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Write Through Love
The Unhappy Man: Guiding Axiom #7
The following is the seventh guiding axiom for this newsletter, The Unhappy Man. It’s the last one of the many I’ve been sharing in the past few weeks. Thank you to all the readers who reached out and gave me valuable feedback.
I loved you once: perhaps that love has yet
To die down thoroughly within my soul;
But let it not dismay you any longer;
I have no wish to cause you any sorrow.
I loved you wordlessly, without a hope,
By shyness tortured, or by jealousy.
I loved you with such tenderness and candor
And pray God grants you to be loved that way again.
— Alexander Pushkin, I Loved Thee
I was always disgusted with this notion of “I love the world” universal love. I don’t like the world. I don’t know how… Basically, I’m somewhere in between “I hate the world” or “I’m indifferent towards it.” But the whole of reality, it’s just it. It’s stupid. It is out there. I don’t care about it. Love, for me, is an extremely violent act. Love is not “I love you all.” Love means I pick out something, and it’s, again, this structure of imbalance. Even if this something is just a small detail… a fragile individual person… I say, “I love you more than anything else.” In this quite formal sense, love is evil.
— Slavoj Žižek
Love is never a transient emotion or an affection towards the other; it’s that and more; it’s always more. Love is a force. It moves us like no other, which is why Schopenhauer, in his morbid metaphysics, wrote, “A man, in order to have his love gratified, will unhesitatingly risk his life; in fact, if his love is absolutely rejected, he will sacrifice his life into the bargain. [...] Love drives a still greater number of people into the lunatic asylum. There is a case of some sort every year of two lovers committing suicide together because material circumstances happen to be unfavourable to their union.” Having been both in and out of love and having been in a state beyond that binary, I resonate with his sentiments. But if love is such a behemoth factor in our lives, if it puts one in such vexation, peril and lament, why should we still choose to live through it? Why not settle on a cosmic resignation? Wouldn’t nonchalantly opting out of love for some “inner peace” in a Western Buddhist way make life much easier?
No! Indifference is never the remedy to our existential predicament. Love is perhaps the greatest predicament of all, and yet we ought to face it with courage—of course, when one falls in love, one doesn’t have a choice in facing it or not; ergo, it’s called a fall in French (Tomber amoureux) and English. It’s on this imperative courage Paul Tillich writes lustrously: “Courage is an ethical reality, but it is rooted in the whole breadth of human existence and ultimately in the structure of being itself. It must be considered ontologically in order to be understood ethically.” (The Courage to Be, P. 1) And we ought to affirm ourselves onto being fully aware of the risks that self-affirmation entails. Being courageous means affirming ourselves, at times violently, onto life with the full awareness of the risks such self-affirmation entails. The angst that life’s uncertainties, ambiguities and palpable negativity bring is why Tillich proclaims, “Courage is the power of life to affirm itself in spite of this ambiguity, while the negation of life because of its negativity is an expression of cowardice. [...] Courage does not remove anxiety. Since anxiety is existential, it cannot be removed. But courage takes the anxiety of nonbeing into itself. [...] He who acts courageously takes, in his self-affirmation, the anxiety of nonbeing upon himself.” Accordingly, love too must be considered ontologically; to live through love is always an “in spite of”, which is why courage is the sine qua non for it.
If one “falls in love”, does falling imply that all of love may ultimately be beyond our control? Possibly. If love is purely volitional, we wouldn’t have to change social structures to accommodate all forms of love; one could simply will their way out of love, but seldom does this happen. For instance, if love is solely an unqualified choice, those who tried to use therapy and convert a gay man out of his homosexuality, to not be in love with his partner would have succeeded.
On the other hand, contrary to what the romantics ardently affirm, love isn’t merely an arbitrary, irrational chaotic force; it’s always an unreasonable falling at first, but by virtue of love alone, it becomes reasonable. After the initial falling for a person, we choose to be fallen. At this stage, love deepens and matures, becoming a responsibility and even a moral decision eventuating in the metamorphosis of the individual in love. Or, as Alain Badiou wrote in his beautiful book In Praise of Love, the truest nature of love is revealed: love is a construction and a project towards truth, the truth of two people. The change nevertheless happens when one chooses to make a pure metaphysical commitment to their lover. Here lies the difference between falling in love and being in love; the former is out of our control, but the latter is a particular choice we make as free individuals; ergo, it’s a qualitatively higher form of love than merely falling—the Ancient Greeks apocryphally called this Pragma.
Loving one’s family is even more absurd. We’re thrown into a distinctive family of a particular culture and time that we never asked to be a part of. But once again, similar to the aforementioned fall in romantic love, that Heideggerian thrownness is what allows us to make the most profound abiding commitments we could ever make in life; it’s done through choosing to love one’s family after being thrown into them. At least, I’m yet to experience anything deeper than the love I feel towards my family despite not choosing them.
All of these decisions we make, be it towards a romantic lover or one’s family, are infinitely particular and not done for a pragmatic universal, e.g. social good, childbearing, mental health, etc. Thereby the eternal God is found in the individual and not in the heavens. There’s no universal conformism, i.e. an abstract love for humanity, but love is realised out of one’s innermost conscience. Kierkegaard encapsulates this verity best in his existentialising of Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac (Genesis 22) as he explores love’s sine qua non, faith:
“Then faith’s paradox is this: that the single individual is higher than the universal, that the single individual determines his relation to the universal through his relation to God, not his relation to God through his relation through the universal [...] Unless this is how it is, faith has no place in existence; and faith is then a temptation.” (Fear and Trembling, P. 26)
In that formal sense, I don’t write for the Otheror humanity but for particular individuals in life. In effect, this newsletter is a confession to those who I love the most in life. Nietzsche was wise in writing:
“It has gradually become clear to me what every great philosophy up till now has consisted of—namely, the confession of its originator, and a species of involuntary and unconscious auto-biography; and moreover that the moral (or immoral) purpose in every philosophy has constituted the true vital germ out of which the entire plant has always grown.” (Beyond Good And Evil, A. 6)
In our finitude and ephemerality, what more could one do with one’s fleeting life other than live through and in love? Nothing; there’s unequivocally nothing more one could do or be. So writing through love is putting it plainly, “to will the good of the other” (Summa Theologica, S. 2), as Aquinas remarked. But in this case, the other is always a particular individual, not a concept or Platonic form. To write through love is an orientation I’ll have as a writer, a commitment and duty to a mode of being. So I’ll always strive to have the reader’s good in my heart.
I heard this sentiment by a philosopher expounding on a podcast, but unfortunately, I can’t recall who it was or which podcast he said it on.
This sentiment was inspired by a private conversation I had with my friend Lova Jansson when she asked me, in her usual perspicuity, “Is there a difference between falling in love and being in love?”