possession isn’t all that bad

“It comes to us, with no work of our own; then leaves us prepared to undergo a giant labor.” — Elaine Scarry

While reading the Hypothesis assignment for today, I was really struck by the last line of “On Beauty and Being Wrong” in which Elaine Scarry writes, “It comes to us, with no work of our own; then leaves us prepared to undergo a giant labor.” It led to me to become curious about inspiration and how that was discussed with writers and artists back in the days. I remember once my friend’s mother told me about a Ted Talk about how in ancient Greece and Roman cultures they imagined the muse literally coming by and visiting the artist, like a spirit possessing them. I thought that was pretty weird so I did some research and voila! I found a seminar presentation by Gerard Naddaf of  York University  that confirms what I missed out on by not watching the recommended Ted Talk (no, I won’t link it). Enthousiasmos, meaning to ‘be possessed by a god’ or ‘having god within’ was the term they used to describe the phenomena of being inspired. I feel like viewing inspiration as something that comes and goes like a spirit possessing our physical bodies is a very laid back and much less pressure on the artist. I feel like if more people still thought of their inspiration as something that is external of them more often there would be a lot less pressure on artists to keep creating at a factory pace to survive, like musicians — instead of constantly being worried about being able to produce art, they are instead at will of the spirits choosing to possess them or not.

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  1. I really like how you dug into this last line. I am still unsure what the “it” is referring to in the line, but if it is the “aspiration for enduring certitude” which could very well be synonymous with that “desire for truth” then it seems as though she is implying that this comes as that wave of inspiration you are referring to which then translates into the pursuit of beauty in art, music, literature, etc. The implications of this are huge and I hardly know what to make of it.

  2. I’m pretty sure “it” in that sentence is “beauty.” Beauty inspires us to aspire to enduring certitude, though beauty, as Scarry observes, does not itself fulfill that aspiration.

    It’s also worth noting that Milton again and again writes of how the Muse brings him his poetry.

    Finally, it’s interesting that we now speak of someone as a genius. The word’s earlier meaning, however, was precisely that kind of indwelling spirit you speak of “possessing” a writer. So back in the day (say, a century or two ago), one spoke of someone not as a genius, but of someone having a genius. (See too the way Milton uses the word in Lycidas to mean “a guiding, benign spirit” indwelling the shore.

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