Featured Post

NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Monday, December 17, 2012

THE NARRATIVE DEATH-DRIVE, PART 1

So that in the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel. First, competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory.
The first maketh men invade for gain; the second, for safety; and the third, for reputation. The first use violence, to make themselves masters of other men's persons, wives, children, and cattle; the second, to defend them; the third, for trifles, as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other sign of undervalue, either direct in their persons or by reflection in their kindred, their friends, their nation, their profession, or their name.
-- Thomas Hobbes, LEVIATHAN, Chapter 13.
 
Spock: There is no logic in Gav's murder.
Shras: Perhaps you should forget logic and devote yourself to motivations of passion or gain; those are reasons for murder.-- STAR TREK, "Journey to Babel," 1967.


Spock never comments on the advice given him by Shras. but he could presumably refute the Andorian's terms.  While the term "passion" can embrace a variety of emotions, including murderous ones, the motive of committing violence-- what Hobbes calls "quarrel"-- for the purpose of gain can be pursued with the coldest of cold logic conceivable.  And as the plot shakes out in the TREK episode, "gain" is indeed the motive behind Gav's murder and various other acts of sabotage.

But what of passion?  Is passion just one thing that one should see as ineluctably opposed to cold logic, as writer D.C. Fontana suggests?  Admittedly Fontana was not propounding this notion as philosophy, merely as a notion to round out an exciting melodrama, but the question comes up in other venues as well.  So the question becomes, is it feasible that the word "passion" subsumes a variety of mental activities, two of which could in theory subsume two of the "principal causes of quarrel" Hobbes cites, "safety" and "glory?"

As it happens, the question of the various meanings of the word "passion" has come up on this blog before, quite apart from any associations with a popular teleseries currently held in simple-minded contempt by the Bloody Comic Book Elitists. In THYMOS BE DE PLACE PART 1 I devoted considerable space to refuting Noah Berlatsky's conflation of aesthetics and desire.


I don't think "desire" (which Noah defines as inherently erotic) is at the heart of human experience. I think that desire is but one interdependent chamber of a three-chambered heart that Socrates chose to call "the tripartite soul," with the other two parts being nous (intellect) and thymos (passion).

But I hear some wonder whether or not "desire" and "passion" aren't the same thing...
 
There follows a citation of a passage from Plato's REPUBLIC, which I confess I've seen cited in both Francis Fukuyama and James Twitchell, albeit to different ends.  Having noted how Socrates demonstrates the existence of a "passion" that is not goal-oriented, I continued:



Thus Socrates demonstrates that what we translate as *passion* (though the most accurate translation seems to be "spiritedness," as the root word for thymos comes from "breath"), is not identical to desire since it can oppose desire. I can think of examples in which *passion* might side with desire against intellect, but that doesn't undermine Socrates' distinction, for in both cases thymos is still a separable concept. Further, this *spiritedness* has a lot to do not with just satisfying one's temporary appetite to have something, be it food or money or sex, but to have esteem for oneself regarding one's own personal self-control. Socrates' example applies to one's internal esteem but it obviously has a wealth of applications with respect to gaining the esteem of others in more social situations.

So in this argument I've defined "desire" as both covalent with Plato's "eros" and with all goal-oriented affects, while "passion" is covalent with Plato's "thymos" and with affects that are more abstract in their satisfaction, whether they take the form of a subject establishing one's "reputation" (Hobbes) or identifying with a host of fictional characters (my own contra-Berlatsky take on aesthetics). 

I won't explore aesthetics or character identification in this essay-series; the interested readers (?) will have to assume that both can be subsumed by what I now call "abstract goal-affects," which quite naturally contrast with "concrete goal-affects."

In his time Hobbes was certainly aware of Plato, so it's not impossible that his "three principal causes of quarrel" owes some debt to Plato's concept of the tripartite soul.  But whereas Hobbes makes no distinction between his three causes, the aforementioned Fukuyama asserts that Plato's faculty of *thymos*-- more than a little comparable to the cause Hobbes calls "reputation"-- is distinct from eros/desire in that *thymos* was properly a "desire for a desire," that is, to be seen as a person of esteem in a given community.  In my terms this makes *thymos* an "abstract goal-affect." 

Eros/desire is without question within the sphere of "concrete goal-affects," whether one wishes to "gain" one's wants goals with passionate emotion or cold logic/reason.  For Plato nous/reason would have been the highest faculty of the soul, set to control the others, but the closest parallel it has in Hobbes' formulation is what Hobbes calls "diffidence" or "safety," which to the extent that it's a desire is principally a desire for self-preservation, for rational homeostasis.

Extrapolating from Fukuyama's reading of both Plato and Hegel, I would say that the first two quarrel-causes in Hobbes fall under my heading of "concrete goal-affects."  In fiction as in reality, violence is most often-- though not always-- motivated by the prospect of "gain."  This in turn prompts violence perpetrated in the name of those victimized to protect their "safety."

However, outside this circle of "attack-and-defense," there is a much rarer species of quarrel-motivation, whose goals are as abstract as any goals can be.  I will deal more fully with these motivations, at least in terms of fictional narrative, in Part 2.

No comments: