Oh yes, amorous love is lost in translation. Religious people are fond of talking about God’s love, and many of the younger generations are tuned into great sex by the porn industry. “What’s love got to do with it?” asked American singer Tina Turner in her hit song from 1984.
What is amorous love? Well, here is what it is not. It is not the unconditional, safe love of charity, care, or concern compelled by many cultures, including religion. It is not the love of transcendence that elevates practitioners of contemplation, learning, growing, meditation, prayer, or asceticism to spiritual heights. It is not the love for cars, cats, money, power, sex, and other banal things.
Amorous love is what I suggest is making the world go ’round, that is, it is the passionate and desirous love intrinsic to human pair-bonding since the beginning of civilization. While perhaps not universal, amorous love is often mistaken for sex − unfortunately. Although amorous love can be expected to lead to sex, I find amorous love salient enough to be recognized on its own. But then again, not everyone shares my sense and sensibility. Do people other than Hollywood’s oligarchs trying to make a fortune really care about amorous love? Care, like in learning with what it is − with as little reckless experimentation as possible − and how it makes life worth living?
Look, before the days of Isaack Newton, nobody really cared about gravity. Apples were simply falling from trees since the dawn of apple trees. The earth was flat forever. (I know that truth expired a few days before Newton’s mechanical age.) Few had a sense or sensibility for gravity unless they stood at the edge of a precipice. All that changed with the age of flight, inaugurated by the Wright brothers. Gravity came to matter, just talk to Elon Musk of SpaceX. Love has a history as well.
Neanderthals (my ancestry) probably had no words for love because they did not yet have that refined or cultured sense or sensibility for a then faintly emerging phenomenon, the one we now call love. Thousands of years later, along comes St. Augustine with his Confessions and other writings to give the human love of the Old Testament a black eye! Since then, Christians have turned to God’s approving ‘love’ and swept sex under the rug.
However, the Jews of the Old Testament did not necessarily see it so pointedly. It was St. Augustine who started to lead the way for an ordinary underclass into his rabbit hole. Did the upper-class care? Do they ever? Hardly if it is not in their economic interest. Emperor Constantine simply needed the devoted support of the Christians to win his battles.
We said it before. In Book 11 of St. Augustine’s Confessions, he ruminates on the nature of time, asking, “What then is time? If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it to one that asketh, I know not.” He goes on to comment on the difficulty of thinking about time, pointing out the inaccuracy of common speech: “For but few things are there of which we speak properly; of most things we speak improperly, still, the things intended are understood.”
One might adapt that rumination on time to that of love: “What then is love? If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it to one that asketh, I know not.”
And the amorous love between two ordinary humans got lost in translation.
Lost in translation certainly refers to content and meaning being lost or skewed when a text is translated from, let’s say, Korean to English. More so, there is also a chance that content and meaning are lost or skewed by the transmission of values, wisdom, culture, etc., between the ages or generations.
British poet John Milton, in his remarkable Paradise Lost, tried to make human love whole again. William Blake later illustrated Milton’s visions. Their influence on culture was immense and is still lasting. It was then easy for the late Rev. Moon, after the Korean war, to ‘reveal’ that the Fall of Man was due to an untimely sexual act, but that passionate sexuality is an intended feature in God’s creation and not a bug.
We have not had enough Miltons to counterbalance the many Augustinians holding out in orthodox theological seminaries.
In any case, human love returned as courtly love in the Middle Ages. Sung about by the troubadours of the Provence, it was a rather illicit affair between an aristocratic maiden and a lower knight that was seldom consummated. The galantor could have the galantress once or twice, but he could never keep her other than in his mind. It was better to die in battle. The familiar movie Titanic is such a song. Nevertheless, courtly love has come to stay in our collective memory as ‘courteous’ behavior.
The influence of the sexual revolution of the ’60s on contemporary minds and hearts cannot be underestimated. Much has already been written about that, and as Newton said, for every action there is a reaction. The sense and sensibility regarding love in public discourse now depend on who one is talking with.
If you would talk to me, I will tell you that amorous love is virtuous. Can one really imagine a thriving human civilization without amorous love? Humans ain’t no wallflowers, we ain’t no ants. As a boy, I grew up securely attached to my mother. I understand that many folks were or are not that lucky. My mother allowed me a very positive outlook on life and love, and I believe that amorous love deserves a chance.
Now, allow me to indulge one more time and contrast the human condition with the vision St. Augustine tried to impart to humanity − that of how Adam and Eve would have behaved in the Garden of Eden had they not fallen. Augustine, apparently, came to believe after his conversion that Adam and Eve, unfallen, would have copulated in the Garden of Eden to procreate − and just that − all without any erotic desires for each other, all without even the slightest sensations of lust, just so as to please their creator. Just as perhaps one high schooler would scratch − out of simple courtesy − the back of another during lunchbreak in the busy schoolyard. Heaven on earth, I suppose.
A great book to read now would be Stephen Greenblatt’s The Rise And Fall Of Adam And Eve, (2017) W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Highly recommended.
Virtuous or not (I am catering to the naysayers here…), human love transforms and weaves people’s lives together, some love begets new belongings, and yes − spoiled love leaves broken hearts behind. There are no guarantees in this life, there never were, and there never will be. True, amorous love can be exploited, it has that dark side to it. Jealousy is probably the biggest culprit. God’s love isn’t that save either as the crusaders of the Middle Ages or the abused boys of the Catholic church could and would tell us.
And yet, the show must go on, they say. Let’s be curious and learn about true human love so as to mutually thrive and prosper.
We need to refresh our understanding of love and life. Actual love, as opposed to the theoretical, is fragile and thus in great need of care and caution. I know it has been said before, let’s try again without pinning it on just one or two persons.