to a very excessive desire and a pursuit of wealth, status and power for personal gain: one of the pitfalls in the pursuit of success as a prelude to the grace of God.

Sloth has changed slightly in character in the course of the time. Initially it was seen as not fulfilling God’s gifts, talents and destination. Now it is seen as willfully negligence, e.g. of the duty of care for others, or for society. In my opinion sloth also implies the unwillingness to take notice and to be open to opinions or religions of others even if they do not comply with your own opinions or beliefs. This form of laziness consists of avoiding the question, “What is the other seen that I do not see?”.

Wrath or rage is the sin of excessive and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger. In its extreme form, wrath shows itself as self-destruction. The feelings of anger and hatred may persist many generations. Wrath or anger is the only sin not necessarily associated with selfishness or self-interest.

Envy is to some extent related to greed: both sins are characterized by an inner unsatisfied desire. Envy and greed differ on two points. Firstly, greed is usually linked to material things, while envy is characterized by a more general feeling of loss. Secondly envy recognises something missing in itself that another has or seems to have.

In almost every list pride or arrogance – e.g. the opinion to be exclusively God’s elect as individual, as group or as a religion – is considered the most serious cardinal sin: it is seen as the source of the other deadly sins. Characteristics of pride or arrogance are the desire to be more, more important or more attractive than others; herewith the good works of others – in religions God’s works through other religions – are ignored. The sinner has an inordinate love of his own or of his own environment and/or religion. Dante described it as “love of the ego – in religions, one’s own faith – perverted to hatred and contempt for the other.”
This is in a nutshell the summary of the seven deathly sins”, says Carla.

“Again impressive in extension and brevity. During this introduction I must think – with shame – of my many shortcomings and mistakes in my life”, says Man.

“My most serious deadly sins had not been born out of pride or arrogance. Envy – caused by a general feeling of absence – during my puberty has encouraged me to become a child soldier with consequences that I still carry with me. My life as an idol in Amsterdam had come naturally to me; fortunately, I have left it in time away. Maybe laziness was the cause of my years at the edges of the mirror palaces of the intelligence services; although in this part of my life I had fulfilled my talents and destination given by God, I should have given more attention to the duty of care for others outside my small environment. My life as a mendicant – or Bhikṣu – has elements of envy in the form of a general lack: at that time I’ve tried to avoid cardinal sins”, says Narrator.

“Could you summarise in the same way the many forms of emotions and feelings, after we’ve had a drink?”, asks Man to Carla.

“There are many theories about emotions and there are different approaches to classify emotions [9]. The psycho-evolutionary theory of emotion by Robert Plutchik is interesting because this theory is based upon the following ten postulates [10]:

  1. The concept of emotion is applicable to all evolutionary levels and applies to all animals including humans.
  2. Emotions have an evolutionary history and have evolved various forms of expression in different species.
  3. Emotions served an adaptive role in helping organisms deal with key survival issues posed by the environment.
  4. Despite different forms of expression of emotions in different species, there are certain common elements, or prototype patterns, that can be identified.
  5. There is a small number of basic, primary, or prototype emotions.
  6. All other emotions are mixed or derivative states; that is, they occur as combinations, mixtures, or compounds of the primary emotions.
  7. Primary emotions are hypothetical constructs or idealized states whose properties and characteristics can only be inferred from various kinds of evidence.
  8. Primary emotions can be conceptualized in terms of pairs of polar opposites.
  9. All emotions vary in their degree of similarity to one another.
  10. Each emotion can exist in varying degrees of intensity or levels of arousal.

Based upon amongst others these ten postulates, Robert Plutchik composed in 1980 a wheel of emotions that consisted of the following eight basic – or biologically primitive – emotions, and eight more advanced – to increase the reproductive fitness of animals, such as the flight or fight response – emotions, each composed of two basic emotions.

Basic emotion[11]

The wheel of emotions composed by Robert Plutchik looks like:

Wheel of emotions - Robert Plutchik[11]

Recently – based on a comprehensive study of existing theories of emotions [12] – the following table is compiled from opposing basic emotions. In compiling this table, the following three criteria have been applied for emotions: 1) mental experiences with a strongly motivating subjective quality like pleasure or pain; 2) mental experiences that are a response to a particular event or object that is either real or imagined; 3) mental experiences that motivate particular kinds of behavior. The combination of these criteria distinguish emotions of sensations, feelings and moods [11].

Kind of emotion[11]

These basic overviews of feelings and emotions provide a good starting point for further exploration of these feelings, but I think a far-reaching exploration is beyond the scope of our quest. In so doing, Robert Plutchik stated in one of his works [13] that poets and writers capture and summarise the nuances of emotions and feelings better than scientists; he gave the example of how Emily Dickinson who had been raised in a Calvinist family [14] describes her feelings of despair – in my opinion the despair over a separate existence after God’s election at the end of time as close of this life and the hereafter [15] – in her poem[16]:

My life closed twice before it’s close
It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
A third event in me,

So huge, so hopeless to conceive
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.

Probably this poem also partly expresses the hope and despair of Calvinism with – at the end of time – an unimaginable separation equal in inconceivability to the separation of air from earth at the beginning of time. Is my summary on this topic sufficient?”, says Carla.

“Comprehensive in its brevity. Impressive use of the poem by Emily Dickinson at the end. Your explanation reminds me of the Buddhist question:

“When the fire at the end of time rages through and everything is destroyed, is this destroyed or not?” One master answered: “Destroyed, because it goes along with this”. Another master answered: “Not destroyed, because it is the same as this”. [17]

At the end of this part of our quest, I have the impression that the Calvinists in Holland – with their many secessions – lived as if the end of time has already come. All we know of heaven is parting from the loved ones who have another believe, and all we need of hell. The end of time will not bring change to this, “said Narrator.

“The poem by Emily Dickinson describes for me the inconceivability of the end times.
Looking at the wheel of emotions by Robert Plutchik I have noticed with gladness that joy is a combination of the two emotions optimism and love. Tracing all emotions and investigating all combinations of emotions is indeed beyond our quest. Are there other topics that we wish to investigate?”, says Man.

“I am fascinated by intensities and associations and I am often surprised by intensities and associations within our environment, in relation to the other and by my own emotions and feelings. The quest to investigate all these kind of feelings requires a full human life, “says Carla.

“In my opinion this is applicable to every part of our quest”, says Man.

“And surpasses our lives. Shall I prepare a simple meal for us in Man’s kitchen as the close of intensities and associations?”, says Narrator.

“Then we can consider during the meal where we meet tomorrow to travel to my sailboat. I can borrow a car from a former companion; he is a couple of weeks on holiday, “says Man.

 

 

[1] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blauwe_Theehuis
[2] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vondelpark
[3] Source: Berger, John, Ways of seeing. London: British Broadcasting Company and Penguin, 1972 p. 106 – 107
[4] Source image: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Gainsborough
[5] Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_deadly_sins
[6] Zie ook: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Seven_Deadly_Sins_and_the_Four_Last_Things
[7] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_deadly_sins
[8] See: Huxley, Aldous, The Devils of Loudun. 1953
[9] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotion_classification
[10] Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Plutchik
[11] Copied from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contrasting_and_categorization_of_emotions
[12] Source: Robinson, D. L. (2009). Brain function, mental experience and personality. The Netherlands Journal of Psychology, 64, 152-167
[14] Bron: http://www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org/church
[15] Another explanation of this poem is based on the loss of two beloved ones. According to Christian faith before the Reformation a reunion may be expected at the end of time, but the explanation suggests that Immortality may be a fiction and creates the hell of the future. See: Vendler, Helen, Dickinson – Selected poems and commentaries. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010, p. 520 – 521
[16] Franklin, R.W. edited, The Poems of Emily Dickinson – Reading Edition. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999, p. 630 – 631
[17] Free rendering of the koan Dasui’s “Aeonic Fire” in: Cleary, Thomas, Book of Serenity – One Hundred Zen Dialogues. Bosten: Shambhala, 1998 p. 131 – 136

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