Campus News

The Power of Passion

Story posted September 24, 1999

Great possibilities for improving the world are rooted in small groups of people with common passions, was the message of the second encore lecture of the Common Hour, given Friday by Assistant Professor of English Peter Coviello.

Though he took issue with some points made by Eddie Glaude in the inaugural Common Hour lecture, Peter Coviello earned an equally enthusiastic standing ovation from those gathered to hear his lecture--"Conspiracies of Pleasure; or, In Praise of Secret Publics."

Glaude had urged the College community to move beyond "invidious individuality" toward the common good. Coviello countered with a view of democracy forged by the concerns of small groups of people, who might oppose the general consensus in their drive to affect the world.

In a lecture that drew from sources as diverse as Keith Richards, Emerson, Freud and The Clash, Coviello championed the cause of the "secret public," the intimate gatherings of those engaged in "the losing of oneself in generous enthusiasms."

Our passions, Coviello said, lead us to these "secret publics," which are born of our relationships with others. These groups create their own language, which allows them to distill their ideas and eventually challenge and inform the world around them. By their very nature, these small groups of individuals joined by common passions, are somewhat anti-social.

"I want to speak up on behalf of a downright militant anti-sociality," Coviello said. The danger in seeking the common good by large-scale public conversation is that it depends on some prior consensus of what is acceptable and what is valuable, and that consensus can become rigid, narrow and exclusive.

Secret publics, he said, refuse these terms of consensus, and it is in this way that new ideas are sparked and new conversations started. For him, Coviello said, democracy at its finest "works against the foreclosure of the possible."

He urged students to recognize the value of their passions and to take the risks involved in embracing them.

"One final plea, teacher to student, in a world that tells you that pleasure is something you do in your spare time
Please, please, please, believe that your passions, your enthusiasm
please, please, please believe these say something about the world you want to make
.Please believe that if anger can remake the world, and it certainly can, so too can bliss
"

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