Love of love

What’s love got to do with it?

Yesterday morning, one conversation partner spoke of wanting to “love life without limit.” We spoke about how to draw out the meditative aspects from the ordinary run of life. In the afternoon, Cheyenna Weber, Interim Director at the New Economy Network and Founder of SolidarityNYC, told me that, in her activism, she hopes to “meet oppression with love.” (Years ago, I attended a talk by the political theorist Michael Hardt on “love as a political concept.”) Apparently, love is not just a romantic concept confined to the family; nor merely a theological concept wedding the transcendent component with the immanent; it is also a metaphysical concept as well as a political concept.

The metaphysical: The Presocratic philosopher Empedocles claimed that two forces moved all of nature: love brings things together while strife tears them asunder. The early Hegel writes that “True love, or love proper, exists only between living beings who are alike in power and thus in one another’s eyes living beings from every point of view; in no respect is either dead for the other. This genuine love excludes all oppositions.”

The political: The young are raised well only if they are able to love the political community which has made the flourishing of each and all a pregnant possibility. In this kind of political community, the primary force would not be resistance of some enemy at the gate but the affirmation of one’s fellows and the welcoming of open-armed guests.

What we are noticing in this survey is the reappearance of certain dyads in the context of love: limits/unlimited; oppression/affirmation; strife/life; oppositions/unions. What may be less apparent from the examples I listed is the requirement that one undergo a transformation. There must be an education of the spirit, an itinerary through which one would have to pass, the formative experiences of conflict and severance (the Age of Experience) one would have to have had in order for love to resonate on all levels of one’s existence. The tragic will have to leave some scars and memories before our calm–a love of life as much as a love of love–can redeem us.

Lines composed the morning after the Noreaster (Plotinus, Ennead 1.6)

Lovers love the beautiful. Plotinus inquires what about the beautiful makes it so. Early on in Ennead 1, he says (pace the Stoics) that it is not the mere proportions of the thing that make whatever the thing is beautiful, hence not the proper relations of part to whole. For cannot a line be beautiful and cannot a single ray of light? What lovers love, then, is not physical beauty but, at another order of being (or–on an epistemic reading–a different way of perceiving), moral beauty. Plotinus addresses his words to lovers:

[Y]ou feel like this when you see, in yourself or in someone else, greatness of soul, a righteous life, a pure morality, courage with its noble look, and dignity and modesty advancing in a fearless, calm and unperturbed disposition, and the godlike light of intellect shining upon all this. (Ennead 1.6)

Here we have beauty of soul, here the harmony of the salient virtues. Lovers seek home, the most real, and discover kinship in that in the other being that also partakes of home. Understood metaphorically, lovers’ rejection of ugliness and concomitant ascent toward the Intellect is meant to occasion a change in their perspective on earthly life, a change in their mode of existing. In the most real, the really existing, the good, lovers perceive, is the beautiful and the beautiful soul–a redundancy as much as an achievement worthy of praise–is already longing for oneness, the space of tranquility.

Good marriages can’t be thrown away

Imagine that a marriage is falling apart and that the disaffected demands of the other, “How can you throw away what we’ve worked so long and hard for–how after all these years together, and for what?”

Suppose that these questions are not simply expressions of sorrow and imminent grief. Suppose that the questions are asked in good faith. Then we can examine the argument which tells us much about our misconceptions of marriage: of what it is and what it should be.

The mistakes abound. It is assumed that the end of the marriage is external rather than internal to itself. It is further assumed that ‘maintaining’ a marriage requires near constant, effortful, strenous activity, as opposed to being at home with graceful effortlessness. Lastly, it is implied that a good marriage must run on indefinitely. If it does fall apart, then something good and still good is miscategorized as waste and hence is disposed of, dispensed with, or lost.

Let’s consider what we know.

1. Good marriages do not involve a lot of work because good marriages are not of the order of work. Better comparisons can be made between good couples and good climbing partners or between good couples and good dance partners.

2. Good marriages are sung in a Daoist key. Each sings the same tune and that tune flows like water.

3. Good marriages do not aim at some external end. They aim at an immanent end, i.e.., an aim internal to the practice.

4. Good marriages do not ‘measure’ their ‘success’ according to the realization of  some external end. They are not ‘successful’ in these terms. Indeed, good marriages are not ‘successes.’

5. Since good marriages are not ‘successes’ or ‘accomplishments,’ they cannot be dispensed with or thrown away. And marriages that do not last are not ‘wastes.’ When examined closely, even failing marriages reveal a great deal about ourselves.

6. Good marriages inhabit the long present (philosophical eternity), not the n+1 (unphilosophical eternity).

It is wise not to reply to the accusation above but to see it as a sign that the marriage is over and has doubtless been over for a while.

A pastoral dirge

Dearest A,

My god what a beautiful day. On leaves with filtered light, goddess spiders, succulent wine and caressed notes. Words just don’t suffice.

Merci mon beau ami for being in my life.




Unspeakably beautiful our day together. Thank you, dearest C. And how lovely your new picture.

More tomorrow once my internet returns to life.




Dear C,

Well, I’m sitting here in that wickery corner chair you know. The bamboo one crisscrossed with blond bone and red berries. On my left are your photos; on my right the outdoors, I suppose. I’ve perched my computer on my thighs flattened by my tippy toes. In this spot, I can get good–OK, fairly good–internet reception. Good, good, blah blah vibrations.

I’m reminded of young boys holding up those tinfoil bunny ears. The TV antenna might work all right until you took your hand off and tiptoed back to your carpety seat. With the crash came the fuzz. So there you were again, gentler or less patient or both.

It’s just after 2 p.m. and I’m still waiting for my new modem to arrive. Hence my tippy toe window seat. (My ass is starting to hurt something fierce.) Earlier, I sat in the dark of the dining room and spoke with P by phone. I’m sure I sounded the fool. Before that, I’d moved the last plant out into the courtyard. That bugger was SO heavy and large, those fat billowy leaves reminiscent of Arabian Nights. I thought I’d break something: the wall, an antique painting, my back.

Today is nothing like yesterday, is it? Then the pastoral, today the Gothic. Then the bucolic, now the sultry. Now I feel itchy. I ate the rest of the chocolate. I want to go for a run in the rain. Or maybe I want to cry a little.

Last night I slept fitfully. Half-awake, I’m brushing my hair. Who does that? I do I guess, and I’ve no idea why. I’m half-awake and detangling, my head a quarter off the pillow. What’s that all about? Is this my sign that says I’m concerned about others?

Good Lord do the leafy trees sway! I’m sure I had something important to tell you but, while scribbling away, I must have forgotten it. Oh yes, this simple truth: I’m thinking of you…



Dear Andrew,

Fell asleep last night around 9:30, my head reeling from the day, the wine still coursing in my blood and the sun’s heat radiating from my skin. I slept strangely, awaking with a start at 12:50 a.m. thinking of P. I opened my laptop and she was there. Now I know the full story and hope to be of some comfort.

When I woke up this morning I was almost thankful for the rain. Washing, cooling the intensity of yesterday. I’m still marveling how time was suspended, 15 minutes felt like a lifetime. My head on your lap, your hand on my shoulder: I don’t remember the last time I felt life coursing so loudly. Yes I think I could cry a little too.

Imagining you on your wicker chair, the one I remember dragging out on your roof, with glass in hand, hoping not to tip over your plants in the doorway. This Baudelaire quote came to mind when reading your post from this morning: “One should always be drunk. That’s all that matters…But with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you choose. But get drunk.” There are not many people I feel Iike I could get drunk with. But with you yes.



Dearest C,

How did you guess? Yes, I am still sitting in my wicker chair and feeling just as out of sorts now as I was when I first wrote you. The contrast between yesterday and today is still jarring: the beauty of mere being, of being in friendly, fecund fields (where was the shepherd? where the traveling goats? where the midsummer night?), of loving lightly skin and sun, of– juxtaposed with the infinite sorrow of world-sundering change.

(O brave woman…)

I think often (and just as often misquote) Frost’s poem about the country boy who lost his hand and died. My version of the final line reads, “And they, since they were not the ones dead, returned to their affairs.”

And how do we return to our affairs, how after the fields and the forests, the hay and the lake? And how do we return when another–our mutual beloved–is reminding herself to breathe? What do we owe her–what words, what thoughts, what caresses?

I guess, far off in New York, I do my part by running around in search of modems. Do not fret: I have my case number, my little billete, my confirmations. (Did I mention that the old modem worked just fine? Oh, but upgrades! We must have upgrades!) Or by not taking showers for 2 (or is it 3?) days straight and feeling as gross, as encrusted, as greasy as can be. Or by eating cocoa and frozen blueberries and agave nectar together for most every meal. (I think I am getting sick and jittery from the chocolate. My tendons are all quivery and my eyelids refuse to close. Is this a problem?)

Goddamn it: it’s just so still out there right now. I ask only that you leafy trees breathe.

O let’s go back to the fields. Let’s write in praise of lassitude. Let’s sing a song to drunken love. Or will it be enough if we listen to the 6 o’clock church bells and cry a little or a lot–as much in joy as in sorrow?

With love,