On Love And More Than Love

It is amazing how many children are begotten from the sentimental exultation that one or the other of their parents feel for a third person, another than the partner in the respective action, irrespective if the person in question be a man or a woman. Sometimes this "third party" may not be found as an acquaintance, or even as a presupposed presence, in any other place than in the inner thoughts – and, actually, those of one only of the beneficiaries in this great moment; more often than not, years later, the third person cannot even be suspected of having represented, for the begotten, one a "co-author" among others. How are we to call the children born from such a situation? If there are romance children born, as they say, from the chalice of a flower, children born from a mere accident – an accident indeed of a poetic nature, then these children begotten as shown before should be simply called love children. For they are begotten by love for an unknown person, yet begotten by love, by being consummately in love, in the most authentic love, which I would not hesitate to call the purest love. Rather than the children of one or another person, they are begotten as the sublime fruit of love itself. God, or nature, the creators of love – have made it such a general madness, so perfect and all powerful, that its intricacies happen more than once to be the best solutions for happiness. There is love-above-all-love, and there probably is also something worth calling: more than love, something that leaves to ordinary love all the prerogatives and benefits, and even, as could be seen above, it also often leaves its own fruit behind. Therefore, if we were to talk in a purely pedestrian manner, I am convinced that Tristram could have been a more than suitable husband to Iseult-of-the-lily-white-hands if he had, in fact, been in love with Iseult-of-the-golden-hair; but he did not love the latter, just as she did not love him; rather, they were both observing the mystical ritual of love, of being in love as a fact, as it had been established by design for that particular time in cultural history, or social history called the European Middle Ages. Or, turning to less tragic situations, I am absolutely convinced that Queen Guinevere started bestowing the real pleasure on her husband, King Arthur (at the rare times when he did effectively stay at home) only after Guinevere fell mortally in love with Sir Lancelot of the Lake. The happy moments in love are much more frequent than it is usually believed (or than the participant heroes are aware themselves) – since the moments of happiness can acquire the most varied, unexpected and absurd forms – all of these remaining, nevertheless apparently hidden or, anyhow, unconventional while overcoming the norms established for love in full daylight. The condition of being married to someone else does not prevent the people who are in love with yet another person from loving their own spouses sometimes. In spite of the contention of God knows what cynical moralist, marriage is not a long ascesis, but rather an incredibly favorable ground for the marvelous deepening of this sentiment. I have never been married, but I did impose on myself the marital condition (in a mystical sense, of course), so I can understand the absolute sincerity of this sentiment. Although the idea of "cheating" on someone in love does not enter my vocabulary, I consider that this love surpassing love stands somewhere beyond all cheating, but represents one of the spirit's most natural fits of madness. It seems to me that its real core transcends the passionate love invented by the Middle Ages, just as it exists somewhere beyond the triangular relationships explored by the more recent literature, including the Broadway soap operas, which forms the object of so much towering disdain currently; soaps, however, seem to me to translate quite faithfully an interesting, complex kind of situation – which is a very good reason why people should not turn up their noses at soaps. There is no cuckold who does not – consciously or unconsciously – profit from the occurrence of this event; and if we invoke just the commonest observations, it is a fact that many husbands rejoice in their partner's flirting with some other man, or accept their courtship. The alteration of the sentimental tonus of their inert beloved ones is, in some cases like this, so blatant, that it is responsible for a strange situation in which the otherwise apparently ignored man, who may also be deeply offended by the love which is being consumed adjacently to him, feels invited and obliged to be the first to profit from this situation. The forceful advantage that such despicable characters take of their spouses on suddenly finding that the latter are visited by others ought to be somehow punished, were it not for the fact that the vindication of rights is in such cases entrusted to those who have caused the situation, who actually grant their pardon to the culprits, with that generosity characteristic to the noble in spirit. (This so called sentimental ambiguity or maybe equivocal situation is chronicled as such in the medieval legend: as ill luck would have it, Tristram comes to be married to Iseult of the lily-white hands, partly because of the latter's being the name-sake of the true Iseult, Iseult of the golden hair; as is known from the legend, the first Iseult's brother imagined that he had identified in the groans of the lover his sister's name and a desperate invocation to her)1. The consequences of these more than natural "approaches" are sometimes interpretable as comical, too – if there is ever anything to be laughed at in connection with love. I once had an acquaintance who would always go to the best, most trustworthy friend of his wife to complain of the latter's numerous, unbearable unfaithful acts; at one point he fell into her arms crying. The benevolent friend who received every one of his confidential communications pushed things so far that she nearly brought forth an heir of his – and it was ultimately just his obdurate refusal to accept the exquisite gratification of paternity that prevented at the last moment the inevitable outcome. But it was at this point only that the queer part of this otherwise banal happening intervened: the man started monstrously detesting his wife, the one most innocent of all those who had forcefully entered the game started by herself. Lastly, the intimacy of "the three" extras participating in the adulterine complex is translated as the not infrequent observation in this kind of love of a supreme perversity: a woman who is trying to be unfaithful to her husband is seeking a lover not as different from him as possible, but rather resembling her husband in the extreme. But this is actually no perversity: it is the exaggerated expression of an affective disposition that few people conceive as existing in others, and especially in ordinary people. This more than love does not spring from a compensatory drive, or from a usual need for complementariness, as is unanimously believed by all the partisans of the naturalist theory on the genesis of love, culminating in Freud's trivial philosophy – which functioned as the most illustrious and the most widely circulated expression of the physiological idea of love as deriving from instincts. No, here is a matter related to loving more than love can, measured against the background of a real, sincere fund of loving; I find this can be best explained metaphysically by the only handy theory of the Middle Ages (which is in fact traceable further back, as a theory of the Antiquity), the theory of graded being, with its notion of a higher reality situated above the reality and its belief that the spirit is begotten by the spirit. I know well enough that by affirming all this (and several other imaginable things besides) I am aligning myself with a position that contradicts a tradition several thousand years older; this makes love be necessarily associated in some people's minds rather with ascesis, with the obstacle, possibly an obstacle that proves hard to transcend – or at least it indicates a position that associates love essentially with deprivation or opposition. This makes of love a matter of egoism, of self-delusion, and ultimately of vanity, conceiving love as actuated by an extremely rudimentary mechanism. The love I have in mind starts, rather, from a level of plenitude (or normality) in which it can exist beyond the level of the possible/impossible, of reality/illusion, or of human indigence and promiscuousness versus transfiguration. My sentimentally unhappy moments have put me in a position of being "the third", more than once in life, and in more than one way, in a sentimental complex in which the situation was intricate. I was feeling deeply unhappy at the time, humiliated by the compromise I was being forced to make, permanently oppressed by an obsessive sense of being unfulfilled. I could not tell at the time that in view of the relativistic predicament of everything human I actually held a privileged position, or had the lion's part under the circumstances. And that was not something negligible, if I come to think of it, for to love means firstly to deploy a spiritual vocation that has absolutely nothing to do, and is not made any stronger, with sexual renunciation, with chastity, or in general, with any external or self-imposed obstacle. It is an expression of generosity and liberty, opposed to every form of naturalism or transfer of forces – which would assimilate them to some erotic pattern or other, and would see them as amounting to "crises" satisfied by nervous or physiological discharges, so as to be resolved thanks to the same simplistic mechanism that had made them possible. All these are questions that have obsessed me, constantly returning, and I must say that it's been through their solution or understanding that my entire past life or my happiness – if not my own present life, indeed – have acquired validity. And on these matters I can only concur with some of my intimate friends, people who are of the same age and in whose lives sentimental issues have had the same catastrophic role to play – which is why we find ourselves engrossed in talking about all this bitterly for many a vain hour now and then. In spite of La Rochefoucauld's maxim, I cannot say I have ever been ashamed of having loved, even after love was over. Sometimes I feel bound to make such confessions not just in the name of my own life, but rather for the sake of a potentially uncommon experience by comparison with what is happening around me now, an experience which is also typical for one epoch, one generation and one world to which I belonged, and which found its only chance of salvation and self-fulfillment in eroticism (sometimes an eroticism of the best kind). I am stating this in perfect composure and lucidity, devoid of retrospective emotion, while trying to introduce to you things which – as Rivard said – require that each man act with composure, just as is required when you have to solve a problem of geometry. I think this refuge in love manifested in our generation was the direct expression of our claim to authenticity, a means that people had found to gain access to themselves and to each other in spite of everything. Hence the topicality or intense fashionableness in the 1950s in these milieus of a book that had been brought in the limelight, Love in the Western World by Denis de Rougemont; this book was commented and devoured like some miraculous revelation. Actually, it read like an apocryphal (but not profane) Bible for that moment in Romania's society, since it offered to so many people engrossed in love's sentimental exaltation a kind of philosophical grounding – and a perfectly justified grounding, in point of fact. Situated between the casualness – which I could term "the commercial casualness" – manifested vis-à-vis gendered love by the generation of our parents, on the one hand, and the insensitivity – which I for one find excruciating – of those who followed us, on the other hand, this sublime intermezzo is worth recording somewhere in the annals of the Romanian society, of the Bucharest society par excellence2. Salvation through love became one of the beautiful outcomes of a cataclysm that touched a great many people. This erotic mysticism was made possible by the fact that the respective world had not yet become entirely disenchanted and it could, therefore, follow an ontological and religious impulse in this deviant, very profane way. At any rate, against a background of maimed religiousness and deviant spiritual life, some great love stories got off the ground, surviving that particular decade in very few cases, and marking, nevertheless, one of the most significant historical moments. I represent a vestige of that situation, rendered as vulnerable as possible by the adversities of the respective situation and it is in its name that I am trying to commit this confession to paper, without recourse to the presumptuous idea that I may be uttering universally valid truths. I have now reached an age when I guess I am no longer in for any big surprises, having experienced all the known forms of sufferance, which enables me to talk of things while being in the know. I risk affirming that of all the possible pangs of love there is one which can be qualified as really atrocious, unbearable, excruciating in the extreme: the pain inflicted by loving a human being about whom you cannot think. I have in mind the case of the total blackout of reality which you have to impose on yourself, like an autism directly opposed to the idea of one's expanding soul, and growth in being, that love always presupposes. In such cases the existence of a man endowed with the most lucid soul enters a state of opaque darkness in which he is suddenly entrapped, and to which he is forced to return in his conscience even in moments of inner insurrection. And this torture very severely paralyzes, or rather damages in a deadly way, your cognitive functions – which is the real source of the unbearable torture you submit yourself to, or are submitted to. It is tantamount to a foretaste of death reiterated every instant, whenever you awake from agony. And I am certain that one can die from such a condition; I have once, for a long time, experienced this kind of torture myself, a torture that reminds me of the way Philip II killed Princess Eboli: by locking her in a not too close room, but where she expired because of exhaustion after fourteen days, a period when she'd had to swallow her own breath, breathing out only what she'd swallowed! For there is no love that can remain truly beautiful without being fuelled uninterruptedly by the active intelligence and especially by the imaginative function – which actually represent the most strictly determined part of logic's mechanism. Never is the analysis of the sentiments, and of the human being you are in love with, something desecrating in the least – on the contrary, it is something obligatory and as lucid as can be. Love does not originate in cognitive erring and does not need the collusion of cognitive error to thrive (as Stendhal implies, with his celebrated, fine theory of crystallization, so mechanically beautiful). I, for one, can hardly make sense of blinded love. I want to recall here an observation that I have made many a time in my life, that Love, just like his in-born sister, Death, have to be looked straight in the face. So as to be able to see his only reality: that which is becoming a fact in action, while making love. The rest is all that makes the substance of great happiness, the great happiness of love's labors, everything, that is, which can be correlated to a certain extent with the function of the imaginary (for in love, just as in one's relation to the Lord, to think of the beloved is to perform an action already); in the imaginary is stored everything which can fuel melancholy, or brings tears in one's eyes, even crimes or madness – especially madness. It is in such states that you can experience a sublime sentiment of happiness (which does not depend on the past or on the future, or on the tritest reality or on the craziest dream – as it goes so far as to mingle them): the sentiment you have when you possess the beloved being in nostalgia. But above all, love becomes logical, as a consequence, the pretext for ratiocination. You are even enabled then to love ingeniously, in a witty way, and also paradoxically (though by no means contradictorily to what I have said before) – you are enabled to love while forgetting. For – doubtlessly – the imaginary is always more logical than the real, and an illusion is better contrived than any real truth, however firm the latter may be. Any law permitting the real to become organized (with all the compromises and equivocal situations underlying it, acknowledged and accepted all of them) is much better than this law's blocking in the kind of existence doomed to impose its nothingness in any of its lucid moments, at any instant when it is shaken into awareness. The vulgarity and triviality of the situations in which love can exist does not deter me from believing in love, without belittling, of course, anything that accompanies it but cannot pervert it in fact, making it possible but not determining it. The only way for happy love is to preserve and safeguard the conscience of its existence and its grace, not by using it only for presumed satisfactions or for so-called elevated ideals. I have therefore never accepted Plato's speculations in Phaedo and his conception about love as an agent for elevation or for transcending being. It is precisely in moments when you become aware of the most promiscuous weakness that you acutely feel the reality of the spirit revealing itself to you as an élan towards being and existence; it is when you feel dejected in the extreme that you come to live completely, consummately. from Trifling Events Preserved in Thought and in Spaces, Bucharest, Cartea romanească, 1982
1 An obscure suggestion, rather remote in appearance, but otherwise extremely suggestive, being connected to the same order of things is contained in In Search of Lost Time where the narrator falls in love with the dull, inexpressive Albertine because of the similitude of names with his old, forgotten love – who was really endowed with a very conspicuous personality.2 I am addressing myself here to that intelligent reader ready to trust me even just the tiniest little bit while I am revealing a situation that s/he cannot possibly know. The issues raised by that epoch have a complexity that can hardly be grasped at the first sight, and they cannot be investigated, anyway, by those people fascinated by the so-called obsessive decade which reigns supreme in the press and in literature; for such people go so far in their naivety as to extract palpable proofs from writings like The Black Chest of Drawers or novels of its kind.

by Alexandru George (b. 1930)