I've always been scared of sentiment. For many years I found ways to avoid it - irony, detachment and a derision of the power of emotion. This was mainly in my work - throwing myself behind theory, marxism and postmodernism, or art that focused on alienation from the world and lay securely in the realm of thought and analysis. This is not to say I didn't understand feeling, just that I was aware of how much it could overcome me, and of the paralysis that could go with that. I wanted to function - socially, academically, practically - I wanted to be able to 'get things done'.
I was helped by the idea of 'the sentimental novel' - the phrase sounds trite, and is easy to write off as something that is indulgent and given to a spring of emotion that always seems to make mountains out of molehills. Then came romanticism: swirling landscapes, pathetic fallacy and deep passions - this is emotion from deep below the soul, primordial, thick and a bit too much to live with really. After a while I was happy for Cathy to die in her fit of emotion and for Heathcliff to brood himself to death. Why? Because if I could remove myself from that sense of feeling I didn't have to subject myself to it.
Emotion is truly powerful. Not least because we are taught not to indulge. That we should manage our feelings, discipline our responses, that we should think before we speak. And of course we should, society cannot function if we don't. The trouble is that we plunge our feelings further and further down, so that when they emerge they erupt. I cry, quite often, but I would feel ashamed to do so in public - not least for the awkwardness I would give to others, but as much for the weakness I had displayed.
For a moment lets explore this idea of weakness. What might bring me to tears? Well much - an overwhelming feeling of love, a poignant story that echoes a feeling or memory of mine, a sense of fear, or of frustration with myself. Some of these feelings are outgoing, they express my empathy or my sense of connection but others are darker - they speak of my own inadequacies. To cry can come from many places, and some are more healthy than others - but surely they are all worthy of acknowledgment? For to deny fear is to let it determine your path, to deny love is to live without joy, and to let empathy be just nodding your head and stroking your beard is a mockery of the complex biology and psychology that goes into creating our emotional lives.
My journey has then been from detachment to sentiment:- from 'Tristram Shandy', to ' A Sentimental Journey', from wit to wisdom I could hope (though would not presume), and while I accept that I cannot let loose, I now know that I must engage with the power of emotion as it is who I am.