Hamlet: Doubt truth to be a liar, But never doubt I love.

Globe Theatre

Doubt thou the stars are fire,
Doubt that the sun doth move,
Doubt truth to be a liar,
But never doubt I love.
(Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2)

This short poem sent by Hamlet to Ophelia is taken as part of the laundry list of evidence of his romantic feelings for her. However, I remember when I re-read the play in my third year of college, my professor introduced me to a vagueness that I never had previously considered. He says “I love” and of course, “love” and “move” are homographs, but Hamlet does not say whom he loves. Is it Ophelia, his father? Something else? As someone with a literary background, I had to share another intriguing explanation of Hamlet that I came across, which is very much relevant to this blog.

In Stay Illusion!, scholars Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster argue that Hamlet “discloses the modern paradox of our lives: how thought and action seem to pull against each other, the one annulling the possibility of the other. As a counterweight to Hamlet’s melancholy paralysis, Ophelia emerges as the play’s true hero. In her madness, she lives the love of which Hamlet is incapable.” Now, I will fully admit, I did not read the book. I read Joshua Rothman’s review in the New Yorker: Hamlet: A Love Story.

Critchley and Jamieson argue that while for Freud, Hamlet’s guilt throughout the play has to do with his Oedipal desires, they believe guilt stems from his shame of needing to love, the shame about the emptiness that, they hold, is at the center of the experience of love. Rothman paraphrases their argument as:

We’re inclined to think of love as the opposite of emptiness—we see it as “a system of mutual favors” that acts as a kind of bonus to life, a surplus. Instead, we love because we lack. Inside each of us there’s an emptiness, and that emptiness can never be filled. None of us can ever be loved enough—by our parents, by our children, by our husbands or wives. The bottomlessness of our need for love means that, even in our most stable, permanent, and healthy relationships, love “can only be renewed and invented anew, again and again. I love you. I love you. I love you.” Each time you declare your love, you admit that there’s a lack in yourself. And when two people are in love with one another, they’re offering up their equivalent emptinesses. When love works, it makes something out of nothing.

If the essence of love is wanting, it’s no wonder that shame and narcissism are so often part of love. It’s intrinsically shameful to need and need and need, and the bottomlessness of this need breeds anger and resentment. Your love is genuine, but so are your perpetual feelings of emptiness and of powerlessness. What’s most galling, perhaps, is the realization that the people whom you love are similarly empty. If this is love, then you can come to resent the people you love simply because you love them.

So in another words, you love another because you are empty, but the person you love feels just as empty, and so your love for each other brings something into creation that is based on this emptiness, this nothing.

I do agree with this to a certain extent and agree that love is not a “system of mutual favors.” I think that love does grow from a lack and we cannot be loved enough. And this is not referring to the love that creates extraordinary psychoses or neuroses or the love that is about possessing, although both are probably also a result of our insatiable desires for love. No, I just mean that for more of us who function on a psychologically “normal” spectrum, we cannot be loved enough. My boyfriend cannot tell me he loves me enough, and perhaps it is just me, but my insatiability comes from my lack of love for myself. This emptiness isn’t depression or despondency, but rather, it come from a sense of aloneness and even loneliness which cannot be avoided. We all live our lives, and although we are joined by others along that journey, ultimately that journey is ours alone, which makes for a very isolated experience. Love then maybe is a way to share that communal sense of aloneness? Hmmm…..


Love: It’s all Greek to Me

First and foremost, apologies for not having posted in quite sometime. I meant to get something up last Saturday, but didn’t make it in time before my boyfriend came to visit. He lives in London (yes, it’s a trans-Atlantic relationship) and I haven’t seen him in five months, so I basically put aside everything this past week so we could spend time together. And now, I’m “back”!

I was sitting in the Barnes & Noble on the Upper West Side with my roommate last Saturday doing research for my blog (and devouring a delicious s’mores tart with a tall glass of milk while dutifully waiting for my boyfriend), when a guy sitting behind us overheared me discussing on my blog. He was flipping through Ideas that Matter by A. C. Grayling and came across a section on love that he thought sounded like a good fit for the blog, so he passed the book on to me.

I didn’t know who Grayling was so I spent some time reading his Wikipedia page as well as his website. A great deal of his recent work has focused on morality, religion, and humanism, which is reflected in the book. Since I didn’t read the whole book, the four or so pages on love seem a bit out of place given Grayling’s academic interests, but I did like what he had to say overall.

There are two particular passages that I want to note here.


 English has just one inadequate word to denote all these different emotions – these bonding, affectionate, caring, needy, desiring, dependent, nurturing, passionate, painful, ecstatic, erotic, romantic emotions – and the kinds of relationships that involve them. The Greeks, with more nuance, had several names: agape, storge, philia, kudus, eros, pragma, enabling them to discriminate more finely among them.

Ludic is playful, light-hearted love, nothing deep and meaningful. Erotic is sexual, physical love, of course. Storge is love based on deep and genuine friendship, such as that between well-functioning families and  between married couples after many years. Although Grayling does not name the source, he says that sociological research into the respective proclivities of men and women as classified in terms of the Greek notions suggest that men are more prone to ludicrous and erotic love and women to storge and pragmatic.

I grew up in a family that speaks Gujarati and a bit of Hindi and I studied Spanish in college. What always struck me is that there were numerous different words for love in Indian languages but only one in Spanish. Amor is the noun for love in Spanish, and amar is the verb form meaning “to love.” In Hindi, there are several nouns alone: pyaar, ishq, mohabaat, prem. Unlike in Greek, I’m pretty sure that in many instances these words are interchangeable, but I just feel like something as complex as love can’t be reduced to just one word.

The second passage I like is:

The reasons why any two people fall for each other and pair off, whether for the short or the long term, tend therefore to be for reasons that – whatever rationalization they gave to others – they do not themselves really understand, for they lie too deep for reasons.

So basically, this blog is pointless because we can never really understand love. Even people in love many times don’t really know why they are in love, despite all their attempts to give reason to what’s going on in their heads and their hearts. It’s just a feeling…. 🙂

Love isn’t a possibility, but an overcoming of the impossible

I will stop my chapter by chapter break down of In Praise of Love and just get into how love is constructed according to Badiou, and more importantly, get into what is this crazy thing called love and how does it last.

There are two fundamental aspects of love that correspond to everyone’s experience of it.

    1. “Love contains an initial element that separates, dislocates and differentiates. You have Two. Love involves Two.”
    2. Love involves risk precisely because you going from one to Two.

What is love’s main rival? For most of us, it would be another person, someone else that competes with us for the affection and attention of the individual we love. That’s not quite the case, as Badiou explains:

Selfishness, not a rival, is love’s enemy. One could say: my love’s main enemy, the one I must defeat, is not the other, it is myself, the “myself” that prefers identity to difference, that prefers to impose its world against the world re-constructed through the filter of difference.

It turns out that you are your own worst enemy, your insecurities, your ego, you desire for perfection without appreciating the other as he or she is, your desire to keep barriers and maintain differences rather than seeing past them.

So once you have love, does it last forever? I haven’t seen a study on this, but I’d be willing to bet that everyone, or at the very least the female population, would jump at the chance to freeze love, to preserve that moment where you’ve both declared your love for each other and life seems blissful, and you want it to stay that blissful forever. Alas, it does not last. You have arguments. You get married and maybe lose the excitement you once had. You get caught up in the day to day routine and take the other for granted. And then…you get angry because it feels like you’ve lost the love you have before.

Love invents a different way of lasting in life. That everyone’s existence, when tested by love, confronts a new way of experiencing time.

But love has many shapes and forms. Just as all species have needed to adapt and evolve to survive, love needs to as well. It cannot be and it should not be the same a few months/years/decades later as it first was.

So I’ve left this to the very end, but what is this “love” that Badiou has gone on about and that I’ve detailed in about 3.5 blog posts?

– Love is above all a construction that lasts. We could say that love is a tenacious adventure. The adventurous side is necessary, but equally so is the need for tenacity. To give up at the first hurdle, the first serious disagreement, the first quarrel, is only to distort love. Real love is the one that triumphs lastingly, sometimes painfully, over the hurdles erected by time, space and the world.

– The process of love isn’t always peaceful. It can bring violent argument, genuine anguish and separations we may or may not overcome. We should recognize that it is one of the most painful experiences in the subjective life of an individual.

– Strictly speaking, love isn’t a possibility, but rather the overcoming of something that might appear to be impossible. Something exists that had no reason to, which was never offered to you as a possibility.

I feel vindicated in reading this version of love, and not just because it corresponds so neatly with my own romantic version of love. I think it’s refreshing for someone to describe the depth and passion of the state of love into such an eloquent and humbling manner that doesn’t downgrade love as cheesy or kitschy.

Above all, Badiou’s notion of love celebrates transforming the seemingly not possible into the possible. And that is quite celebratory. For two people to come together and create a bond from nothing and to continue to sustain that bond to make it into something is simply amazing.

Monkey and bear(awwwww…)

Sex separates people, it does not unite them.

photo (2)

Jacques Lacan concludes that “there is no such thing as a sexual relationship.” In chapter two of In Praise of Love, Badiou elaborates on what exactly Lacan meant by that.

In sex, “each individual is to a large extent on their own,” and at the end of the day, “the please will always be your own pleasure.” Yes, you clearly need at least two to have sex and you can pleasure each other, but “what is real is that pleasure takes you a long way away” from the other because you both experience pleasure separately.

Lacan says sexual relationships don’t exist and that love is what comes to replace that non-relationship. Badiou writes:

In love the individual goes beyond himself, beyond the narcissistic. In sex, you are really in a relationship with yourself via the mediation of the other. The other helps you to discover the reality of pleasure. In love, on the contrary, the mediation of the other is enough in itself. Such is the nature of the amorous encounter: you do to take on the other, to make him or her exist with you, as he or she is.

Badiou refers to a passage in Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex where she reduces post-sex to a type of theatrical farce. Badiou is disgusted by this.

While desire focuses on the other, always in a somewhat fetishist manner, on particular objects, like breasts, buttocks and cock…love focuses on the very being of the other, on the other as it has erupted, fully armed with its being into my life this disrupted and re-fashioned.

Badiou’s depiction of love as disruptive and re-inventing doesn’t sound as Romantic as it appears to be. He doesn’t claim that it will be the answer to all your questions or that it will lift your soul towards the divine. He’s just saying that love takes risk and precisely because it is to predicated on chance, it also disrupts. Love also doesn’t stay the same, it need to re-invent and re-fashion itself….but that’s for tomorrow’s post!

Love really is a unique trust placed in chance

“Anyone who doesn’t take love as a starting point will never understand the nature of philosophy.”
– Plato

I didn’t do the best job of introducing Alain Badiou, so I’ll give a brief sketch before getting into the first chapter of In Praise of Love, called “Love Under Threat”.

Badiou’s biography on The European Graduate School’s website says:

Alain Badiou, Ph.D., born in Rabat, Morocco in 1937, holds the Rene Descartes Chair at the European Graduate School EGS. Alain Badiou was a student at the École Normale Supérieure in the 1950s. He taught at the University of Paris VIII (Vincennes-Saint Denis) from 1969 until 1999, when he returned to ENS as the Chair of the philosophy department. He continues to teach a popular seminar at the Collège International de Philosophie, on topics ranging from the great ‘antiphilosophers’ (Saint-Paul, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Lacan) to the major conceptual innovations of the twentieth century.

Badiou’s most general goal can be described, then, as the effort to expose and make sense of the potential for profound, transformative innovation in any situation. He distinguishes four general fields of truth, or four domains of subjectivation (which in turn operate as the four generic ‘conditions’ of philosophy itself): politics, science, art and love.

The website also provides a conscience summary of what I think will be the summary of Badiou’s view of love:

Genuine love begins in the wake of an unpredictable encounter that escapes the conventional representation of sexual roles, continues as a fidelity to the consequences of that encounter, and is sustained through an unrepresentable exposure to what Lacan famously described as the ‘impossibility of a sexual relationship’.

In Praise of Love - Badiou(There are several covers for this book, but I prefer this one.)

Badiou’s summary of Lacan’s view on love in the first chapter deserves a post on it’s own, so I’ll limit this post to what Badiou believes love is under treat from.

Love confronts two enemies, essentially: safety guaranteed by an insurance policy and the comfort zone limited by regulated pressures.

In the first instance, Badiou points to dating websites and how we actively avoid randomness by choosing to meet with those people who tick our boxes. In our quest for safety and security, we are overlooking that love is “the thing that gives meaning and intensity to almost everyone’s life.” If we truly want the ardent passion that we associate with love, we also have to embrace the turbulence and risk that is also intrinsic to love.  “Love cannot be a gift given on the basis of a complete lack of risk.”

The second threat to love is the idea that “love is only a variant of rampant hedonism and the wide range of possible enjoyment.” Or essentially, love = pleasure. This view of love lacks a deep bond or a relationship. It it simply a taking of pleasure until you no longer derive pleasure.

Even philosophers have a difficult time contending with love. The majority either tend to devalue it as a “natural extravagance of sex” or elevate on par with a religious epiphany.

Badiou is not satisfied with either of those two views. For him:

Provided it isn’t conceived only as an exchange of mutual favours or isn’t calculated way in advance as a profitable investment, love really is a unique trust placed in chance. It takes us into key areas of the experience of what is difference and, essentially, leads to the idea that you can experience the world from the perspective of difference.