Some Thoughts on Love
‘Is Love a tender thing?’ asked Romeo. ‘It is too rough, too rude, too boisterous, and it pricks like thorn,’ he concluded.
If someone were to say in contemporary Western society that they were willing to suffer, maybe even die for Love, they would be looked on as a mad person. Yet there exist men and women in Third World societies who defy the primitive cultural diktats of caste, tribe, religion and community, who dare to transgress boundaries, who dare to Love. Some of them succeed. Others are lynched in grotesque rituals that goes by the name of ‘honor killings’. And in their suffering, they become flesh and blood monuments to this thing called Unconditional Love.
I find it hard not to believe that it is easier to find Unconditional Love in restrictive societies than in societies that are excessively permissive. It appears to be easier here in the West to say ‘You know, I slept around with four people on the same day’ than to say ‘This is the one person I want to be with all my life.’ The latter, not the former, is the test of passion. Indeed, the word passion itself has been corrupted in popular parlance to mean some excess of desire. On the contrary, passion, derived from the Latin patere means to embrace suffering. The Passion of the Christ was the man’s willingness to undergo torment for the sake of the object of his Love, universal humanity. The closest thing to Christ in the previous century, Martin Luther King Jr, spoke about how absolute and Unconditional Love alone could guarantee the creation of a human and a humane community. Was not King’s martyrdom yet another sacrifice for the sublime cause of Love?
But to talk about sacrifice is something too much, too dangerous for the liberal. The problem with our liberal society is the moral nihilism that infects it, corrupts it from within. I look at nihilism here not as an urge to destroy all icons, but rather as the lack of firm belief in anything of value, a reluctance for passion, an unwillingness to commit. Sex, to our liberal nihilist, has no deeper value. It is a mere contract for mutual pleasure between two (or more) persons. And with the multicultural baggage, you can have sexual experiments with people of different races and genders and boast to yourself about your supposed transgressiveness, your fling with an exotic person.
And there are these ridiculous ’empirical’ studies of what men like in women and vice versa. Sizes of breasts, noses, penises and vaginas. Women with short or long hair. Clean shaven or bearded men. The skin color that attracts most. It is as if Love is to be reduced to an object on a human body that has no meaning by itself. Down the years, we might also have such enlightening empirical studies on whether the possession of an Apple iPad increases your prospects for sex and if the use of robots for threesomes can save your marriage… This is particularism at its cheapest. You do not desire a person for what they are in their totality (a matter of soul) but for some specific aspect which they have (a matter of body, and other extra fittings). Frank Sinatra in his inimitable style rubbished these fetishes in My Funny Valentine where he sings that though his lover might not have all the perfect bodily features, she is his ‘favorite work of art’, beseeching her not change even a hair, for he loves her as she is.
Is this prioritization of sex over Love not the logical conclusion of the so-called sexual revolution of the swinging 60s? I believe a popular slogan in May 68 Paris was ‘Making revolution is like making love’. After the initial orgasmic outburst of having multiple sexual partners on one hand and putting up fashionable street protests on the other, things just went back to normal in the system. It is as if the activists’ lack of absolute commitment while screwing each other prevented them from being absolutely committed to screwing the system…
This is not an indictment of Western society. Nay, in my opinion, the best accounts of Unconditional Love were produced by Western novelists, poets, dramatists and philosophers. A real life Love story that moved me the most was that of Austrian thinker-cum-activist Andre Gorz and his English wife Dorine. Political students of Sartre and Beauvoir and active participants in May 68 protests, the couple believed in radical freedom. But they also believed that they found radical freedom in their unswerving commitment and fidelity to each other. In his tribute to the Love he had for his wife, a fascinating little book called Letter to D, Gorz writes ‘being passionately in love is a way of resonating with the other, body and soul, and with her or him alone.’
Decades after a life well-lived together, Dorine was diagnosed with a deadly cancer. Not willing to ‘outlive the other’, Andre took his own life on the same day that Dorine passed away. This sort of a relationship might appear as a miracle in our cynical times. But precisely because these are cynical times, it is a miracle worth believing in, one worth fighting for.
Yes, Love is rough and it pricks like thorn. It strikes at your ontological core and mutilates your identity, your sense of Self. It calls for commitment, sacrifice and suffering. It involves a leap of faith into the Other, a willingness to embrace her/him in her totality, in a journey that creates different conjoined individuals of both. It involves seeing the Universality of humanity in the beloved, rather than a fetish for particularities (ooh, I like your hair, I like your skin color etc). The pleasure of such Love is beyond trivial physical releases; It is, as Gorz wrote, ‘a way of giving yourself and calling forth the gift of self from the other person.’
Happy Valentine’s Day to all those who can relate to what I am talking about.
To others, miracles exist.