love. week eighteen.
city. new york city
To love something conditionally, is to love it because it is valuable to me. This is sometimes called appraisal love. It provides me with value.
“I love my car because it’s a fun convertible and has great gas mileage.”
“I love my phone. It helps me stay in touch with my friends, and very rarely shatters when I throw it across the room and miss my bed.”
The car and the phone are in some way deserving of my love. My love is rational. I can even explain it to others and maybe they’ll learn to love these things too.
In a sense, an object of conditional love obligates me to love it. It coerces me. It reaches out to me and says, “please, Daniel, won’t you love me?” I have no way out. It would be insane not to love it, for it contains something which is essentially loveable. Maybe it brings me happiness. Or security. Or even life itself. To ignore this object would be to ignore an aspect of myself, and although I can try as hard as I want (and believe me, I have), my ignored self will find a way to make itself heard.
To love something unconditionally, on the other hand, is to love it before it has value. In fact, by loving it, I’ve imbued it with value. This is sometimes called bestowal love.
“I love my apartment, because… well, because it’s perfect. With all its flaws and challenges, it’s such a wonderful place to live. Isn’t it?”
This is where people start to praise things simply for their ‘character’.
“Oh, I don’t mind the chipped paint. Actually, I think it gives it character.”
Unconditional love is irrational. I can never explain it to others, and there is no chance that they will learn to love it too. My apartment does not deserve my love; I present it as a gift. No, that’s not quite right. I present myself as a gift.
This is not to say that unconditional love is voluntary. I never intend to fall in love. That would be like intending to make a mistake. There is no mistake to be made. There is no fall to be had. It just happens. Or it doesn’t.
However, unlike conditional love which obligates me, unconditional love seduces me. I am not forced into love by the sheer force of the object’s objective value; no, I am enchanted by the allure of a mysterious Being.
Benjamin’s Aura. Buber’s Thou. Levinas’s Other. Lacan’s Real.
Actually, once we’re on the topic, let’s discuss ‘existence’ for a second. To notice that something exists, that it actually exists, is what immediately causes my fall into love. To forget that something exists, is to fall out of that love. More precisely, I myself only emerge into existence at that moment when I become aware of another’s existence. And reciprocally, by noticing the beloved object, I pluck it back into itself, back into existence.
The object of my unconditional love is the object that is capable of grabbing my attention, and thereby shocking me back into existence. It is the object that simply will not allow me to remain invisible, like a life jacket which relentlessly saves me from my own laborious descent.
Self-love is not only a pre-requisite for other-love, it is also its result.
This, then, lends some additional depth to the idea that giving someone my attention is the greatest act of love. It is precisely so.
Similarly, there are some objects which have become so imbued with (bestowed) value that they almost seem to become valuable in themselves. Religions have done a great job cultivating and honoring these objects (saints, crosses, holy sites, certain words, a particular time of the day, week, month, year), but they exist in every sphere of life. Each one of our loves has its own private family of sacred objects. These objects are truly boring and mundane to virtually everyone who has or will ever live, but, to a select few initiated lovers, they always contain an overabundant supply of meanings and energies.
There’s a café in Amsterdam where my younger brother and I got high together for the first time, sitting beside a pair of ancient Dutch women. There’s a brick wall in Jerusalem where my friend and I would leave each other inspirational messages, using a thick black tfillin marker. There’s that book that I happened to be reading when I fell in love for the first time.
In a future post I’d like to focus more directly on the idea of ‘the sacred’, as well the ways in which rituals can help to create and maintain their fictional value. In other words, I wonder if and how the ‘sacred’ can be applied to ‘love’, and whether ‘love rituals’ can be devised to help cultivate it.
Oh, also, I want to play around some more with the idea of ‘attention as love’. I’m thinking of doing an experiment where I spend a day giving my full attention to anything/anyone that asks for it.
And, finallyyyyy, I read something a while ago that has been banging around my head for the last couple weeks. Some artist said: “If there is something you’re truly passionate about, you owe it to yourself to try, at least once, to give it your all. Otherwise, you will live the rest of your life knowing that you never really gave yourself a shot.” I guess this isn’t really connected to love, but it somehow feels relevant.