Chapter 3: The slavery of Romeo and Juliet. What comes first, the line or the dots?

Even done unwillingly, even done as a ‘failure’ in the system, we will burst out of the custom we ourselves have made to fit in.

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In the previous parts, I briefly presented the argument that romantic love is a necessity for our society and how this is coupled with the notion of love as a knowledge system, as sharing information. In plain words, you need Cubic to spare you from choosing between a million people and you invite him in, by sharing things you don’t share with anyone else.

Despite the fact that what brought the partners together may be a social or biological mechanism, they are at least free to exchange personal information about themselves so as to create a unique system with the other person. Not really, says Mr. Gell:

“If the structural essential, but individually arbitrary, relations between modern couples repose on mutual confidences and shared indiscretions, what are the raw materials for these histories? Are they as individual and personal as they seem to participants? Here we have to introduce a fresh scheme […]. This is the fictionalization of love, the fact that the confidences that couples exchange are provided for them structurally, because it is structurally necessary that this confidences be exchanged. Modern love would be unthinkable without fiction, romantic fiction in particular. [..] Each modern couple has to device for itself a history that will justify its existence as a couple on the basis of zero personal experience.” (emphasis added)

And he goes on to say:

“It is not a condemnation of modern society to remark, as often has been done, that popular fiction proceeds and guides the actions of real-life lovers, rather than representing real life after the fact. […] Fiction is, where modern societies are concerned, what genealogy is in those societies which have marriage rules, i.e. the means of producing relationships on which social life depends. […] Thus, despite the apparent arbitrariness of modern love, and the theoretical substitutability of lovers, in the end modern love is no more generated at the level of individual and the personal than marriage is in Umeda.” (emphasis added)

Ouch. And to think that our society praises the freedom of the individual. It is harsh, isn’t it? To say that all we do when we think we are pouring ourselves out to a person so special to us, that has shaken our soul, is nothing but playing a role, reading a script that someone else has given us. Be aware, we are prone to defend any attack to romantic love’s sacred nature, because as Roberto Unger has remarked, the ideal of romantic love ‘is the most influential moral vision of our culture’. Personally I recognize that I have a tendency to defend it too, a personal interest if you like. However, I will pose that this view of love is limited because of real life, and not because some idealistic dogma dictates so.

It is true that our ideals and fantasies about love are largely shaped by fiction: novels, movies, poetry, you name it. When two people first meet, it is their fantasies that meet. These ideal prototypes haunt us and determine by a great extent how we play our part in romantic interactions. But what this analysis fails to show is that during our exchange of fluids, information, experiences, we can’t adhere to a prototype role perfectly, even if we wanted to. Finally our own truth, our own self emerges. For some this takes days, for others takes years. Even done unwillingly, even done as a ‘failure’ in the system, we will burst out of the custom we ourselves have made to fit in. If we are to see love as a knowledge system, then this moment of ‘bursting’ is of the essence. Even when people are not aware of this as a system failure, they see that they need to change, or adapt to something that doesn’t fit. In this way our own experience in romantic love may lead us to change: our perceptions, our hopes, our image for the other, our self-image. So that the next time we fall in love, we are not quite the same anymore – or are we?

Easier said than done.

Needless to say, we are far from capturing love in all its aspects here. There are many other notions for love: love as power, love as a means to perfect ourselves, love as surrender and sacrifice, love as a disease, an agonizing painful emotion and so forth. However, there is some light shed I think in considering love as knowledge, as secret sharing of information. There’s a final point I want to make in this view. In the end of the first part, I mentioned the hypothesis that as two people:

spend more time together and they get to know each other, they grow – if they’re lucky enough – another kind of love, more grounded on the ‘real’ qualities of their partner, more informed, more knowledge-based. Now their actions- maintaining the relationship or not – is based on rationally evaluating the other person according to the information they receive.

Capture

Imagine now that there are two kinds of love-growing processes. The first would be the Cubid one, where people flirt, exchange secret information about themselves, create the history to base their choice upon etc., as discussed. The other end is the love-after-marriage. Many couples, from couples in India to my parents, never got the time to fall in love before marring. Nevertheless, they grew love for each other, as they share their lives, kids, experiences, and the unique fact that each one is the partner of the other in this. Lots of couples have a mix of this two love growing processes, starting with the first and moving on to other.

Returning to the aforementioned hypothesis, is moving from one into the other and maintaining a relationship really a decision based on rationally evaluating the information received about the other person? In both cases, pre- and after-marriage love, we find a process of sharing and exchanging, though it’s about very different things, done in different ways. Maybe what matters for generating and sustaining love is not really the experiences themselves, the information and bits of knowledge people share, but the very flow of it. The bond lies not at the ends, on what the lines connect; rather it’s the line itself.

But is it that the line connects the dots, or the dots that draw the line? Do we share therefore we love or the other way around? Perhaps both..go figure.

Chapter 2: Romeo & Juliet University – Love as knowledge

E. Hopper, Summer Evening
E. Hopper, Summer Evening

 

Mr. Alfred Gell’s analysis (see part 1 first) is based on the notion that love is interlinked with, or grounded on, a secret, private sharing of information between the two partners. He starts way back, from chimpanzees:

“The exchange of these [precopulatory] messages (which consist of physical gestures, furtive genital displays etc.) must be covertly done, or more dominant animals will intervene. Here we do not just have communication between partners, but exclusive, ‘confidential’ communication. Then the copulation itself is conducted out of sight, a second type of socially strategic information control, and of course the phylogenetic origin of human unwillingness to indulge in public copulation except in special circumstances”

In any society, says Gell, ‘there is the stock of information everybody has, that most have, that only a few have, and that only one or two have’. It may be argued that there is an increasing value in information known by lesser people, and that a tie is formed between those people sharing it. In the case of Umedas who, as discussed, experience romantic love in adultery relations:

“Love consisted of the generation, at the margins of society (in the bush, away from other people) of lethal knowledge, and the creation of pacts between those who generated and exchanged this knowledge, to preserve secrecy and discretion.”

This may also be the case for adultery, or otherwise prohibited relationships in our society. The lovers are bonded, if anything else, by the very secret of their relationship. But what about standard, ‘lawful’ romantic love?

“In Umeda as Strathern (1990) has suggested in relation to Melanesian societies more generally, who you marry is part of your personal make up, just as much as your red hair or snub nose, or the fact that you have a brother called Amasu. [..] In the absence of this structural predestination, modern couples have to convert abstract, generic relations between categories of persons into specific, grounded, historically embedded relations which will bear the structural loadings that will be imposed on them. Courting and falling in love provide the means for endowing relationships with histories which make subsequent commitment to their consequences more or less secure. They obviate the spectrum of opportunity costs that choice of partners implies. A married B, while C and D were also possible partners. A must have access to a kind of knowledge that, in retrospect, shows that C and D were not really possible at all, were only generically possible, but not specifically possible. Through the reciprocal exchange of a graded series of indiscretions, the courting couple converts a relation for whose existence no particular reason exist, into one which must be preserved because knowledge has come into existence which necessitates the lover’s pact, not to be incontinent, sexually or verbally.”

If you ask me, so far so good. On  comparison, we Westerners have it much better than the Umedas. We get to create our own personal stories, our own histories to base our romantic relationships on. Despite randomness, despite the fact that B could as well have been C, given Romeo happened to be there first, we are at least then free to create a secret A-B universe that is unique. In other words, namely Lincoln’s words, A and B build a knowledge system of, by and for A and B.

Well, not so fast..says Mr. Gell. I’m not so sure I’m gonna agree with him this time though.

Coming up, the slavery of Romeo and Juliet.

Oh, and I almost forgot: (some) light in the tunnel.

 

Islam, my mother and e-bay

If we started from the same point, how did we grow so apart?

street-art-banksy-banksy-graffiti

 

My mother, a traditional woman of the Mediterranean Greece, tried to raise me to be a good Christian, however somewhere along the way her efforts failed. See, as I was growing up, it felt liberating to reject what seemed to me as narrow-minded, ‘all-donts’ rules of an unproved (or even unprovable) concept. No wonder I was far from excited when, while studying for a class, I came across a text by Roger Arnaldez describing the history of religions in the Mediterranean.  ‘Oh this b/s again’. I began reluctantly browsing the pages. Damn, it got interesting.

 

In an all too simplified and known sequence: first came polytheism, then Judaism, Christianity, Islam – three of world’s most popular religions were born and raised in a small part of the Mediterranean. I was aware that each one built on the previous ones, blending and mixing concepts, dogmas, symbols. However, I was not aware that they relate to one another in the following ways.

# interesting_fact1: Islam’s God is the Christian God, same as the Christian God is the Jewish God. That’s not to mean that the Gods have the same ‘features’, rather that each religion when newly introduced claimed to have a better view of the already ‘existing’ God, and further that the previous religion had failed because of division, moral decline etc. Saint Paul preached that the real Jew is the Christian. In the same manner later on, the Quran would dictate: the real Jew, or the real Christian, is the Muslim.

 

# interesting_fact2: Islam came about as a religion with radical views on the status quo, same as Christianity is considered to have opposed conventional power institutions and ideologies when first introduced. In fact, when Islam began preaching equality and justice in a simple manner, people turned to it, being largely frustrated with the Christian Byzantine Empire because of its dogmatic quarrels, the continuous fighting of bishops over thrones and all these nice things that come with power.

 

# interesting_fact3: In order for Islam to continue spreading, it had to incorporate pre-existing religious practices and symbols, much like Christian churches were built on ancient temples’ sites.  In the pre-islamic era, the Kaaba, the building inside Islam’s most sacred mosque and center of the annual pilgrimage in Mecca, was a holy site for the various Bedouin tribes in the area. Once every lunar year, the Bedouin tribes would make a pilgrimage to Mecca and worship their pagan gods in the Kaaba.

 

Why my attention was focused on the Islam/Christianity relation? I’m not quite sure. Perhaps because I was born in a Christian region. Since Christianity was a reform of Judaism, many things of their interface are familiar to me. More probably though, there is something else: the value in exploring things that connect the now politically divided world into terrorist and non-terrorist countries. The Islamic Middle-East region of the world is almost solely represented in the Western media through photos of victims after a bomb attack, videos of men holding up guns and yelling ‘allahu akbar’, caged women in burqa and bad dictators. Does that affect our view of this region and its people and how? Many acknowledge that religion is used nowadays, same as in the past, as a pretext in the political and economic power arena. Yet, even having this awareness, the lesser we know someone, the more susceptible we are to adopt any opinion about them which is already formed and given to us: there is nothing else there to contradict it.

 

# hopeful_fact1andonly: In Baghdad, The House of Wisdom was a major intellectual center during the Islamic Golden Age, bringing together many well-known scholars to share information, ideas, and culture. Jewish, Christian and Muslim philosophers met there to translate the Greek texts. According to Abu Hayan al  Tawhidi, during their night meetings the most distinguished intellectuals would discuss about the big problems, without faith discrimination and on equal terms. While contemplating on God, they were led to describe experiences and define life values with many common points, despite their dogmatic differences.

If we could only order a House of Wisdom on e-bay..

On intellectual sympathy – or a blog’s raison d’être

Mina Mimbu. New Zealand.

Intellectual sympathy is one – among many – of Henri Bergson’s attempts to explain what he meant by the methodological approach of intuition (not to be confused with the common meaning of intuition). For Bergson, there are two ways of knowing: the relative, partial knowledge and the absolute, complete knowledge. When we follow the method of analysis, we approach the object in question from outside, we move around it, and observe it from specific position(s). We are bound therefore to see only a part of it, and degrade the object to the aspects accessible to us. Intuition, on the contrary, is ‘entering’ the object itself, participating in it, sympathizing with all its aspects, without separating them, but in their unity. The analysis gives us only relative knowledge, while intuition provides us with absolute knowledge of the object in question:

It follows that an absolute can only be given in an intuition, while all the rest has to do with analysis. We call intuition here the sympathy by which one is transported into the interior of an object in order to coincide with what there is unique and consequently inexpressible in it. Analysis, on the  contrary,  is  the  operation  which  reduces  the  object  to  elements already known, that is, common to that object and to others. [H. Bergson, The Creative Mind: An introduction to metaphysics]

It is not within my intentions (and competence) to provide an accurate description of Mr. Bergson’s philosophy. Nor to defend it as the source of absolute truth – although I have to admit my positive predisposition. Rather, it serves me, in a quite remarkable coincidence with its content, as a point of unity. For I see in this notion an intersection of my wanderings, interests and questionings that have troubled my mind – severely – during the last years. Let me give you a brief idea on these wanderings.

First, there is anthropology. Anthropology is the one mostly to be blamed for the birth of this blog. I came across it by chance, while, unsatisfied by the natural sciences, I was looking for answers elsewhere, and fell in love. For those unfamiliar with it, what differentiates Anthropology from other fields like sociology is the methodological approach of participatory observation. For an anthropologist to study a group of people must, by and large, live with them for a considerable amount of time. He must participate in their lives as one of them, do the things they do, try to see the world as they see it. Not insignificant problems arise when actually trying to accomplish that, but for the moment let’s stick to the intention of ‘entering’ into the insides of the study object. Does that ring a Bergsonian bell?

Now I would like to dig a little deeper on the aforementioned un-satisfaction with the natural sciences. To set the record straight, I need to state this: science is among the greatest achievements of human intellect. Science has given us a valuable way of understanding things.  However, as many before, from the Romanticists to the postmodernists, I have grown a skepticism for the limits of knowledge, especially in relation to the dominant place that science has in our lives.  Is our intellect alone capable of providing the meaning of life? If phenomenologists are right, and there is no meaning a priori to find out there, then isn’t it concluded that science, in the sense of trying to discover the truth, is merely one of many ways to signify our lives? And here come the questions on the limitations of intellect..and again, Bergson*.

Intellectual sympathy, however, in the context of this blog, stands also for sympathy for intellectuals. Not in the elitist sense of an Illuminati class, rather in the struggle of human spirit to understand, and make sense of its existence. With that, with them, I sympathize.

And then, as always, love and death and our internal struggle to understand them, incorporate them, live with them. I find Bergson’s intuition again relative in many ways, but I will just draw on a brief remark by Mr. Derrida on love and the difference between a person as a singularity and its qualities:

Does my heart move because I love someone who is an absolute singularity, or because I love the way that someone is? Often love starts with some type of seduction. One is attracted because the other is like this or like that. Inversely, love is disappointed and dies when one comes to realize the other person doesn’t merit our love. The other person isn’t like this or that. So at the death of love, it appears that one stops loving another not because of who they are but because they are such and such. That is to say, the history of love, the heart of love, is divided between the who and what. The question of being, to return to philosophy, because the first question of philosophy is: What is it to be? What is “being”? The question of being is itself always already divided between who and what. Is “Being” someone or something? I speak of it abstractly, but I think that whoever starts to love, is in love or stops loving, is caught between this division of the who and the what. One wants to be true to someone—singularly, irreplaceably—and one perceives that this someone isn’t x or y. They didn’t have the properties, the images that I thought I’d loved. So fidelity is threatened by the difference between the who and the what. [extract from interview]

So, there you have it. The unity and the part. The intellect and something beyond intellect. If you didn’t find any answers in this introduction, you got it right. If you keep reading this blog, I cannot guarantee you’ll find any answers, but questions, this I can promise.

* Although criticized by Russel and others as irrational and anti-intellectualist, Bergson’s intuition does not necessarily contradict intellect. See a well-presented view on this by Mr. M.D. Bolsover.