Bite, Bleed, Die

Bite, Bleed, Die (Love accomplishes all three with aplomb)

            The experience of love defies any modest analytic. ‘We are more in love with love itself’, said Nietzsche, which is likely true in many cases wherein we know little of the other’s life and corresponding experiences but have been thrown together by the modernist fates of work or school, class or status etc., and thence have in unison upshifted this kind of commonplace happenstance into an exemplar of antique destiny. But in so doing, we the newly two-in-one depart from the world in order to create our own. For Plato, being in love was a form of madness, its peregrinatory career charted in the Phaedrus, and for Aristotle, understanding romantic and erotic love to have no wider conscience, ranked it lower than the love of friendship, in which the other is taken solely for herself and not for the object of desire. Filial love, though it too had its strings – the dependency of the younger upon the older, for instance – yet had a wider consciousness of itself than did Eros alone, for it was aware of its key role in social reproduction. Authentic lovers depart not only from the world at large, but more seriously, also from the social world. The one in order to be of their own nature, the other simply to forget that any other person requires their care and attention. This new world, the one in which I am in love and am beloved in turn and at every turn, is brighter in color and sharper in focus than any other heretofore. It is so precisely because of the absence of the call of conscience.

            Kindred with any singular calling, love is the human version of the vision. We seek to indwell in its uncanny embrace, hence Nietzsche’s caution, more than we can perhaps even know the other over time. Yes, she must be present, as I must be for her, but much of ourselves as we have come to know them must also be left behind. Love in fact, contrary to the sentimentality surrounding it from the outside, brooks no departure from itself, and thus the disappointment we feel when too much of our own fuller selves is revealed to the other, forcing us both out of the visionary ambit. Irving Singer, in his astonishingly masterful three volume The Nature of Love, tells us that we should be aware that the love relationship proceeds in phases, and that the distinctions among ‘falling’ ‘being’ and ‘staying’ in love are of great import. For we moderns, he reminds us that the fullest autonomy of both partners is of the essence for lasting love, and indeed that the most authentic love frees the other from her past but also from my very presence, and that furthermore, this in fact must be its highest aim. Singer’s trifecta of historical and literary analyses are unmatched, I feel, in any discourse, simply because they have taken on a topic so dear to the human heart, and thus must together defy any possible sentiment that has overlain it, and that across the millennia. Overtaking Mircea Eliade’s History of Religious Ideas, Paul Ricoeur’s Time and Narrative, and even Georges Bataille’s The Accursed Share, let alone my own triptych study of the phenomenology of cross-temporal presence, Singer’s work remains for now the final word on an experience which is itself like no other in human life.

            At the same time, for contemporary lovers who owe nothing to either the antique notion of filiation, the medieval courtly romances, or yet the romanticist notions of love as a form of art, being in love today presents its own set of challenges, unique and unquiet as is the world in which such acts take place. What does it mean for different generations to be in love? How do people from vastly different cultures fall in love with one another? And how does love sometimes gain its staying power, which yet is the object of desire and admiration of all those seemingly without it? There is no subject so littered with self-help manuals as is that of intimate relationships. Parents and children, youthful romance, marriage and like dynamics, and even less lingering liaisons, all are overfull with lengthy advice columns which are themselves as unending as those of a giant army fed by an indefinite population. Does becoming a parent solidify the bonds of love, or does it alter their trajectory, even distanciating them? Does coming to know the many rather than the one allow love itself to gain a certain maturity? Is the gigolo after all wiser than is the high school sweetheart?

            For myself, I certainly would not have the character insight to write convincing fiction if I had not had the honor, as well as the pleasure and the pain, of knowing and loving many others over time. That said, the overwhelming reaction I have to my marriage, currently in its twentieth year, is one of relief, not even pride. Sowing one’s seeds really is the pursuit of youth alone, I suggest, and one can indeed settle down without simply settling. I am aware of just how fortunate I am, and in this survives a good deal of the admiration and respect I have for my life mate. The question of ‘how much time is enough time?’ is perhaps unanswerable, and the traditional line in the stock marriage vows ‘in sickness and in health’ contains much more than a nod to the vicissitudes of one’s bodily well-being. What is at least clear to me, speaking again solely of my own experience in contrast to Singer, who regularly gives the impression that he has not only loved a few or even many, but rather as with a God on earth, all, is that falling and being in love are more likely to occur together and just as likely to occur without ever moving on to the staying. The ‘second crystallization’ of Stendhal is of an entirely different quality than is the first. The biting and bleeding, so desired by nascent lovers as to almost be a blissful masochism, must overcome their own powerful presence in order to avoid the dying. But because these are some of the essential characters of love itself, and nothing specific to any set of lovers, their presence too must be lived and experienced to the utmost before they can either be discarded or succumbed to.

            With this in mind, I am going to take a seat on Bryan Padrick’s ‘Bus’ this once, and include here a musical link; Def Leppard’s ‘Love Bites’, (1987) my favorite power ballad of the 1980s: Def Leppard – Love Bites – YouTube It is a commentary on the delicate character of an Eros that has no intention of staying around. Its cut scenes portray womanhood as both glamorous and desirable, but also disdainful and utterly aloof to entreaty. Having been in love, and been loved by, a commercially beautiful woman in my salad days, I know this version of Eros well enough, and given that the song was a Billboard number 1 hit in 1988, I would hardly be the only one. I yet dimly recall its halcyon heights, but in the end, she bit, I bled, and love died. Here’s to it, then, and here’s also, in contrast, to its staying.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 57 books in ethics, education, aesthetics, health, religion, and social theory, as well as fiction. He was professor the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.