Saturday, February 24, 2007

Love

My last few posts are linked: Love is a form of hubris that entails a loss of the self.

1) Love is not only something real but something radically real, something that changes us and makes us different to what we were. When we fall in love it is only ever for the first time, but love does not regress to some original dynamic - it creates afresh by bursting us open. It is a force that is precisely out of our control: Instead, we are placed eagerly in its hands. Love is a process of change that is always possible - 'we' cannot be 'beyond' love; love is a force that moves to the 'beyond' of 'us'.

2) We do not know and cannot know what love is. The process of love itself is unthinkable. We undergo this or that love, we can express it more or less, become more or less in love, but we cannot capture it within our concepts about ourselves - there can be no social history of love, nor any personal history that is permitted to say 'what it is'. What we can talk about is 'how it is' with us, which includes any talk about how it has been (we can recite our personal history of love to ourselves, dispassionately, but this shows our present constitution, our relative inability to be in love).

3) It is by a system of signs that we understand love. Our character is put under strain, and this is how we feel it - violent emotions disrupt and distort 'us'. We endure and then we break.

"Love is a gross exaggeration of the difference between one person and everybody else" - George Bernard Shaw

In this view, there are objective standards of differences between subjects that become in a sense inflamed and distorted when we fall in love. When we are in love, our social determinations tend to tear apart, but from Shaw's point of view this is something to be understood in terms of social reality, with the message that we should bring love back down to earth.

I ask - why would we do this? For what purpose? It seems that social purpose has overriden love, that the self has been able to deal with the emotions it feels within the systems of meaning it already inhabits. But love is something that we temper, qualify and make useful precisely when we are not in love. When we are in love things stop making sense.

We ask ourselves: "What good is this love to me?" But it doesn't matter. It never mattered. The idea of self-sacrifice never starts to become important; the questions of what we lose and what we gain hang relative to a 'reality' that reality has already dissipated. We cannot trace shadows in a room full of light.

In love there are no conceptual participants other than those which become eternal, and real love knows no laws but its own:


"Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
That alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! It is an ever fixed mark,
That looks upon tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, though his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom:
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved."

-William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116


The reader might contend that this is idealistic; a standard romanticisation of love that doesn't fit the facts. But what facts do we attempt to make 'love' fit?

Since love happens immanently to a given subject, there is no equivocity involved, but only ebbs and flows of emotion as they swell up within us. Love gives expression to a return of difference (to use Deleuze's terms), which means that everything we think we know about love misses the point - that love returns as forever new feelings. Feeling something and trying to recontextualise it through the comparative history of people you have loved is to seek to chain love to similarity that stays within the idea of the self and does not go beyond it (i.e. does not speak of love at all).

For Deleuze, thinking is something that constantly pushes the boundaries of thought, and should not be assimilated via preformed images, since in this way the mind only reflects upon itself (albeit with certain intensities) - it sees its categories of recognition out in the world: Good morning Theaetetus. In the same way, if we are truly to begin to love, we must learn to love afresh, anew, for the first time. To see in expressions of love only promises made a thousand times before is to see our own emotional structures reflected back upon us, and by this means we put love in shackles. To learn to be in love is to be aware, when something connects, that it connects. This means emotional struggle and toil, as we begin to love with greater depth and subtlety of emotion. We struggle to be more in love because we begin to affirm that we are in love, and this is sufficient.

Let us take a case, and one that has become very dear to me - Spenser's Amoretti. Sonnet 30 of the Amoretti reads as follows (translated from the Middle English):


"MY love is like to ice, and I to fire;
how comes it then that this her cold so great
is not dissolved through my so hot desire,
but harder grows the more I her intreat?
Or how comes it that my exceeding heat
is not delayed by her heart frozen cold:
but that I burn much more in boiling sweat,
and feel my flames augmented manifold?
What more miraculous thing may be told
that fire which all things melts, should harden ice:
and ice which is congealed with senseless cold,
should kindle fire by wonderful device.
Such is the power of love in gentle mind,
that it can alter all the course of kind."


Love overrides all our assumed typologies, moral positions and 'lifestyle choices'. Knowing this to be the case, shouldn't we avoid love: isn't love something that is profoundly useless, that takes away the strengths we use to move through life, and that causes us harm? Shouldn't we resist love, and preserve notions of the self? Shouldn't we forgo the anarchy of becoming-what-we-will-be for the tidy management of reality as a list of social contracts? Isn't this the only way to survive?

No. This is death itself.

Love is not a contract that we enter into, nor can it ever be. Love that can be accepted given prearranged conditions is not love at all, since 1) to fall in love is to be changed, and 2) the idea of a change that does not change anything cannot be called a change. The sense of responsibility we feel toward each other is not engendered through a contract that one of us must propose and the other accept, as this is merely 'responsibility' in its abstract, legal formulation. Love does not obey the law, and in asking it to we leave the affirmation and expression of love behind, and with it our chance of truly connecting with someone, all for the sake of security. Why do we care about each other's feelings? Is it because we are obligated, or because we empathise? It must (for the love of life!) be because we make the attempt to understand.

Permit me to ask - if you, dear reader, were in love, and this love was not returned, would you expect the other person to treat you kindly and gently only because they felt an obligation to? Does their kind behaviour now bring you comfort? What of the thought that the other person might have, i.e. 'Well, I didn't ask for your feelings, so I don't have an obligation to deal with them'? I hope we would want to point out that the opposing circumstance, in which the feelings were asked for, is just as barren and bereft of life as the present one.

4 Comments:

Blogger News is Good said...

I agree, specifically:
"something that changes us and makes us different to what we were."
"It is by a system of signs that we understand love."
"Love is a gross exaggeration of the difference between one person and everybody else"
"When we are in love things stop making sense."
"In the same way, if we are truly to begin to love, we must learn to love afresh, anew, for the first time."

This would make me say, to provide a mystical shorthand, that 'love is to become the unexpected', or somesuch. Do you understand my sentiment?

I now want to consider some specific issues with love that were raised as I read. First, is it right to say there are different 'types' of love, and if so, what type might be a love that leaves us wanting? Second, if love is change, how come its expression is often so formalised by society? Third, what does it mean that we must always love anew, yet we must love again/continue to love (difference and repetition, for sho') - what is this capacity that is so potentially destructive yet resilient?

It is, I hope, not contentious to say there are many kinds of love. Not only do we have love for friends, strangers, family, and sexual lovers, but each can take different forms. For example, here is what the psychologist Sternberg put it in his triangular theory: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangular_theory_of_love
To summarise, the 'three components of love' are intimacy, passion, and commitment. He made them into a triangle!!! He likes shapes!!! (This theory, of course, is rather basic - otherwise it wouldn't be taught on the A-Level course.)
To use this as a starting point, one could have an entirely passionate love that would burn itself up; one can have a 'fatuous' love that that does not ground itself in an intimacy and closeness towards the other person, and so on. If this is acceptable, it can be seen that some have less propensity to harm (i.e. cause a change in us that leaves us lacking, compared to how we were before). Reciprocal intimacy, if achieved, will lead to a certain empathy and concern that will leave us as racked with pain as our lover if we harm them. Would you agree that it is a relationship without intimacy that seems most destructive?
If this is so, what is so painful - this refusal of intimacy, and refutation of some 'desire to connect'? Has something been inflamed in us that must be aborted, terminated, leaving us empty?

It seems to me that love must change us, yet it can be so lauded by the socially conservative. How do we control love so that it leads to marriage and normalcy - is that the chaining of love, to make it follow established forms? If this is so, it is rare to practise love as it should be.

Finally, it fascinates me that we can love, be changed by love and left gaping, yet love again. What about love allows this - is our ability to practise it simply regenerative? Or does the loss of love leave us needing to be changed, so we might permutate to a better form? Perhaps it is that we are always left starved by stability.



Love is of prime importance, and I think it needs to be discussed. However, my friend, I would easily choose seeing you love again, in the future, over ever coming to an understanding of your previous experience. For you to be in a position to practise love fully, I fear you have to get in control of the financial systems that hold you captive, and could stop you being able to exist in a way that allows you to consider your studies and thoughts. I hope you find it possible to prioritise immediate concerns, because if you become trapped in debt it will start to dictate how you must live your life; for example by putting your studies out of reach. That is not conducive to practising love, as it can't be found in despair.

10:20 PM  
Blogger Atum said...

'love is to become the unexpected'

I think it's a similar kind of phrase to those I've been using, but I'm not sure you understand what I mean. Your comments show that you see love as something a 'person' has, and that manifests itself in certain 'types' that can be understood conceptually, all of which goes against the view I've been trying to put forward.

To take a couple of your questions (because they are interesting):

"if love is change, how come its expression is often so formalised by society?"

It probably has to do with straightforward ressentiment. You continue:

"It seems to me that love must change us, yet it can be so lauded by the socially conservative. How do we control love so that it leads to marriage and normalcy - is that the chaining of love, to make it follow established forms? If this is so, it is rare to practise love as it should be."

I think marriage tends to kill love, yes. The focus on 'contractual love' gives no expression to love. Your alternative, to 'practise' love as it should be, still assumes some ritualistic action by a (moral) subject.

"Finally, it fascinates me that we can love, be changed by love and left gaping, yet love again. What about love allows this - is our ability to practise it simply regenerative?"

If we give up the idea that Joe Bloggs loves Jane Doe, it can't be regenerative. Love isn't a capacity that a subject has.

It might be right that to 'learn to love' we have to 'see ourselves' performing, choosing, judging etc. somewhat, but I'd stress that all this is appearance (though necessary), and also that expressions we both have used about learning to love doesn't deal with wanting to love, in itself. Really, in learning to love we are simply expressing the love that we really do encounter; love that is about stuff.

Thus I don't know what you mean by 'practise love fully', aside from some normative behaviour that we establish when we are not in love - when we expect something of some future love. But if love is recalcitrant, to 'love fully' just means to love.


Thanks for the financial encouragement however. I'm starting to feel optimistic about it all. It may be stupidity.

3:32 PM  
Blogger News is Good said...

"Your comments show that you see love as something a 'person' has..."

I might say that love is something people belong to (happening within a relationship). That sounds right, for now, although I might suddenly disagree in a few moments if I think about it more. Nor do I mean it as a contract that we enter into, I am not saying that choice is involves.


"...and that manifests itself in certain 'types' that can be understood conceptually..."

I'd more say that you can look at 'how it is' (as you said) for the person who is the subject of love, and that is exactly why I offered the 'types' of love. Do they have nothing valuable to say about how love is for you?

Considering, incidentally, that there are so many experiences of love ('how it is'), is love just one thing that is expressed in many ways, or multiple instances of one related thing, or what?

6:43 PM  
Blogger Atum said...

"I might say that love is something people belong to (happening within a relationship). That sounds right, for now, although I might suddenly disagree in a few moments if I think about it more. Nor do I mean it as a contract that we enter into, I am not saying that choice is involves."

Yes that sounds enough to state your position. That love is something occurring in a relationship between people (and whether love constitutes their relationship, or they constitute love through their relationship is a moot point), is wrong.

"I'd more say that you can look at 'how it is' (as you said) for the person who is the subject of love, and that is exactly why I offered the 'types' of love. Do they have nothing valuable to say about how love is for you?"

I say theory is a practise, and that partaking in explaining love through a theory of types (of love, of people) only gives expression to 'how love is with you' at the moment you indulge in the practise. I don't think there is or can be a 'science of love' that is adequate: it can only ever be incomplete and use partial concepts that give partial expression to love (and insofar as they do it is insofar as the theoretician can express their love thus).

"Considering, incidentally, that there are so many experiences of love ('how it is'), is love just one thing that is expressed in many ways, or multiple instances of one related thing, or what?"

Love is a form of hubris, and hubris is an ontological expression of reality that moves 'to the beyond' of given subjects (i.e. love always pushes further than social/human reality, as this is not reality). Love is an intervention of life upon stagnation and death. Thus it is an activity of life that is actualised in many ways (actually, in infinite ways).

7:35 PM  

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