I’m reading The Paradox of Love by Pascal Bruckner (translated by Steven Rendall). I’m not finished, but I want to post a few quotes from the book. It is interesting, well written, and the translation is solid. I’m reading it as research for writing more about the paradox of love as a topic.
Bruckner’s take on how we got from where our ancestors were to where we are with male-female relationships is informative. I should have known. His commentary on, and experience with, the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s is interesting (Bruckner is French), but not one I shared.
“Sexual liberation became the most common way of getting in contact with the extraordinary; every morning we reinvented our lives….”
For those of us who may recall some of that time, he asks, “What put an end to this euphoria?” He explains, “We knew only one season in life: eternal youth. Life played a terrible trick on us: we got old.”
He has much more to say; quotes from the book follow.
Regarding the concept of free love, he asks, “How can love, which attaches, be compatible with freedom, which separates?”
Here’s more. These are taken from the introduction:
“Our freedom in love was won in battle at a price that remains to be determined. (Someday the “black book” of the 1960s will have to be written.) Freedom does not release us from responsibilities but instead increases them…It resolves problems less than it multiplies paradoxes…This burden explains in part why contemporary romances are so hard.”
“A paradoxical result: we now ask everything from love; we ask too much of it; we ask that it ravish, ravage, and redeem us…Christianity’s invention of the God of love has made the virtue of love the cardinal value of life…By liberating itself, it reveals itself for what it is, in its flashes of brilliance and in its pettiness: noble and base at the same time.”
Bruckner quotes from Les aventures de Télémaque, by Fénelon, an early 18th Century French novel, “love alone is more to be feared than all shipwrecks.” I like the quote. However, in the world today, it’s blatantly false.
The paradox I promote is that today we would rather suffer the potential pains of love, than to not experience love. And, we seem to keep going back for more. This may seem crazy, but it’s the eventual norm.
I like the chapter title: “Salvation through Orgasm.” I am quoting way out of context here, but along with equating the Aurora Borealis as nothing other than a cosmic orgasm, he says this “…like grace for the Calvinists, the orgasm is the narrow gate to redemption.” You always knew that, right?
Try this: “Depending on whether or not you have an orgasm, the Earth will slip into harmony or into discord: Fourier had already drawn an analogy between human copulation and that of the planets, and saw in the Milky Way an immense deposit of luminous semen. If humans made love more enthusiastically, they would give birth to a multitude of galaxies that would illuminate the planet a giorno [roughly, everywhere] and would solve the lighting problem at small expense.”
I shall never see the night sky in quite the same way again.
A few more like that before moving on: “An erection is an insurrection, the body in emotional turmoil…desire is profoundly moral…Coitus is simultaneously a rebellion against society and the culmination of human nature.”
Ok, enough blushing stuff. Bruckner is right in that it would be an obvious dodge to discuss love between men and woman with no reference to sex. Blame Pascal or the translator, I am only quoting. And cherry-picking.
Here is something that I consider more useful: “…but there comes a time when we have to take the risk of a relationship to the other that will upset our expectations and free us from the dreary conversation with ourselves. Independence is not the last word for people—that is what we are told by the love that has a blind faith in the other: that is why the worst misfortune on earth is the death of the few people who are dear to us and without whom life no longer has meaning or savor.”
And this, “If there is a modern dream (old as the hills but widely shared today), it consists entirely in the twofold aspiration: to enjoy symbiosis with the other while at the same time remaining master of one’s own life.” A dream indeed. Don’t we give up something of ourselves in every relationship?
I agree with, “Love is an experience we don’t want to forego, on the condition that it not deprive us of any other experience.” People in relationships with extremely controlling others might have something to say about this. I would argue that some of us are often willing to be deprived to a degree, perhaps even to submit to a more dominant and demanding love – even a forbidden love.
Regarding the conflict of the old ways of love with new: “Whether we like it or not, to fall in love is to slip back into an ancient, magical humus, to revive childhood fears, excessive hopes, and a mixture of servitude and cruelty. Without this permanence, how could we still read The Princess of Cleves, Liaisons of dangereuses, The Sufferings of Young Werther, Wuthering Heights, Cousin Bette, Madame Bovary, or In Search of Lost Time?”
And I like, “Moderns are stupefied to find that love is not always lovable, that it does not coincide with justice or equality, that it is a feudal, antidemocratic passion.”
That much is from only the Introduction and Chapter One. There is much more. I’m over my personal word limit. So, I’ll close with a quote from the beginning of Chapter 4, “The Noble Challenge of Marriage for Love.”
This Bruckner quoted from the website Viedemer-de.fr, 2008:
Today, I received two text messages from my girlfriend. The first to tell me that it was all over, the second to tell me that she had sent the message to the wrong address.
As you look both ways in life, mind the gaps.
But love! Crash and burn.
Then get up and love again. Feel the paradox.