An Interim Discourse on the Nature of Love.

On the whys behind my thinking on the Nature of Love.

 …It seems strange to say, but even as cinemas of all national origins continue to find new and expressive ways to convey violence on screen, many now seem at a loss when it comes to love. Certainly that’s the case in America, where passion is often tempered with laughs (as in innumerable buddy romances) or becomes an excuse for sublimation (as in those orgies of consumption known as chick flicks)…  (From a NY Times review by Manohla Dargis of the movie Frontier of Dawn)

When I lay out an idea for a Salon, the one in front of us being The Nature of Love in three films – The Piano, Holy Smoke, and Bright Star – and what their maker, Jane Campion, might be saying through them about us and our shifting narrative in regard to love, I don’t know beforehand what I will say.  I’m under the impression this minor act of faith is common among us scribblers.

My approach to writing the subsequent Discourse is most akin, I’d guess, to a sleepwalk.  My hands wave out in front of me as I search the stories told in these films for a path through and to the meaning they hold.

This sleepwalking, I now realize, is itself akin to my recent rolling descents through sorrow over the loss of my father.  There I’ve discovered an irrevocable dissolve of love which I experienced as connective tissue between us.  What this tissue dissolving feels like…

I have tried to gather from that melancholy what meaning I could, bringing it back to sustain my life with out him; to help, perhaps, my being now, starved for what he and I had, that particular love of father and daughter.  This project here has some part to do with that, the connective tissue encouraged by him and practiced between us, now dissolved, that found form in writing and words and ideas.

So too, when I watch these films.  I give myself over sleepwalkishly to feel the emotions stirred by their stories, to a faith that a certain detangling, a deciphering within will emerge.  Then, with more faith, I let myself believe I will be able to translate that stirring into the writing of this weblog.

In light of this confession, let me hedge that the subject Love is so much larger than the oft tossed about “romantic” sort.  A complexity without end, it enters into all the meaningful pathways of our lives.  And it is this complexity, I believe, that offers hope as a fertile source of other ways for being.

So what follows is a preamble to our upcoming Discourse on the Nature of Love, a sort of poetic proclamation.  I hope, rather than getting you lost, it provides some sturdy shoes.  Parameters, foundation stones, whatever, from which I will write on the three films by Ms. Campion.

So here goes:

We humans are energy bagged by our bodies from the universe.  These bodies are finite and of organic substance grown from the earth itself.  This energy embodied in us is infinite and transgressive; it flows, leaks, sparks in a radiant compulsion to seek form however, wherever, zap-zap, including, and of particular interest to us, from human to human.

Love is a force spun from this energy.  It manifests in us as the synapse we experience as emotion.  Feelings sparking to and fro bind us one to the other and the consequent entwinement and all its frayings are our chance to grow the soul/self/spirit, call it what you like.  Messy.  Risky.  No promises.  But from emotion’s churn the rich loam within is rolled over and the growth caused by it is our work to do here; why the earth birthed us, this chance in no chance, for our capacity, as limited as it often seems, for comprehension.

This desire to know, and know one another, is instinctual in us, is part and parcel of our evolution.

The cross time inherited Narrative of the allofus, including the taproots which are the tales of the religions as well as our science and politics, are the tracks, the trail of crumbs left to aid our evolving comprehension.  Our engagement with Narrative is restorative; read, spoken, watched, painted, lived, it all traverses the same elemental energy as life itself.  Narrative’s tilling of emotion brings the un-recognized upward into collective recognition, a way of grasping, and debating, our obligations in the way forward.

In this moment of the exponential digital (when how we tell our stories evolves with breathtaking speed) we are held back by a refusal at the core of our inherited narratives. This holding back stems from our ancient physical impression response, our power impulses, once essential now residual strains from our history in natural selection.

Here, woman equals her body only, men are powerless in the face of that body or the mechanism of seduction they project onto it, and as default the sexual act is reduced to a quick fix of energy, a way to leap over the ambiguities.  All diversion and avoidance.  A practice of love in name only.  This indulgent trudging in rutted pathways that once opened out onto our potential for higher capacities now limits us, curtails our roam round force Love as a resource for sorting out, preserving and advancing what is worth keeping in the human animal.

How to shed the primal traits that impede us?  How to stay out in front of our evolution?

We, men and women, are more than our bodies only.  For some time the primary reason for humanity has not been procreation.  Survival’s now dependent on reducing our number.  Can love as practiced become more about birthing something else?  Can love help in the figuring on survival of the species by evolutionary means other than “natural” selection?  This force Love that binds and stirs us is the affirmation of life; life does not reach fulfillment without love. The biggest regret and loss about leaving life is in disconnecting from love, in the dissolution of that connective tissue through which we’ve come to know one another and this life.

And in that regret lies the ambiguous tension between our denial and acceptance of death.  The loss of all we know faced at our final moment alone wreaks havoc in our hearts.  It is courageous to be with Love.  Such being risks, triggers that synapse emotion, making possible connectivity, making possible knowing.  And also its loss.  And there lurks the mysterious frightening that knocks our feet from under us, marks us as vulnerable in need of what sort of strength for how long?

We practice this required courage through our Narratives.  We explore what it feels like bringing to surface the evolving depth of us, that immaterial/material in a “here, look at this,” holding at arm’s length the internal out to show and share, offering that spark feeling even if but briefly through this fleeting corporeal being.  So that we can re-cognize one to the other and ourselves.

There’s comfort in it, that acknowledgment, yes, my evolving-I like you am here, too, see? In the tracks there, in these stories.  Imagine that!

    • ilona
    • January 13th, 2011

    Annie, thank you for the sturdy shoes and for bravely holding out your hand as guide to explore the complexities of love and loss. I agree with you that Narrative can be a way to find the courage and the path to navigate the death of a loved one. Grief is such a difficult emotion to endure much less express, in fact, when I think about it in our society it almost seems taboo to talk about personal grief. Like old age it’s something we look away from and deny. Part of this is because of the ‘exponential digital’ you talk about – I mean really how many things can we take coming at us? If we can pick and choose then we avoid the difficult for as long as possible until it hits us personally and then as you say hopefully we can find the archetypes that support us though the Narrative stories around us. Looking forward to seeing Bright Star with you next month.

    • Barbara Hartinger
    • March 16th, 2011

    Annie, in response to what you say in your narrative above — that the subject love is so much larger and complex than the its romantic aspect — I throw into the mix that I saw Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon last night for the second time and it’s been years since the first time. I am biased towards anything done by Ang Lee and who can argue with a soundtrack by Yo Yo Ma?

    That said, I liked it even better this time than the first time on the big screen. This is about young and old love, discipline, patience, standing by your values. It’s also about women in their roles as equals and warriors and how one is not better than the other. It’s also one of the most visually thrilling movies I’ve seen in a long time (next to Avatar, I have to admit). It’s a funny mix of Avatar-like innocence mixed with deep insight into passionate love and deep love built over time.

    Of course, I am inclined towards physical women in meditation-oriented disciplines, and men, too.

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