Saturday, July 01, 2006

What's Love Got To Do With It?

Emerson wrote his essay Love because he was accused of being a cold fish:

I have been told that in some public discourses of mine my reverence for the intellect has made me unjustly cold to the personal relations. But now I almost shrink at the remembrance of such disparaging words. For persons are love's world, and the coldest philosopher cannot recount the debt of the young soul wandering here in nature to the power of love, without being tempted to unsay, as treasonable to nature, aught derogatory to the social instincts.
Notice he "almost" shrinks? He goes so far out of his way to prove the critics wrong he ends up writing a rather bland, trite essay in the process. Love is "the enchantment of human life." Love makes the moonlight a "pleasing fever," and turns stars into "letters" and to flowers to "ciphers." Love makes the very air sing. Love is for youth, "one must not be too old." In order to fall in love, one must forget the facts and details of things. Love is about hope and thinking of the ideal future. The world is changed when one falls in love. Likewise the world changes when it sees someone who is in love: "All mankind love a lover." Are you dazzled by the cliches yet? This being Emerson, love has to have a higher purpose. When a man falls in love (yes man, Emerson doesn't seem to care if women fall in love), he does not fall in love with the "maiden" herself, no, he falls in love with her beauty. The maiden is nothing but a "representative of all select things and virtues." When a man tells a woman that he loves her, it is not her person or her will or her personal beauty that he loves. Love of another person is only the starting point for love of a higher kind. Being satisfied with loving a person is misplaced and will bring you "nothing but sorrow." The beauty of one's person is supposed to inspire the soul to pass "through the body" where it then:
falls to admire strokes of character, and the lovers contemplate one another in their discourses and their actions, then they pass to the true palace of beauty, more and more inflame their love of it, and by this love extinguishing the base affection, as the sun puts out fire by shining on the hearth, they become pure and hallowed.
Thus it is that "the one beautiful soul" (that of the woman) is a "door through which he enters to the society of all true and pure souls." The true purpose of love and marriage is "the purification of the intellect and the heart." Emerson manages to prove his critics right. He sets out to show he's a touchy-feely kind of guy but ends up turning love into yet another intellectual abstraction. He calls relations between lovers beautiful but at the same time considers it base. The sensual is unsatisfactory and must be intellectualized to be considered truly beautiful. Only someone who lives in his head as much as Emerson does would consider the sensual base. I think there is a lot to be learned from the sensual without reason stomping its big feet all over it. The body has an intelligence that is too often neglected. The body knows and understands things the mind never will. Unfortunately, Emerson seems to not pay attention to anything that happens below his neck. I feel sorry for his wife. Next week's Emerson: Friendship