Saturday, October 22, 2016

Wisdom Of The Week

If romantic love was passionately unprincipled in the past, nowadays it has to be in conformity with human rights legislation. That’s right: you should treat this witch, or warlock, who’s ensorcelled you, with the same slightly aseptic respect with which you treat your colleagues. Wildly passionate and improbable affairs must Kitemarked, so conforming to best practice. It’s often noted that in the age where serial monogamy exists alongside the nuclear family, too much pressure is placed on our partners—we want them to be both continent and abandoned, a good friend and a demon lover. Actually, the situation is far worse even than that. We demand of our intimate relationships that they be both grand enough for eternity and sufficiently paltry to sustain the quotidian. We want our lovers to die with us as we mutually gain the very peak of sexual ecstasy—yet then arise and make us a soft-boiled egg with toasted soldiers.

It’s a recipe for failure, and that’s what I feel: a failure. As I said above, I’ve been in love with three women in my life, two men and a dog. I’ll say nothing of the human relationships—decency demands nothing less. But my dog days were instructive. Obviously the relationship wasn’t physically consummated —except with cuddles—although we slept in the same bed. No, it seems to me it’s precisely because, to paraphrase Wittgenstein, that if a dog-lover could speak, we wouldn’t understand its endearments, that we can remain so perfectly in love with them, and they with us. The species-barrier is all we can erect in lieu of the convent walls that kept Abelard and Héloïse apart. Indeed, I can’t see how anyone facing contemporary terms of endearment doesn’t feel as if they’ve failed. We fail in making our choice, which, given our belief that partner-choice is sidereally pre-ordained is really no choice at all. And we fail repeatedly in the very act of loving itself, which requires us to simultaneously be selfless and egoistic to the point of self-annihilation.

Romantic love has always been the sort of hit-man of monogamy: once the contract on you has been fulfilled, you cannot stray—the chubby demigod with the bow has put an arrow in your heart. After that a ring on your finger seems a mere formality: what’s “till death us do part” compared to eternity? The problem, however, is that the new technologies, and the social media that they support lead us, using a golden thread of machine code, through a labyrinth of possible encounters, towards people who we’re encouraged to feel should be not just compatible but ideal. Rationally, we know in our heart-of-hearts that there are indeed scores, nay, millions, of potential partners who might well become our long-term lovers, and happily so. But if there’s one thing we understand about everyman’s psychosis, it’s that it isn’t remotely rational. Moreover, its very irrationality seems connected to that idea of ourselves as being in a very important sense unique.

I too, believe everyone is unique, but only by reason of occupying unique spatial-temporal coordinates. When it comes to our personalities I’m afraid our individuality is more apparent than real: and the great paradox of the web is that we’re ever-trying to convince each other of how particular we are by sharing information about our mass pursuits. Perhaps that’s what romantic love is really all about. It’s a longing, a desire, a passion, for a state of absolute particularity, a state to which the human condition, with its all too common instinctual drives, doesn’t really obtain. No wonder we’re all either disappointed or unrequited.

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