‘All Of Them Passionate And Deceived’
Czeslaw Milosz, from The Captive Mind, from his 1951 book about intellectuals under communist
Modern art reflects the disequilibrium of modern society in that it so often springs from a blind passion vainly seeking to sate itself in form, color, or sound. An artist can contemplate sensual beauty only when he loves all that surrounds him on earth. But if all he feels is loathing at the discrepancy between what he would wish the world to be and what it is in reality, then he is incapable of standing still and beholding. He is ashamed of reflexes of love; he is condemned to perpetual motion, to a restless sketching of discontinued, broken observations of nature. Like a sleep-walker, he loses his balance as soon as he stops moving. Beta’s [pseudonym for the writer Tadeusz Borowski] poems were whirlpools of fog, saved from complete chaos only by the dry rhythm of his hexameters. This character of his poetry must be attributed at least in part of the fact that he belonged to an ill-fated generation in an ill-fated nation, but he had thousands of brothers in all the countries of Europe, all of them passionate and deceived.
“All of them passionate and deceived.” Quite a line. Sitting here in the Charlotte airport waiting to board, and was moved by this passage, and Milosz’s observation that you can only really see the world around you if you first love it. If you hate it, it will remain opaque to you.
I think that many young people today are an ill-fated generation in an ill-fated nation, and passionate, and deceived. They have not been taught to love the world before setting out to understand or change it. So they rage against it, even against their bodies.
UPDATE: I have a few more minutes before boarding, so I want to add a little something here.
I was blessed with a basically happy childhood, in a secure and loving home. I think, though, that the place where I really learned to love the world was not my home, but the tiny, battered cabin where my Great-Great Aunts Hilda and Lois lived. I spent many days there from my toddler years (the early 1970s) until I was seven or eight. They lived within walking distance of my home. Here is the cabin:
Here is Aunt Lois at work in her kitchen. I was astonished to discover this photo a few years ago, and to see how poor the kitchen was. It didn’t seem that way to me at all as a little boy:
I wrote here, in 2010, about the kind of things I would do there with the old aunts in their cabin. They had had many adventures in the world as young women, and told me all about the places they had been. Here’s the kind of thing Lois and Hilda shared with me. They had both been Red Cross volunteers in the Great War. This is from a letter Lois wrote back to their older sister Bernice from a train in the Toulouse station; she and Hilda were apparently on a tour of France after the war’s end. It came on hotel stationery from Marseille, and read, in part:
We left Dijon May 6 and have had a most wonderful time since. First we went down to Cannes — right on the Mediterranean — just a lovely city built of white stone, great hotels overlooking the sea, banks of vivid flowers and avenues of palms. Everything is quiet modern and is so to tempt wealthy “globetrotters.” Counts and countesses, barons and baronesses, are as common as mulberries in your back yard. While in Cannes we took trips which covered the entire “Riviera,” as the coast line is called. Trips up into the mountains gave us wonderful views of the cities for miles. When up on the top of the mountains you see the clouds rising from the sea. They float up and then get on a level with you, then float on. At times you are above them. And below looks just as an ocean of silver would look. Hilda said, “I’m going to write Lorena [my grandmother, a teenager then — RD] and tell her that we’ve gone through the clouds.” I asked her why she wanted to cause Lorena’s mind to become more puzzled? Personally, I think we’ve caused the kid to think enough. Words can’t describe the beauty of this part of France.
Lois then describes the smells of the perfume town of Grasse, and the Provencal horticulture. Then she writes about how they headed to Toulouse to see their cousin Percy, an American military officer billeting with a friend with locals, taking classes and awaiting his next orders. She writes:
They both think they will be sent up into Germany in the Army of Occupation when the university closes. Neither are overly pleased. They live with a Baron and Baroness and are worshipped by them. We received quite a lot of attention, being the Captain’s cousin, and were dinner guests last evening with the family. From here we go over on the Spanish border, making several stops. Then Bordeaux, then Paris, up on the front and back to Dijon. The old jam sandwich. Love for all — Lois.
Can you imagine growing up spending the days on a red leather couch with old aunties like that? They would spread out the Rand McNally atlas on our laps and show me all the places they had been.
I have that atlas on my shelf at home now. Here is something I inscribed in the atlas as a small boy:
That cottage and the garden in which it sat were enchanted, at least to me. I can see from the perspective of decades that the old aunts taught me to see the world as a place worth loving. But it was a specific vision of the world. I was resistant to the world my father loved, and tried to show me how to love — the world of the woods and the ponds and the river around us. My mind was in France. My younger sister Ruthie’s mind, though, was there with Daddy, and she came to love his world. The thing we shared, though, was a love of things, and places, and people. I’m so, so grateful that we were both given that gift in our childhoods, and that God gave us older family members who were able to pour into us the capacity to behold.