Sunday, 10 December 2006


The word passion is linked etymologically to concepts of passivity. We don’t think of it this way anymore of course: we think of passion as a positive force (a positive good, often). It’s a wish fulfilment thing. ‘I feel passionately about this …’ ‘I feel passionately about you…’ These expressions actually mean ‘I have surrendered the agency and activity of my feelings; I am in a merely reactive and passive state.’ Dominos fall with exactly this passion.

But (and this is the nub) this does not entail a Stoic or a Rational imperative to escape our passions. To attempt to be free of passions is to be seduced by a dream of perfect independence: power, active control, the ideally circulating Unaccommodated Man. But it’s a false flicker. Passion is a relational term, and it is only our relations define us as fully human. Nobody can be passionate about themselves—enthusiastic, excited maybe, but not passionate, any more than the universe could ever passively react to the universe, or the Singulatity be passionate about the Singularity. It’s a misunderstanding of the term. So the attempt-Stoic or the attempt-Rational to overcome our passions is actually a project to isolate and dehumanise.

The original meaning of the word is now only recalled in archaic linguistic fossils. The Passion of the Christ is not about the fury or the intense desire of Christ, but the period of agonizingly passive suffering of the Christ. But even here the modern and original senses blend semantically, and indeed representationally: in Gibson’s film the quasi-erotic objectification of the naked body in pain parlays passivity into the passionate lust-for-pain which is so much the currency of contemporary cinema.

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