It is something that most of us seek, but too frequently lose. We feel enchanted when it is present and bereft when it is absent. I am speaking of love.
Love, according to the French poet Arthur Rimbaud, must be “reinvented.”
Love comes in many forms, from what we feel for our children or our pets or the deities we worship, to the chest-thumping, gut-wrenching, throw-me-into-mayhem induced by our beloveds.
Alain Badiou’s In Praise of Love is a short, heartfelt, and passionate celebration and exploration of human intimacy. Summoning a rich and diverse group of thinkers from Plato to Kierkegaard, de Beauvoir to Beckett, Badiou, an eminent French philosopher, encourages us to treat love as an “adventure, a wondrous opportunity beyond self-absorption.”
The quest for love, in his view, is under attack in our age by cynicism, distorted ideas of intimacy, and Internet dating, which encourages a narrow and shortsighted notion of relatively sanitized and risk-free romance.
In my work as a psychotherapist with individuals and couples who seek greater intimacy, I have encountered these obstacles and more. It is difficult for intimacy to grow and love to flourish in a society in which the lines are blurred (if not erased) between work and home, and people are often too tired and depleted for emotional and physical intimacy. A frenzied pace of life, the bombardment of information—much of it trivial and addictive—and a culture of immediate gratification clutter the space where love could flourish.
Love is not merely an ecstatic union but, in Badiou’s words, “the overcoming of something that might appear to be impossible”: a union of two different visions of life.
Images of instantaneous intimacy are enormously seductive—they are what most human beings seek. But is such immediate infatuation a sign, as we tend to assume, that we have found the partner we were “destined” to be with and are now “in love,” or that we have encountered a person who matches our image of what we think we need?
When we see beyond the allure of romantic (but ultimately superficial) ideas about “the one,” what becomes evident is that it is shortsighted to insist that a person with whom we share no history, whom we spotted across the room or whose profile we stumbled upon over the Internet, must fit our image of what we think we need. This ensures that we don’t grow or discover anyone (or anything) new because our view of life is merely confirmed. And that eclipses a central aspect of love, one that Badiou highlights—namely, the way the different perspectives of the two individuals who comprise a relationship can expand each one’s understanding of themselves and the world. In other words, in a loving relationship our worlds are challenged and enriched as we expand to accept how our partners are unlike us.
Love is not merely an ecstatic union but, in Badiou’s words, “the overcoming of something that might appear to be impossible”: a union of two different visions of life. Badiou’s conception of love as seeing the world “from the point of view of two rather than one” is an indispensable pathway to the reinvention of love.
Having been in a relationship for many years, I’ve seen how a long-term relationship can grow and change into something so powerful it has a life of its own. The immediate attraction of two individuals is only the beginning. I agree that to assume that that attraction means we have found the person we need is absurd and shortsighted. Jeffrey, you’ve described the problem of our society: with so much interference, it’s difficult to let a relationship grow. But with maturity, commitment and luck, true love can indeed grow and flourish.