Friday, April 13, 2007

Love is difficult

It's amazing (and a little embarassing sometimes) where inspiration strikes me. Last few weeks I've been watching Brothers and Sisters, a thoroughly floozy family drama with the usual ABC collection of good looking people engaging in melodramatic and highly articulate high-energy discourse every Sunday night on television. Of course, I'm hooked...and one random quote from one random episode especially gripped me. What followed was my usual frenzy of googling/library book borrowing/cross-referencing/wikipedia learning.
The outcome?
The following excerpts from Letters to A Young Poet (Rainer Maria Rilke), a collection of, hmm...a young poet :) Letters that are more philosophy than advice. Letters interesting even in translation and even after all these years. Judge for yourself, if you will - here are some selected paragraphs from Letter Seven. They are long and verbose but if you think carefully about what he says, it's worth it.

(Warning: For some fairy-tale-believing-romantics out there, this may or may not be your cup of tea - it outlines exactly why love is difficult, and describes the mistake one often makes in assuming that 'union' means 'loss of identity'; Rilke explains beautifully how it is impossible for "Two halves to make a whole" as a dear friend once put it.)

It is also good to love: because love is difficult. For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation. That is why young people, who are beginners in everything, are not yet capable of love: it is something they must learn. With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered around their solitary, anxious, upward-beating heart, they must learn to love. But learning-time is always a long, secluded time ahead and far on into life, is solitude, a heightened and deepened kind of aloneness for the person who loves. Loving does not at first mean merging, surrendering, and uniting with another person (for what would a union be of two people who are unclarified, unfinished, and still incoherent?), it is a high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world in himself for the sake of another person; it is a great, demanding claim on him, something that chooses him and calls him to vast distances. Only in this sense, as the task of working on themselves ("to hearken and to hammer day and night"), may young people use the love that is given to them. Merging and surrendering and every kind of communion is not for them (who must still, for a long, long time, save and gather themselves); it is the ultimate, is perhaps that for which human lives are as yet barely large enough.

But this is what young people are so often and so disastrously wrong in doing they (who by their very nature are impatient) fling themselves at each other when love takes hold of them, they scatter themselves, just as they are, in all their messiness, disorder, bewilderment. . . . : And what can happen then? What can life do with this heap of half-broken things that they call their communion and that they would like to call their happiness, if that were possible, and their future? And so each of them loses himself for the sake of the other person, and loses the other, and many others who still wanted to come. And loses the vast distances and possibilities, gives up the approaching and fleeing of gentle, prescient Things in exchange for an unfruitful confusion, out of which nothing more can come; nothing but a bit of disgust, disappointment, and poverty, and the escape into one of the many conventions that have been put up in great numbers like public shelters on this most dangerous road. No area of human experience is so extensively provided with conventions as this one is: there are live-preservers of the most varied invention, boats and water wings; society has been able to create refuges of very sort, for since it preferred to take love-life as an amusement, it also had to give it an easy form, cheap, safe, and sure, as public amusements are.

It is true that many young people who love falsely, i.e., simply surrendering themselves and giving up their solitude (the average person will of course always go on doing that), feel oppressed by their failure and want to make the situation they have landed in livable and fruitful in their own, personal way. For their nature tells them that the questions of love, even more than everything else that is important, cannot be resolved publicly and according to this or that agreement; that they are questions, intimate questions from one human being to another, which in any case require a new, special, wholly personal answer. But how can they, who have already flung themselves together and can no longer tell whose outlines are whose, who thus no longer possess anything of their own, how can they find a way out of themselves, out of the depths of their already buried solitude? They act out of mutual helplessness, and then if, whit the best of intentions, they try to escape the conventions that is approaching them (marriage, for example), they fall into the clutches of some less obvious but just as deadly conventional solution. For then everything around them is convention. Wherever people act out of a prematurely fused, muddy communion, every action is conventional: every relation that such confusion leads to has its own convention, however unusual (i.e., in the ordinary sense immoral) it may be; even separating would be a conventional step, an impersonal, accidental decision without strength and without fruit.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Pe/reli/gion Hole

I felt her looking at me. With my eyes closed and my fingers wrapped around what must have seemed to her like a talisman. My head was covered with a silk scarf.

I could almost see the thought bubble floating above her head. "Ugh. Another one of those religious types."

Religious, huh? What kind of religion then?

I might be a Hindu, with my name, my upbringing, my vegetarianism, transitory beliefs in multiple "Gods" for multiple purposes, my belief in Karma and love of Diwali.
I might be a Buddhist, with my pacifist nature, my belief in moderation and 'the middle path'.
I might be a Christian, with my belief in kindness and forgiveness trumping revenge and regret, my sometimes Puritanical guilt and Protestant Work Ethic.
I might be a Muslim, with my belief in generosity towards the lesser privileged, and my reverence for culture and history.
I might be a Jew for my Shylockian ways and immense respect for learning.
I might even be a Shaman, with my feeling of connectedness with everything and everyone and belief in sustainability and honoring earth's spirit.
I might be a Jain, with my intolerance of violence and hurtfulness of creatures big and small.

Who would have ever guessed! I suppose you could call me religious.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

9 crimes

Like one of Damien Rice's earlier hits, Blower's Daughter, which I absolutely love as well, for all kinds of reasons, I fell in love with this song too - "at first sound" :)
I don't know why this song is called 9 crimes, and I am not even entirely sure what the song is about other than to imagine that it's about being with Someone and thinking about/cheating on that Someone with Somebody Else.
Sort of a common theme in plenty of cool music, as it happens. Like Suzanne Vega puts it, "It won't do to dream of Caramel, to think of cinnamon, and long for you". Listen to Caramel in a car alone in the middle of a lonely highway at night and you'll know what she's getting at.

Ok, consider this my best attempt at getting over Blogger's Block. Maybe I can trace that to Dissertation Writer's Block. Or maybe the two blocks have a common cause - Blockheadedness. See what I mean? I can't even write a decent post script...:( Help!!