Caribbean poet Derrick Walcott, on accepting the Nobel Prize for poetry in 1992, remarked: “The fate of poetry is to fall in love with the world in spite of history.” Allow me to attempt to unpack some of the wisdom from this pregnant sentence.
First, I would substitute for the word ‘poetry’ any other art form as well—music, novels, dance, film, pottery, wood carving, ritual-making, story telling, etc.
The heart of his statement is this: “To fall in love with the world in spite of history.” History—both collective and personal—is not always pretty. It is often rough and raw and painful and destructive. The good do not always triumph. Nor does justice. Nor truth. And those who write history are often with the winners, not necessarily with the most just or most compassionate or most loving. So sometimes history does double-destruction—not only the defeat of the powerless but often even in the telling of the defeat.
Today history is not at all pretty. Open the internet to any news story and more often than not painful headlines greet you—the devastation of climate change for example, the loss of waters to extraction and pollution; the melting of glaciers; the rise of the seas; the ferocity of hurricanes; fires raging in rainforests in the Amazon, the Arctic, and Africa; millions forced to flee the inundation or burning or bombing of their homelands; families separated and held in detention centers; the extermination of many species from insects to birds and four-legged wonders; the acidification of the oceans, on and on….
Human malfeasance greets us daily from murders to massacres, from rip off artists to internet hackers, bankers that support cattle production in rainforests, trophy hunters killing endangered animals, and more. There are the climate deniers, the huge gulf between haves and have-nots, tax schemes that benefit the super wealthy at the expense of the poor and middle class, on and on.
Yes, history is often difficult to look at. And to live through.
BUT here comes the poet and the artist (in all of us): It is all about falling in love with the world in spite of history.
Artists are bearers of biophilia therefore, carriers of the love of life. Carriers of the Via Positiva. Reasons for living. Gratitude for existence. We are invited to stand up to history, to resist its necrophiliac directions. As Erich Fromm put it: “Necrophilia grows when biophilia is stunted.” The artist does not stunt biophilia but grows it.
Don’t we all? Aren’t we all artists of life choosing to fall in love with life daily in spite of the shadows that history casts?
See Matthew Fox, Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet.
Banner Image: “Starry Night Over the Rhone” by Vincent van Gogh: one of a series of star studies painted during his hospitalization, about which he wrote of a “tremendous need for, shall I say the word—for religion—so I go outside at night to paint the stars.” (Naifeh, Steven and Gregory White Smith (2011). Van Gogh: The Life. New York: Random House. ISBN978-0-375-50748-9.)
Queries for Contemplation
What is your response to the statement that art is about “falling in love with the world in spite of history”? Does that inspire you to deepen your experience of the Via Creativa and steer it to the Via Transformativa?
Because creativity is the key to both our genius and beauty as a species but also to our capacity for evil, we need to teach creativity and to teach ways of steering this God-like power in directions that promote love of life (biophilia) and not love of death (necrophilia). Pushing well beyond the bounds of conventional Christian doctrine, Fox’s focus on creativity attempts nothing less than to shape a new ethic.