Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Shkolvsky on Authentic Love
"Life tailors us for a certain person and laughs when we are drawn to a person unable to love us."
"My fate was completely predetermined. But everything might have been different."
Heidegger and the existentialists have something to teach us about love. Love is linked to authenticity. At first, we fall in love, but in a superficial, inauthentic way. We don't realize how random the process of linking our lives to the lives of others can be. We are attracted to someone and make ourselves believe that we could never have loved anyone else. But this isn't true. We might just as easily have fallen for the charms of a thousand other people. Over time, if we're honest and brave enough to deal with this existential fact, we admit that love is not blind but, worse than that, arbitrary. At first, this knowledge terrifies us: am I really in love with this person in front of me, or did I fall into this state by happenstance? In the end, if we're courageous enough, we accept or even embrace the fact that we can love a woman passionately even in the knowledge that there are fifty-seven other women on E-Harmony who fit our search criteria equally well.
The whole delusion of love reminds one of Heidegger's theory that most of us have never examined the lives we live and therefore live inauthentically. A small subset of the human race eventually awakes to the fact that our truest selves have been artificially constructed, the product of chance rather than choice. Notwithstanding our most cherished desires, we realize upon examination that we inherit our lives rather than make them. In response to this realization of the "given" nature of our personal existential dilemma, we make some effort to outrun or escape fate. We move to other states, adopt artificial music tastes, renounce familial political or religious affiliations, and throw ourselves into relationships that seem, at least initially, to be unwise or surprising--the lifestyle equivalent of wildly waiving one's arms in the air to prove that nothing has been foretold, nothing is preordained. Eventually, the attempt to escape from the arms of fate fails. And we recognize this failure. However, we don't merely return to our original, unexamined lives. We now live these lives bravely and honestly, with the sometimes awkward knowledge that our lives are not purely the product of our own heroic freedom.
Vicktor Shklovsky's epistolary novel, Zoo, or Letters Not About Love, touches upon the artificial nature of love. Shlovsky, one of the Soviet Union's best literary theorists, wrote Zoo as testimony to an unrequited love. The book is filled with aphorisms by this master stylist.
I have wound my whole life around you.
I need you you; you know how to bring me out of myself.
Your love may be great, but it's far from joyful.
Foxes have their holes, the prisoner is given a cot, the knife sleeps in the scabbard, but you had nowhere to lay your head.
The Roman soldiers who pierced the hands of Christ are no more guilty than the nails. All the same, the crucified feel much pain.
Sick birds don't like to be watched.
And it is easy to be cruel--one need only not love.
The stag uses its antlers in combat, the nightingale does not sing in vain, but our books avail us nothing. This wound will not heal.
Moving diagonally like a knight, I have intersected your life.
When I was not yet thirty and did not yet know loneliness..
I thought Grzhebin cruel for having gulped down so much Russian literature.
...like a rejected suitor who ruins himself buying flowers to turn the room of his unresponsive beloved into a flower shop and who admires this absurdity.
Don't be surprised, Alya, we are all capable of raving--those of us who really live.
There is no harm in loving.
Love Alya, but not your love of her.
When you've wanted a certain dress for a long time, it doesn't pay to buy it--you've memorized it to tatters.
Naturally a thing has only itself to blame if it doesn't know how to become loved.
Here I sit, as much in love as any telegraph operator.
I sit here with my malady; I think about you, about automobiles. (The combination helps.)
We were in a hurry to get life in our clutches. But we lacked the necessary words; we thought you could grasp a woman like a thing--by the handle.
It's better to live all of life to the sound of a guitar.
I just don't care. I know one thing: You won't even put my letter in the basket on the right side of your bed.
For me, Berlin is encircled by your name.
Don't be surprised when I cry out--even when you're not hurting me.
We talked to each other about many things, all of them bitter.
Life is hard for every man who loves a woman or his trade.
She has a porcelain face, with eyelashes so big that they drag down her lids. She can slam them shut, like the doors of safes.
I was bound to be broken while abroad and I found myself a love to do the job.
I lay at your feet like a rug, Alya!
You write about me--for yourself; I write about myself--for you.
This book is being written for you, Alya; writing it is physically painful.
Set my words free, Alya, so they can come to you like dogs to their master and curl up at your feet.
She is the only island for you in your life. From her there is no turning back for you. Only around her does the sea have color.
I want to break into pieces and scatter throughout the city the fact that I love you. If only I knew how!
To live in any real way is painful.
Quit writing about "how, how, how much you love me," because at the third "how much" I think about something else.
And yet, at this moment, an enormous, almost authentic moon is peering into my window.
The past is no more. The circles, rings of love, have receded, moving toward the shore.
If I had owned an extra suit, I would never have come to grief.
The stud (Anatol Kuragin) is not destined for unsuccessful love affairs. His path is strewn with roses; only utter exhaustion can terminate his romances.
I am very sentimental, Alya. That's because I take life seriously.
It seemed to me that, of the two of us, probably only one was human.
It's all a question of "how much." All my letters are about "how much" I love you.