My advise on how to live a well-lived life
As a class, we have spent the semester trying to determine how to interpret the essence of who we are, and also how to interpret the world around us. Yes, this is a huge question to tackle, but we are English majors and it is our job to discuss big questions. The idea of essence wears many faces and is recognizable in every aspect of life. We could even say that without the essence of life, there would be no existence. It is not hard to recognize that all humans’ posses a burning desire to know the answers to these unanswerable questions. The trick lies in examining the various manifestations of life’s essence, and distinguishing between the real, and the mimetic. You might be wondering how this relates to literary criticism—our job as literary critics is to sift through the mimetic representations of essence in order to locate the source of our passions.
The word essence, derived from the word essential, is defined by Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary in the following terms: “essential—1: of, relating to, or constituting essence: Inherent 2: of the utmost importance: basic, indispensable, necessary.” It is in our nature as human beings to want to understand what drives, motivates, and fuels our desires. The word essence is interesting to me because it is used as an attempt to signify a complex, multi-faceted concept. Microsoft word provides the following synonyms for the word essence—spirit, core, heart, real meaning, soul, quintessence, fundamental nature, and concentrate. I use this example to illustrate that there are many words that can be substituted for word essence, all of which represent the idea that there is something larger and more meaningful than our physical presence on this earth. All of these words acknowledge, in some way, the existence of the unknown. Given the nature of the human-condition, it is inevitable not to search for the answers to these questions in a quest to know and experience the unknown.
Over the course of the semester, we have explored dozens of theoretical attempt to explain, pin-down, explicate, and illuminate through the written word the best way to manifest the essential energy that is life. I see a common message running through the selected material for the course that says by choosing to manifest our hearts real meaning through high passions, we will discover a direct link to the source of energy that has the power to inspire. Passion is the greatest gift given to humankind, capable of getting us close as humanly possible to the core of our energy supply. Supporters of this theory believe that a passion for life is the main tool in discovering beauty in the unknown. Once the main artery is accessed, the essence of life permeates through everything that is produced from this space.
I learned from this class that there are as many ways to express passion as there are ways to interpret the world around us. I also realized that there is no right way, and each interpretation is as good as the next! As long as intentions are grounded in, and committed to living the best possible life through harnessing the most amount of passion humanly possible! There are certain critics whose works stand out to me as having figured out a fundamental way to express passion. These works of inspiration became a direct link for me in accessing a source of power and energy through the author’s personal experience.
The most influential piece I read this semester was by Walter Pater. Dr. Sexson mentioned his name in first week of class in our discussion on the functions of criticism. When I was going back through my notes trying to remember what influenced me from the first part of the class, I ran across a brief quote I had jotted down in class: “Walter Pater’s definition of criticism: giving to your passing moments your best and greatest possible value.” To me, this is a very simple and direct way of saying what I have been attempting to convey for the last two pages! Walter Pater knows what life is about, experiencing divine passion by simply giving life its best possible meaning. I went to the Norton after finding this quote in my notes to re-read what else Walter Pater said in his essay, Studies in the History of the Renaissance. A passage from the final paragraph of the essay struck me as a brilliant interpretation of the most direct way to access a source of inspiration. I will re-produce the passage for you simply because it is worth remembering.
We have an interval, and then our place knows us no more. Some spend this interval in listlessness, some in high passions, the wisest, at least among “the children of this world,” in art and song. For our one chance lies in expanding that interval, in getting as many pulsations as possible into the given time. Great passions may give us this quickened sense of life, ecstasy and sorrow of love, the various forms of enthusiastic activity, disinterested or otherwise, which come naturally to many of us. Only to be sure it is passion—that it does yield you this fruit of a quickened, multiplied consciousness. Of such wisdom, the poetic passion, the desire of beauty, the love of art for its own sake, has most. For art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments sake. (841)
I love this passage because anyone can gain a personal meaning from it that just happens to be exactly what was needed to be heard at the time. It is a piece of inspired writing, imbued with possibility and hope.
Romantic sensibilities, which emphasize the importance of expression, come very close to the same idea that Walter Pater takes up in the passage above. The romantics see poetry as the number one, best way to express passion. Wordsworth called poetry “a spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions.” Wordsworth, along with the other romantics, sees poetry as a direct line into the heart of inspiration. Percy Shelley, another romantic poet, addresses the value of searching out the best possible way to spend our passing moments. Shelley agrees with Pater and Wordsworth in that reality is only meaningful when it is viewed through the lens of artistic expression. In Shelly’s, A Defense of Poetry, he says that poetry “awakens and enlarges the mind itself by rendering it the receptable of a thousand unapprehended combinations of thought. Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world” (700). Similarly, Samuel Taylor Coleridge is interested in discovering how to tap into the essence of existence and live the fullest life possible. Coleridge’s answer to the question all critics are interested in answering is as follows: “The primary IMAGINATION I hold to be the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM” (676).
The benefit of reading various critics is that this experience opens our eyes to many new ways of viewing the world around us. From this, we can identify our own personal interpretation of the world, tailored to fit our own individual representation of passion. We have formed the foundation of our knowledge base from these quintessential theories. Plucking from them what we need, as scholars of the next generation, to express the divine inspiration that will allow us to give to our passing moments, our best and greatest possible value.