- Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy
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What is it we talk about when we talk about love? Raymond Carver made it a feral, dangerous thing - outside of reckoning. Hallmark makes it insipid, flaccid, useless. Religions call wrath love and vengeance mercy, making them ugly politicos of the soul and so they are useless here as well.
To unfuck your life you need love, but if you can't render a meaning beyond what is handed to you in church, or the market, or the writings of others (this here included), then what are you scrambling after? To name, but not know a thing, to name a thing as central to your well-being as love so often is, but not be able to know, describe or understand what it is you're after leaves you trundling in circles: a dog chasing its tail.
Baby, this I know.
So, to love.
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Your own experience will tell you what love is not, just as it will also hover about your head like a personal fog diffusing what should be clear in a miasma of conflicting impulses. Is love the desire for your lover's body? Is it the exaltation of the soul enraptured like Blake, fixed on a vision? Is it the promise of long friendship, or long work at your trade? Is it an outward sign, or an inward gift? Tell me of love and I will tell you of its counter, its variation; I will recast your telling to tell of something else that is equally justified in being called love, at least by the terms we acknowledge and abide by.
And all of that is right, just as all of it can be wrong. Proof? From Matt Groening:
Akbar: Do you love me?
Jeff: I love you as much as I love this bowl of chili, and I LOOOOVE chili.
Though Burton is right: there is no bond as strong as love, we use the term too loosely for it to be of any use when times are tight, when you're lost, when things are just so fucked you can't see straight and you grab onto, hold onto anyone else's definition for at least they have an answer, a point of departure and well, fuck, they have their shit together and maybe this is how all that works.
In despair we head to church. In despair we head to therapy. In despair we start to drink.
I think it has something to do with not knowing what we're talking about when we're talking about love. We all claim to know what love is, how it functions in our lives, why we desire to be inside it rather than on the outside looking in. This much is true. And all of that is centered on us, our feelings, our desires, our needs. That's why it crumbles, changes shape, is used so loosely and poorly. The object of one's affection is, ultimately, one's self.
The bond Burton speaks of exists only when those desires are directed for a cause other than your own. This is not to be taken as self-denial, or self-abnegation, or self-loathing. Nothing could be further from reality. No, the strength derived from love is in its being given away. To give requires but one thing: to know what it is you are giving. Think for a minute. A love affair, a relationship ends and one or the other is frightened, hurt by this change and so clings ever more desperately to the idea of rekindling the romance so their fear is alleviated. But what is it they bring to their former lover to entice them back? Fear. Now push that idea further: if your life is fucked and stuck, if you can gain no traction where you once had sure footing, are you not focused on your fuckedness, your stuckness? How's that working out for you?
You want out of being fucked? Then love someone, something more than yourself and your misery.
And love is left for you to define. Its only requirement is that it be given away, freely. There is no thought about what's in it for you, only that everybody should give like everybody could.
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