We are publishing submissions about the COVID-19 crisis from readers daily on NewPhilosopher.com in the hope that it can help us all make sense of what is happening, and as a historical record of how it made us feel. Here are your thoughts, from around the world.
By Stephanie Panayi, Melbourne, Australia
"Even Prospero in his book-lined cell had suffered shipwreck and self-wreck; his island was unreachable except through storm." -Janet Frame
Storms have a way of opening things up. Stuff get messy, muddy, and the overall ‘climate’ becomes dramatic. Storms are the domain of Dionysus, the god of chaos, passion, and intense emotion; the god of the unconscious and all that lies buried within. Though we might find ourselves confined to our homes, our inner world isn’t necessarily on pause, quiet, or enjoying a period of convalescent solitude. Indeed, the god Dionysus is likely to have made our acquaintance, taking advantage of a crack in the world of distraction. If you find yourself more than a tad off-kilter at the moment, you can take solace in the fact that Dionysus is also the god of transformation: what seems to be discombobulating can also lead to a new perspective, one only approached through challenging means.
"some people never go crazy. what truly horrible lives they must lead." - Charles Bukowski
Ayn Rand was full of disdain for Dionysus. She preferred Apollo, the presentable, contained god of reason and intellect; the god who helps create such feats as the Apollo 11 rocket launch. We should, according to Rand, find solace and meaning in human achievements such as the space mission, keep our eyes turned toward the sky, keep light, keep positive, keep achieving — this is the path of the good. Stay away from Dionysus, stay away from the dark, stay away from the mud.
None of us, however, can control the weather. Storms will find us whether we like it or not; whether we focus on the sky, or not. And when they come — when our routine is uprooted, our usual distractions out of reach, and our ancient fears, grievances, and insecurities exposed — we can meet them with the knowledge that underneath lies an inviolable core, an island, that remains distant and undiscovered until, unless, Dionysus comes knocking.
Friedrich Nietzsche was aware of Dionysus’s value. Fascinated with the art of ancient Greece, he saw the Apollonian spirit reflected in the order and symmetry of Greek architecture, and the Dionysian spirit expressed through music and dance. He concluded that we need a level of psychological ‘intoxication’ for any sort of creation to exist; that Dionysian inspiration is needed to give ‘music’ to the product of our Apollonian intellect. Paraphrasing Saint Paul, words without love are like a clanging bell. Yet Dionysian emotions are more disturbing than beatific if not channelled through reason; if not given context and meaning. Just as we might have been lost in an Apollonian world of routine and functionality before this current storm, our challenge now might be how to extricate ourselves from an emotional mire.
Let the gods mingle, let them inform each other, let them help each other out. Eventually, what emerges will be a freer self: the reason and harmony of Apollo, and the inspiration and vitality of Dionysus — the best of both worlds. But first, a storm to get us there. Dionysus takes us to the depths, but that is where the treasure lies: it’s when we find out what supports us when we can no longer support ourselves that we happen upon the island. And as we emerge from what might be a period of profound darkness, we bring with us a perspective that couldn’t have been gained any other way.