‘Ik ben woedend!’ Yes I am furious to see that literary reading and writing have become entertainment. Our quality newspaper NRC-Handelsblad published an article today with the heading: ‘”Reading is for awesome people”. If girls of fashion carry bags with this text you know: literature has become lifestyle’. The title of the article is ‘Leesfeest beesten’ (Reading party animals). Say no more!
WOEDEND ben ik! Furious that insipid, mindless pleasantries are being published and posted all over the place. Enraged that I cannot escape from trivialities that disguise themselves as poems or literary texts and steal the places that belong to valued writers of the past. WOEDEND that cutthroat writing and heartrending wording have become chanceless in this world of hipsters and ‘leesbeesten’ yearning to be entertained.
WOEDEND I am! People who should know better, say to me: ‘Show some patience, progress takes time.’ Aren’t we to blame, for aren’t we terrible at wrapping up our message. The message that the future of reading and writing literary texts is a serious matter in a society that turned digital overnight. The old writings and the new ‘literature’ should matter again, should be more than merely entertainment. WOEDEND to observe that I feel hurt. WOEDEND, in the end, not at others. WOEDEND at myself. Angry with myself!
So after this tirade you are still here, reading, thinking, well well… but anyway, you are still with me. Gosh, I am grateful that you have not yet clicked this text away. By now you must wonder what has all this ranting to do with the word of the day.
Middle Dutch ‘woet’ meant ‘frenzy’, ‘rage’ and even ‘burning desire’. ‘Woet’ comes from Germanic ‘wōda’ meaning ‘passionate’, ‘extatic’, ‘crazy’. This word is at the root of the name of the Germanic god Wodan or Odin. This god of storm, thunder and lightning was very often WOEDEND. When Dutch people talk about storms, they very often say: ‘de storm woedt…’ (the storm is raging). Wodan eventually gave his name to the middle day of the week: WOEDENSDAG -> WOENSDAG, wednesday.
So WOEDEND originally meant ‘passionately’. In the Middle Ages ‘minnen in woede’ meant ‘hartstochtelijk liefhebben’ (love passionately). In Old English madness was ‘wōd’. It is one small step from uncontrolled passion to fits of anger.
WOEDE (rage, fury, anger, wrath, ire) is an almighty passion that makes seeing people completely blind. BLINDE WOEDE, blind fury. My favourite philosopher Spinoza says that this passion of the mind (as any affect) is a confused idea. The object of my anger is completely beyond my control and the realisation that I know that there is nothing I can do, makes me even angrier. My life is (in Steven Nadler’s words who wrote a wonderful book on Spinoza’s Ethics) a ‘fairly pathetic picture of a life mired in the passions and pursuing and fleeing the changeable and fleeting objects that occasion them’. In Spinoza’s description in Ethics: ‘We are driven about in many ways by external causes, and … like waves on the sea, driven by contrary winds, we toss about, not knowing our outcome and fate.’
And there I am lost in anger, ‘blind van WOEDE’. Because the thing I care about, literature, seems to be adrift in a sea of entertainment. My feelings making me blind to true observation. Time for some anger management.