“[…] art—and poetry in particular—can make the limits of our imagining apparent at the very moment it moves beyond them.”
-Heather Christle, The Crying Book
I’m looking for a new metaphor about “reason” and “passion.” A while ago, when I was struggling with something, someone asked “Are you thinking or feeling about it?” The question didn’t quite make sense.
Last year in a graduate class I had a strange, delightful experience. We were sitting there, talking over the different ways people imagine the world for themselves. A climbing child creates an idea of a tree. A carpenter creates another idea that goes by the same name, and so does the orchard keeper and the ecologist. I was listening to people discuss how these ideas were different, and then I felt like I was spinning, or floating, or falling. The usual handholds I reach to, the perspectives I take up to make sense of things, were exactly what I was trying to question. So for a moment I hung almost motionless a whirlwind of new possibilities out of reach around me. That moment reminds me I’ve had similar experiences before. They’re like when I was a kid and I jumped off a high rock into water. There was a moment that opened between the ground I’d left and the surface beneath which I didn’t yet see.
I don’t think I can understand reason and passion as separate. Most of the traditions I’ve grown up in treat them that way. And sure, I’ve felt the two pull apart like my two feet when one hits a patch of ice and suddenly I’m slipping toward the splits. Most of the time, though, when I pay attention to what I’m feeling, reason and passion move together. When I’m talking to someone who’s struggling, when I’m trying to help and it’s going well, I’m thinking and feeling about what they’re telling me. I’m trying to make connections and trying to be open. We separate out “differences” to study what we see, but running is left right, left right, and breathing, and pumping arms. Running’s a whole body, the ground beneath it, the air I’m breathing.
The running metaphor isn’t the one I want. My feet are separate, even if they work together. Sitting in my experience, emotion and reason feel intertwined. Maybe one’s water swirling down a creekbed, and one’s light bending through the water, but I wouldn’t want to make one water and the other light. They’re both both. So maybe I’m still falling, floating for that wide moment before there’s a splash and I’m somewhere new.