Daily Archives: February 12, 2014

Creeped out by “Devotion”

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This is my entry in the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (MWWC), the theme is “Devotion”. See for further details here. Boy, it sure was a challenge for me this time! :)

Blame it on my five years of Latin in high school, but when I hear the word “devotion” I think first and foremost of the Latin term: devotio. Its meaning has shaped my uneasy relationship with the word.

My Stowasser dictionary (the classic Latin-German dictionary for over a century) gives the following translations for devotio:

1. vow, self-sacrificing;
2.a. curse, 2.b. magic;
3. prayer, dedication (to God), humble request.

Not exactly stuff that is right up my alley. The term stems from the verb devovere, which creeps me out even more:

1. to vow, designate, consecrate as a sacrifice;
2. to sacrifice one self, to suffer the death of sacrifice;
3. to make vows, to curse, to bewitch;
4. surrender, relinquish, divulge.

You may notice that it is a decidedly religious term in Latin, that it is tied to sacrifice, death, surrender and even witch craft. Not all of these components come to our mind when we think of the word “devotion”, which I consider more to be a determination to do or achieve something. It may include some sacrifice because if we really, really want something or devote ourselves to a cause, it might have repercussions…but suffering death as a sacrifice? Seriously? Who of us is actually willing to pull that stunt?

The intro by this issue’s challenger, SAHmelier (congrats on your winning entry again, I really LOVED the story!), stressed the “good” ideas we might have about devotion: hard work, love, children. We can all subscribe to them, but do we need this term? Devotion has a decidedly religious, sacred note, yes, even a succumbing or subjecting note, and I am not fond of either of these expressions. I am not a religious person. Maybe that is why I am not fond of the term. It is so absolute, so resolute, so strong. I tend to veer to the middle, I dislike strong expressions of knowing better, of doing being better, of attaching religious meaning to something I do…and devotion has this ring to it. I am also very weary of subjecting anyone or anything to someone else, and as I pointed out, it also implies that.

I am also a generalist, always have been. I like to dabble in a lot of things, a lot of ideas, and while I like to dig for a while, I usually get bored before I dug too deep to get obsessed with something. Riesling might be one of the few exceptions, although I hardly see myself as a devotee because seriously: When am I ever suffering from my love for Riesling?

Don’t get me wrong: There are people that devote their lives, in the best sense of the word, to a cause, to a person, and I admire them. But the causes need to be deep, they need to matter on a grander scheme, they have to relate to existential problems for me to count. Plus: It has to be meaningful and helpful to others, not just the person doing it (remember, there is a sacrifice component in the term, and mere self-sacrifice for no higher good does not count). I find it hard to see that in wine, especially in me consuming it…if the word is to have any meaning, it needs to be special, and us using it for rather trivial pursuits deprives the word of its meaning.

But you may argue: Don’t winemakers at the Mosel, or in the Douro, where prices are low, work is incredibly hard, and one can legitimately ask oneself why they do it, don’t they show devotion? Maybe. But they also show determination. A term I like better (the Latin word determinatio means “boundary”, “designation”, “conclusion”), it is about the end, not a pseudo-sacred meaning. Our “devotions” don’t need a sacred connotation to matter.

However, one of the beauties of devotio is that it is both: vow and bewitching, consecration and curse. That might be the true essence of the word, and I believe that winemakers that work in difficult conditions can attest to this. The things we subscribe our lives to are a curse and a blessing, they are never just good or just bad.

Wow, this became a rambly semantic post, and I hope I didn’t turn anyone off with it. But I just couldn’t get a grasp on the topic, and once I started thinking about why that was, I figured it might be worth sharing my misgivings, my uneasiness, my immediate shying away from “devotion” as a term.

Now go and devote or determine or dedicate yourself to a good bottle of wine. I plan on doing just that! :) It’s Wine Wednesday after all…

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