“The reason we don’t feel the worst possible physical pain is because it either knocks us senseless or kills us. We don’t feel the worst sorrow while its at its worst; it stuns us, confuses or overwhelms us, makes us unrecognisable and unknowable to ourselves, estranges us from our feelings and the object of our feeling; we’re immobilised, our inner (and, so to speak, outer) life ceases to stir. Thus we don’t feel the worst sorrows, don’t feel them in their entirety, when they first befall, we know them, one by one, as we advance through time and space. And not just peak pain, but every peak passion, every sensation that, even if it’s not the greatest, is yet so extraordinary and (in whatever way), great, that our spirit can’t contain it all at once. Supreme joy would be just the same.”
March 4, 1821
from ‘Zibaldone di pensieri’, translated by W. S. Di Piero
I know this problem intimately, he describes trauma, where the body and mind is immobilised in order to protect its ability to continue in the now and towards the future. If you were able to experience it right now you would go insane, so close to the truth of existence would you be. Afterwards you feel the urgency of this message, that it is possible to live in a vivid now, but that it stops time. This is both beautiful and tragic.
Leopardi is also referring to art in this passage. He knows that its only afterwards that an artist can make sense of it, because extreme experience isn’t transferable as it is, its only when its conceptualised that it can become understandable. From the specific comes the universal. If you aim too soon for the universal it is banal.