Monday, 10 May 2010

Love's Spaciousness

The amount of friends who are getting married or shacking up has sent my flatmate and myself into a temporary state of existential crisis. On Saturday night we drank wine to at least temporarily lift the last remaining scraps of clarity in our poor wee heads. What with the hung parliament and the impending apocalypse that will surely ensue if the men don’t get their acts together, our minds needed a little bit of muddling. Talk turned inevitably to love. At first it starts off fairly ordinarily, one recounts an experience, the highs, the lows, the feelings, blah, blah, blah. But very soon because we are English literature graduates the whole thing descends into a pretentious mess, where a four letter word is looked at on a conceptual level. With nods to feminism it’s derided as an invention sitting on a trajectory spanning capitalism, oppression, and the perpetuation of the ‘heterosexual matrix’. By the way, if anyone can explain what that means I’ll give them a prize. Soon we are denouncing notions of romantic love as Western propaganda that ensures that grown women no matter how well educated, no matter how successful, no matter how beautiful, still fantasise that a handsome man with a good bank balance will come along and fix all their problems. As if. The idea that any man could possibly navigate let alone understand the inner workings of the female psyche is as about delusional as still believing in Santa Claus. And yet women still want their princes, so I suppose I arrest my case.

But how do we quantify a feeling that we take as a given and as almost universal? Characteristics of it might even be displayed in the animal kingdom, after all Dolphins have sex for pleasure and certain species mate for life. In some ways if we speak of it in terms of the animal kingdom it all seems very silly. Like sex is an absolutely ridiculous concept if we actually think about it, but it tips over into the sublime if we imagine cows, lions, ants, fish, Dolphins for crying out loud, doing it! Okay there is no need for mood lighting in the animal world, but I wonder if I have a point. So thinking back over our conversation on Saturday night/Sunday morning when we had exhausted our intellectual capacities, when we had sated our need to speak of this thing on a higher plane, I got a little melodramatic. For how does one write about such a thing as love? ‘Far better people have written about this!’ I declared head in hands. My flatmate turned towards me but continued to do the dishes. She’s far more pragmatic than I. ‘Oh that’s just silly.’ Those were her words. ‘But, but I continued, think of the worst physical pain you’ve ever experienced. Are you thinking?’ I’m almost desperate. ‘Yes’ she replies with a sigh. ‘Okay, now imagine trying to put that into words.’ I instruct. After what seems like minutes, days even, time stands still, I’m waiting for the pragmatist’s response, she replies, ‘well I’ve been quite lucky. I don’t think I’ve had much physical pain in my life.’

So there you go. The quest to not only qualify oneself but also learn to put this ‘thing’ into words continues. They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but don’t underestimate the subtle power of the heart-broken women nursing her pen. Or in this case a lap-top.

This weekend’s existential crisis uncovered this little piece of writing by Diane Ackerman. Ironically it was read aloud by the groom’s father at one of our friend’s weddings a few years ago. I especially sympathise with the bit about insanity ...

‘Love. What a small word we use for an idea so immense and powerful it has altered the flow of history, calmed monsters, kindled works of art, cheered the forlorn, turned tough guys to mush, consoled the enslaved, driven strong women mad, glorified the humble, fuelled national scandals, bankrupted robber barons, and made mincemeat of kings. How can love’s spaciousness be conveyed in the narrow confines of one syllable? Love is an ancient delirium, a desire older than civilisation, with taproots stretching deep into dark and mysterious days ... The heart is a living museum. In each of its galleries, no matter how narrow or dimly lit, preserved forever like wonderous diatoms, are our moments of loving and being loved.’

‘Love’s Spaciousness’ from A Natural History of Love, by Diane Ackerman.

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