2013 / 5 / 11
In philosophy, there was always a historical debate over the meaning of love; what is love? Why does it occur? Is it a physical phenomenon? Or an emotional feeling that is ineffable to us as humans? To me, I would borrow a friend’s quote, replacing the word god for love: “Love does not exist, but it is real.” Yes, I do believe that love does not exist by itself, but it is actually something real we all know about. Love has a power that controls us without even knowing why we have succumbed to it. It contains our emotion, thinking, and even our language as any other transcendent structure does. I would fully agree that love is absurd as Albert Camus argued.1
Love was always seen as the way Plato defined it. He speculated that love is a developed feeling that could be derived from desire or physical beauty first, but it’s always a manifestation of love of spiritual or ideal beauty. Plato assumed that there is an ideal beauty that humans attempt to reach. Hence, love was metaphysically explained as any other thing would be in that period of time. Assuming that there is always something ideal, perfect, and right beyond a human’s sense is as same as how metaphysics is trying to explain nature. It is a “what is” question rather than being “what is the meaning” question as the existential philosopher Heidegger put in his “what is metaphysics” question.2 Love should become a question that is based on the experience of being rather than being a matter that is investigated by the metaphysical presupposition. In the sense, love should become a man’s question, not a metaphysics question, and should be examined by the nothingness, not through being, since Heidegger saw the nothingness identical with being. This is what Plato did not do in his definition of love. Plato is metaphysics and metaphysics is Plato in the eyes of Heidegger. He saw that Plato fell into the metaphysics trap in his definition and became a victim of the metaphysical question, “Why is there something rather than nothing.”3 Plato’s “something” was the “ideal beauty” that love is seeking, which was significantly obvious, a metaphysical explanation to the phenomenon of love that Heidegger did not agree with.
Soren Kierkegaard, the Christian Existential Philosopher, had argued that the human’s love is a shadow or manifestation of a love of God, but it could lead to the possibility of despair4 if it’s not a real love. For instance, if man loves a woman, he sees himself in that love. But what if she didn’t exchange the same feelings with him? That would make him despair over that love, and in turn, despairing over that love means despairing over himself also, since he sees himself in that love. He could then be a captive to despair in which the self as a relation does not relate itself to itself in the synthesis5 anymore. Kierkegaard defined the self as the relation that relates itself to itself in the synthesis, and if any misrelation occurred in the relation of that synthesis, it would lead to despair.6 In a real love, or what he called “Christian love,” man could not feel despair at all because the synthesis is now on the hands of God. In the sense, loving God is the only eternal love that does not lead to despair since this love emerges without a fear of rejection from God. According to Kierkegaard, as God loves us unconditionally, certainly he will not reject our love. This is an unconditional love7 in which the temporal erotic love has been replaced by the eternal spiritual love. It is the highest stage of love as he states. It is the religious love that can bring the spiritual happiness to the self than the erotic love that is full of fear and despair. Not only fear and despair, but also sorrow and death,8 or in other words, sickness unto death,9 the ontological death, of course. This is what Soren Kierkegaard believed in his Christian existentialism.
The idea of “Eternal Love” and its Kierkegaardian explanation never makes sense to me, as I cannot imagine how man can fall into that eternal love with God, whom nobody knows what he is. How can man eternally love something he doesn’t even know what it is? If a human failed to eternally love a manifest existent (human), how come he would love God whom he hasn’t seen before?
Fredrick Nietzsche, the German philosopher, had answered the above question by humanizing the metaphysical values and creating new concepts in which man became the center of thought and belief, not the metaphysics. Everything is now led by the human, not the metaphysics. As there is no God that exists in Nietzsche’s leading philosophy, there should be no love that exists in the way that Kierkegaard explained. Nietzsche announced the death of God10 to eliminate the role of metaphysics in explaining the natural, sociological, and philosophical phenomena. Love is among those phenomena that need to be humanized in the sense of human explanation, not the metaphysical explanation. Love metaphysically died, and in stead, a new form of love has been announced from now on, a love that a human can carry. However, this love is also absurd since it does not satisfy the human needs. Man would seek for a total love in which he reaches the full gratification, but no way for him to reach that level, though. He would for sure practice Don Juan’s experience trying to achieve his status as an eternal love seeker. But did Don Juanism11 give an ideal replacement of the Kierkegaardian love? I don’t think so.
Both, Don Juanism and Kierkegaardianism were absurd and nihilist since they became meaningless. Assuming impossible love as in Kierkegaardian philosophy and moving from woman to woman as in Don Juanist experience did not present the right form of love that man seeks. In both experiences, there was a huge gap between what man needs from love and how the external reality presents that love. Yet, when the world does not give us the objective value of love that we want to have, love becomes something meaningless. Nietzsche argued that the meaninglessness of something is nihilism.12 In the sense, love is nihilist since it has no meaning. It’s also absurd because love does not last to the end. It does not stay at the same level either. It consistently changes, and then man would probably seek for new love as Don Juan did before. Every time he experienced new love, the absurdity emerged so clearly. Don Juan knew that this was an absurd task, but he instead chose to live it, feel it, and face it, as Sisyphus lived, felt, and faced the meaninglessness of life by accepting his fate and continuing to roll the meaningless rock. Sisyphus was an absurd hero because he became conscious of absurdity and accepted its rules by himself13 rather than committing a suicide as some could do in facing the truth of absurdity. He decided to live the absurdity and find himself some special sort of happiness as a way out from the tragic meaninglessness that he did realize consciously. For him, that was better than committing a suicide, which would probably make him loose his battle against the routinization of task. It was better for him to challenge the absurdity of life and seek for the victory rather than being defeated by his fate. That’s exactly what Sisyphus did and that’s how he became a symbol of rebellion in the existential meaning as Don Juan became a symbol of love later also. Both had discovered the absurdity of their work, but they decided to live it in order to face the meaninglessness of life.
To me, it’s nonsense how people decide not to face their fate and be defeated by any simple existential situation in this world. I know that overcoming one’s fate could be seen as a utopia, but merely trying to think about that situation would give the existence its meaning. In the issue of love, man could still not understand what love really is, but that doesn’t mean that he has to deny it or adopt, for example, hate as an opposite attitude that emerges from the existential rebellion. Absolutely, not. The way I see rebellion is that man should epistemologically become conscious of absurdity and act accordingly, not to ideologically dissolve into one of those pre-existing explanations, whether they are metaphysical or materialistic explanations, that try to rationalize what it’s not rationalized. Rebellion does not always manifest by denying a forced situation, but sometimes by accepting it consciously, which would be in this case a Sisyphian rebellion. Sisyphus became the great rebel by accepting his meaningless task, not by denying it. But he accepted it with a full awareness of its absurdness; otherwise, he wouldn’t be a rebel, he would be like any other person in this life. This is how Camus reviewed the Sisyphian wisdom. In order for a human to be an existential rebel, Camus wanted him to only be conscious of absurdity, not to do anything against it because no one can change the absurdity ever. So accepting love -- as an act of absurdity, not as a meaningful issue -- would be considered an existential rebellion on a meaningless situation.
Knowing the reality of love could provide a better chance to make an existential revolution14 on its transcendent concept in which love is no more that beautiful feeling that man can have. It’s now a pain that can be added to the humanity since it does not last long. It could be beautiful for a while, but there is no guarantee to be so forever. We could loose love momentarily, just like loosing someone from the family suddenly. And yet, we would wake up from our nap and begin to ask the existential questions on the “self” and the “world” we live in. Why does this world exist? Why are we here? Why do we loose friends, relatives, family members, and others whom we loved from time to time? What is death? Does it make sense? It is the same exact thing that we should do when we loose love so weirdly. We should start asking: What is love? Why does it occur primarily? Why does it change consistently? Why do we loose it suddenly? If love is one of God’s manifestations, why doesn’t it last forever, as God lasts forever? Is it always the devil that we blame when love is ruined? But who is the devil anyway? Didn’t God create him also?
Thinking of such questions is actually a first spark of any existential revolution, which is a revolution that should mature from the strongest power that a human has, knowledge. The more questions we ask, the more knowledge we get. Thus, knowledge would be the power of the powerless15 for any existential attempt or revolution that tries to revalue the preceding values including the Platonic, Kierkegaardian, and Don Juanist love values. It’s worth mentioning that any revolution in the world would have its own values to either replace or rebuild the old values, and it wouldn’t deserve to be called a revolution if it was not so. So in order to have an existential revolution, we should first know how to use the power of the powerless, which is the knowledge in our case. And through that power (knowledge), we can have a better pickaxe to begin an archaeological digging of the old concepts and deconstruct16 its preceding meanings. After that, a devaluation of values17 would start to posit new values and create a new sense of life in case of successful existential revolution. This is what’s happening all the time during the human’s life. Every time we have new values, new meanings, and new explanations and we could possibly have same old values rebuilt again in a new form. This is what Nietzsche called the eternal returning18 or the eternal recurrence in which the world is recurring and will continue to recur forever. One can ask, though: Where is the truth among all those thoughts?
Well, there is nothing that exists called truth in post-modernist world anymore. The truth of the truths is that the truth is only an idea formed at a certain time, in a certain place, and by a certain person. It always changes. I would always describe the truth as “trash” that is periodically recycled in new form by a human and produced as a new product. Ideologically, truth is also recycled consistently. Once consumed and turned to trash for a while, someone else would start recycling it to form new ideas and produce what he considers a new “truth” again. This will continue over and over since man exists forever. There is no truth, but instead, there is what I call a “recycled trash” only. The recycled trash that is precisely created to inherit the power and dominance from the previous staggering trash since everything is about power as Nietzsche explained in his will to power19 idea. Nietzsche argued that everything in this world had been founded in order to reach the power and dominance, the power of religion, politics, ethics, and so on.
Back to our topic, love is not a truth. It is an illusion, or to be more attached to my own concept, it is an ideological trash that has been recycled so many times before to give its nihilist sense so clearly. Loosing the love suddenly should stimulate us to reshape our pre-existing beliefs about it and about how the world is generally operating. It is my existential revolution that I should accept the love as is, while I am trying to devalue its transcendent value. This is the truth; oh I should have said here is my “recycled trash:” Love is absurd, don’t you think?
1. Albert Camus, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” And Other essays, trans. Justin O’brien (New York: Vintage Books, 1991), 69.
2. Martin Heidegger, “Basic Writings,” From Being and Time (1927) to the Task of Thinking (1964), edited by David Farrell Krell (New York: Harper Collins, 1993), 93.
3. Ibid., 96.
4. Soren Kierkegaard, “The Sickness unto Death,” A Christian Psychological Exposition for Upbuilding and Awakening, edited and translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1983), 15.
7. Soren Kierkegaard, “Works of Love,” Page 280. (Unknown edition / book without cover)
8. Ibid., 302.
9. Kierkegaard, “The Sickness unto Death,” 17.
10. Martin Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology,” And Other Essays, trans. William Lovitt (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), 57. (God is Dead is a very famous concept that was illustrated by the German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche in his main ideas to refer to the death of Metaphysics.)
11. A concept that Albert Camus used in reviewing Don Juan’s experience of love in “The Myth of Sisyphus”.
12. Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology,” 63.
13. Camus, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” 121.
14. Frederick Douglass, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” An American Slave Written by Himself (New York: Penguin, 1997). (In this narrative, readers can see how Douglass made an existential revolution when he denied his slave situation and started to fight for eliminating the slavery in the United States after he perfectly learned reading and writing and became knowledgeable.)
15. Vaclav Havel, “Living in Truth,” Twenty-Two Essays Published on the Occasion of the Award of the Erasmus Prize to Vaclav Havel, Edited by Jan Vladislav (Boston: Faber and Faber), 2. (The Power of the Powerless is briefly a concept that was used by the Czech political philosopher Vaclav Havel to refer to the political dissidents or rebels who are trying to change a bad situation.)
16. Deconstructionism is a literary or philosophical concept that was mainly derived from the ideas of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. It is about how to epistemologically break down texts and discourses and find what is hidden behind them to better analyzing the author’s intents and purposes.
17. Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology,” 58.
18. Ibid., 82.
19. Ibid., 78.