Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Only Loss Is Real

I recently noticed the status of a person on Facebook--not one of my "friends"--that I found troublesome for some reason I couldn't articulate. I've been thinking about it all day, as a matter of fact. The status read: "only love is real." It garnered a bit of attention, all sorts of people clicking the "like" button in response to it, and many posting comments that were really quite silly and not worth dignifying with repetition here.

I said out loud to myself, "Who says things like that? Only love is real?" I found it offensive and childish on so many levels. I mean, what the hell does it mean? That "love" is more real than suffering or sorrow? Or, worse, that it is the only so-called emotion that warrants any serious consideration?

But I was also in the midst of re-visiting Anne Michaels' The Winter Vault, which I've written about before. In one scene of the novel, Michaels paints a picture of 1950s Warsaw, when people were desperate with optimism, running around making the most extravagant of claims about all the wonderful things that were going to happen in Warsaw--all the lovers that would find each other, the scientific discoveries that would be made, all the dead that would be raised.

And the narrator responds:

And while people ran about proclaiming such things, I could only think that everything exists because of loss. From the bricks of our buildings, from cement to human cells, everything exists because of chemical transformation, and every chemical transformation is accompanied by loss. And when I look up at the night sky I think: The astronomers have given every star a number.

And then, tearing a piece of paper and crumpling it into a ball:

This is what the world is. A ball where everything is smashed together. I do not know if we belong to the place where we are born, or to the place where we are buried.

And so to the girl who writes, "only love is real," I would say: Look where you are standing. Look at how your feet crush against layer upon layer of loss and memory. Your "love" is nothing without the reality of loss.

I won't tell you that love is not real: one or two rare occasions in my life beg me, perhaps from their graves, to suggest otherwise. But spare me your false consolation, your extravagant claim on love and reality. Show me something more real than what can only be the epidermis of human existence. Show me the real.


Buffy Turner Osborne said...

It seems like such a juvenile claim, too, in how grossly unparticularized it is. What is love? What's the love to which she's granting this exclusive realness? Dante's entire Inferno--every circle--is characterized by its containment of people who have loved. The people inhabiting it are all there precisely because they have loved, but their love has been misdirected, defective, or immoderate.

Casey said...

Monica, what would you think about the claim, "Only G-d is real?"

[Monica, what would you think about the claim, "Only G-d is real?"]

Buffy ;)

Kevin said...

Thanks Monica—this deserves, and will get, another reading later. But real quick: looking at your first and last paragraph, doesn’t the tu quoque here write itself? You find something vapid in the slogan ‘Only Love is real’. Well. Ok. But ‘Show me the real’ is something less than a paradigm of clarity, and is vulnerable to the same charge; reading it, one is tempted to ask, in your terms, ‘What the hell does it mean?’ to which I would add, ‘What motivates you to say it?’

As to what it means: I take it you mean ‘real’, as not a descriptive but a valorizing term. You are NOT asking to be shown whatever happens to exist—bikes and bombs and chromosomes—a mere mishmash of facts; rather, you are using ‘real’ in a sense something like ‘genuine’ or ‘authentic’, where this term comes, as it were, with an affinity/approving nod. That’s why its use—or perhaps, its ab-use—offends you, rather than strikes you as a mere failed description.

But then if that is right, I lose what motivates your call ‘Show me the real’; and I certainly don’t understand why you seem to find Love LESS real (shallow, ‘epidermal’).
Descriptively speaking, Love and Suffering are equally ‘real’. Love is as real as alienation and anguish and bitterness and regret and rape and machetes. Surely the writer of the offending post is fully aware of THIS (regrettable) equality.

But you go further--you say that Love is somehow a ‘false’ consolation with respect to the discouraging elements in that list of ‘real’ items just made. You seem to resent it, as being ‘uppity’ should Love claim greater reality. But this claim of the ‘greater’ reality of Love is NOT one of ‘reality’ in the crude, descriptive sense, but in the valorizing sense (‘THAT is a REAL cigar’, or ‘THAT is a REAL friend’). And so I guess it’s unclear to me why you are worried about, or objecting to, THIS valorizing of Love over mere reality. As for something like suffering merely being a FACT—why fetishize factity? What would induce me to honor ‘what is’ merely BECAUSE it is? What sort of slight is being done the mere/muddy world when we tell ourselves, knee deep in it, but with full/hopeful hearts, ‘Only Love is real.’?

And that is why I don’t get why you want to be shown reality(and again, this may be because I don't understand what you want to be shown). You want to be shown ‘The Real’ and this is meant to be a quest/yearning/claim for the authentic. But people want to be shown Love because of its nourishing power.
Now I know what nourishing claims there are for being shown authentic LOVE—how and why we seek this. But what is nourishing or excellent about being shown something so brutish and stupid as WHAT IS—as mere BEING? What claim has THAT upon us? Upon you? Why do you think you have to be shown it (as if you did not see it already)? What do you hope to gain by seeing it? In what lies the value of this revelation? And how does the desire to be shown authentic suffering clash/compete with Love’s authority/authenticity/call?

Monica said...

Buffy--yeah, it is juvenile. You're right. And I'm so bothered by that, but there is another part of me that feels that my response is unkind. If being juvenile makes her happy, who am I to criticize her? But, exactly, what does she mean by "love." I have a hard time with these kinds of terms being thrown around all over the place. And, let's face it, everyone who clicked "like" most likely had a very different interpretation (or experience) of the term/idea.

Good point about Dante. That's my favorite circle--the one that enslaves indefinitely all of the lovers.



I'm good with that. Only G-d is real: it's actually, in its abstract-ness, more concrete than the reckless assertion that "only love is real."



I think you might be right about my last line. Perhaps I opted for the sound and rhythm and buzz of language here, rather than what truly articulates my meaning. Because, you're right: I'm more interested in the authentic. But, depending on how one defines her terms, the real IS the authentic. I'm not equipped to go all Lacanian here, by the way. And I'm not suggesting that love is less real than anything else. What I'm suggesting is that there is no such thing as an emotion called love that exists on its own, without having its roots in something else--maybe it's loss or sorrow or tragedy. Or something else. I was just so irked by the flippant assertion that "only love is real."

I suppose, though, after reading your comment, that there is probably some other reason I am bothered by this comment--one I can't yet articulate.