Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Kitsch, Emotion, and Ego

I would like to pass on to everybody here a good link I received, which came from Steve Sailer’s blog

The main theme of that blog post is that finding joy in kitsch is a way to stroke our ego. When we cry at the sight of a tragedy, that is understandable, and even good. But when we cry not because of the tragedy but out of appreciation for our own fine moral sentiment, that is egotistical. We turn a perfectly healthy emotion inwards upon itself, thus perverting it. “A love of kitsch is therefore essentially self-congratulatory.”

I was struck by the similarity of this idea to a passage I recently found in the works of St. Francis de Sales:

When overcome by anger, [many people] become angry at being angry, sad at being sad, and irritated at being irritated. By such means they keep their hearts entrenched and soaked in anger. It may seem that the second fit of anger does away with the first, but actually it serves to open the way for fresh anger on the first occasion that arises.

St. Francis and Sailer both point to an interesting, and very common, phenomenon. It is essential to our happiness to control and cultivate our emotions. Yet when we consciously strive to do this, we either lose control over our emotions, or in controlling them we become egotistical. It almost seems we would be better off if we stopped trying and just let our emotions run wild. How are we to reconcile self-control with humility?

St. Francis gives us the answer:

[Y]ou must humble yourself before God, implore his mercy, prostrate yourself before the face of his goodness, and ask for his pardon, confess your fault and beg for mercy in the ear of your confessor to receive absolution. But when that is done, remain peaceful, and having detested the offense, embrace lovingly your lowliness which slows down your advance in virtue.
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