♦ LAST UPDATED ON January 18, 2021 ♦
Love…no such thing?
When 19th-century French poet Rimbaud famously said that love needs reinventing, he may have spoken a truism, but within a disagreeable context — in my opinion.
Perhaps it is true that it isn’t just love that binds so many families and married couples. But it does not follow that love is not.
Whatever it is that binds families and married couples together, that’s not love. That’s stupidity or selfishness or fear. Love doesn’t exist.
Self-interest exists, attachment based on personal gain exists, complacency exists. But not love. Love has to be reinvented, that’s certain.”Arthur Rimbaud
Apparently, Rimbaud was not a plain and simple heterosexual — it is said that he did not like women. Too unfortunate if true in my world, but not uncommon in human history. One has only to recall the homoerotic ways of the ancient Greeks.
I understand that humans do not engage as an exclusively heterosexual species. ‘We are a weird, wonderful and sometimes downright kinky species,’ says Neil McArthur, a philosopher at the University of Manitoba in Canada.
It is understandable that non-heterosexual couples have as much a desire to present the face of their union to the world as heterosexual couples. I do share the view of love as a construct which easily allows for many ways in which recognition of co-belonging may emerge between two or even more intimately-inclined people. As libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick points out in his essay Love’s Bond, for ‘homosexual couples not to be able to present the face of their union to the world is a serious impediment for them.’
Still, German sexologist and gay rights advocate Hirschfeld argued already in 1899: “that in all mental and physical characteristics there are only gradual, quantitative differences between men and women, that between them, in every respect, there are all sorts of mixed forms in extraordinary diversity.” Hirschfeld’s theories about varieties of human sexuality ranging from heterosexual to bisexual to homosexual appear to be valid to me.
But then again, quantity or quality, there are only two biological sexes known in the human species — and unlike gender and gender identities, etc., biological sex is immutable and void of blends. And that fact informs the emphasis of the author’s musings on simply the love between a man and a woman.
As said before, people seek love for its delights, among a few other motivations. Surely, delights are found in the other-directedness implied in real love and perhaps more so than in the self-directedness of narcissism. However, the assumed nobility of the other-directedness of love may obfuscate the fact that otherness is possibly still based more on sameness, as in the case of homosexuality, and less on difference, as in the case of heterosexuality. The quintessential relation between man and woman embraces and endorses the primacy of difference.
Sure, two men or two women can ‘fall in love,’ can ‘be in love.’ Why could they not find an attraction for each other, as well as affection and esteem? Why could they not come to surrender due to enchantment, and delight in each other without further wants for the opposite sex? The intensity of their actual experience may be just as overpowering as the experience of heterosexual love, thus making any largely conceptual distinctions rather insignificant while in heat.
Having recently read a bit more of Freud’s ideas put down in the essay “On the Universal Tendency to Debasement in the Sphere of Love,” the author now thinks that the initial attraction between homosexual lovers may be driven more by the sensuality inherent in erotic love and less by the affection inherent in romantic love. However, the order of whether it is erotic sensuality or romantic affection that drives their attraction seems to be irrelevant to all those in lover after all.
So, what can the author say other than recognizing that people do find fulfillment and belonging in ways unorthodox to me. The author must concede that while there are only two biological sexes, a human is just not simply either 100% male or 100% female. C.G. Jung alone spoke of animus and anima, describing animus as the unconscious masculine side of a woman, and anima as the unconscious feminine side of a man, each transcending the personal psyche.
Nature or biology isn’t all there is to life. There is also nurture, or culture, to which humans cannot help but submit — for better or worse. If it were not so, if there were no symbiosis between nature and nurture, there perhaps would be no phenomenon of love at all – neither for heterosexuals or bisexuals or homosexuals.
In any case, the author does not believe that love needs reinventing to accommodate the need for social recognition of homosexual couples (as one can read Rimbaud’s exclamation). Why would the obfuscation of personal preferences for unit forming lead to a desired social equality, not to speak of legal equality?
Rimbaud’s demand for the re-invention of love, and the repetitive recall of that demand by philosophers like Badiou, just helps to muddle even more the already muddy waters of love’s definition. The author does not think that people will or can ever ignore the basic binary state of biological sex.
Preferences are preferences, most of them are pre-conscious or instinctual and all. Bigotry, however, is another issue, but it does not have to follow that preferences must beget bigotry — although it sometimes does.
Yes, love needs reinventing or reconstructing as too many illuminate about love in all sorts of incomprehensible and mind-boggling manners. It seems that people use the word love without much meaning, that is frivolously when referring to how much they like their favorite ice cream, lipstick, muscle car, and TV idol.
Love in our Image
Humans already have created a god in their image (it wasn’t done overnight), and that god isn’t gay as far as I am told. So, why not recreate and/or reclaim a love in our image, a love as in between a man and a woman? Yes, my bias…
Let’s grant Rimbaud and friends the chance of inventing a new word for their particular conception and practice of love. Or is love really that blind, so blind that it is applicable — indiscriminate — to all sort of arrangements of intimate living and then some? Canadian philosopher Ronald de Souza, in Love: A Very Short Introduction (not so short), tries to explain just that.
The author just simply wishes to preserve the meaning of the word love to signify relationship between a man and a woman in an intimate relationship.
Can Austrian philosopher of language Ludwig Wittgenstein help us? Wittgenstein’s thought transitioned from that the meaning of a word is some object that it names to that the meaning of a word is its use in the language. The author does not know how helpful that is.
But his most famous line is “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”
Is that why the circumstances around the definition and/or use of the word love are so ambiguous? The word love has been claimed so many times by so many people throughout human history. That disorienting historical event is literally irreversible. It is as if people believe that it is better to leave some touchy things to the imagination.
Love, as an abstract noun, needs perhaps reinventing, but also reclaiming so as to denote the significant reciprocal affection and esteem between a man and a woman in an intimate relationship. If Wittgenstein is right about the meaning of a word, in that the meaning of a word is its use in the language, then the author must insist to use the word love as he sees it fit, and convince others to follow his lead (or follow someone who has already done so).
The author is probably not the first or the only one who means love to signify the relationship between a man and a woman in an intimate relationship.
Reinventing, yes, as a culture will not stand still, and humans will undoubtedly discover additional psychic seeds waiting to express themselves as novel needs and wants over time.
Love over Time
Researchers concur that romantic love as it occurs in our civilization, inextricably bound up with ideas of monogamy, exclusiveness, jealousy and undeviating fidelity, does not occur much in cultures prior to Western modernism. Love in long-term romantic relationships has only been the product of the increasing prevalence of individualistic ideologies that came to fruition within the past 300 years or so.
The author wonders what is love going to be in some 500 years, when humans possibly have intimate relationships with bio-robots? Will romantic love play an important cultural role in the future, as it might be considered an important part of living a fulfilling life?
Using adjectives may have helped in the past to clarify the meaning of a word. There are commonly used expressions such as divine love, brotherly love, unconditional love, etc.
But perhaps different kinds of love need to be labeled by entirely different words so as not to relay on adjectives — which may stretch human language skills too much. The ancient Greeks already had started to do so, using four words for what we perhaps carelessly call love nowadays.
There’s eros for intimate love. Divine or ethical love is called agape. Brotherly love and affection for friends is called philia. And storge points to the love within a family.
Or are we better off with adjectives?
Interestingly enough, some other languages have many more words to account for the subtle details of or differences in like situations than the English language provides.
To that point, Wittgenstein said that “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”
Do we have all the words we need for all things love to avoid ambiguity, or do we need a few more words of special connotation in the English language? Or is it just a matter of learning the proper use of words, of nouns, verbs, and adjectives, etc., so as to say what we mean, and mean what we say?
With the future of love in mind, Luce Irigaway’s The Way of Love seems to be an interesting, if not wordy read.