Love. Going once…

For Germans, there is ultimately no way around quoting Goethe, who had something to say about everything and everyone. And in this case, good old Goethe is positively inevitable, having provided us with what became immediately upon publication in 1774 one of the greatest hits of world literature on love: «The Sorrows of Young Werther». Among many other things, Goethe says in this work:

«What is the world to our hearts without love? What is a magic lantern without light? You have but to kindle the flame within, and the brightest figures shine on the white wall. And if love only shows us fleeting shadows, still it always makes us happy when we stand there like children enraptured by the wondrous phantoms.»

How is it that we identify with another person to the degree that we want to give ourselves over completely—and only thereby really feel like a whole person? What causes this strange combination of finding oneself by losing oneself? The supposed rationality of biotechnology, psychology or even evolutionary biology provides but a very limited and fragmentary answer to this question. Can modern sociology contribute more decisive clarification? I would like to trace these questions and present diverse approaches and aperçus, insights and entire books on this topic here.

My reflections on love could be called «Chances and Problems of Love in Times of Maximum Possibilities»

I do not want to deal so much with the «unselfish» version of love, with agape. I am far more interested in the union of sexual, spiritual, intellectual or «mental» love (geistig-seelische Liebe). This is not least due to my own personal autobiographical interest, since a longing to merge with other people has been a constant driver in my life. I would like to trace the mechanisms of explanation that help us understand our personal feelings in our inexplicable fascination for another person, to find out more about that inscrutable mélange of «reason» and «emotion». 

Actually, a look into literature will not reveal much that is meaningful and, above all, hardly nothing that is helpful. There is no end to clever guides on human relationship management. Take as a paradigmatic example The Art of Seduction, by Robert Greene (from the author of the American bestseller The 48 Laws of Power): nothing but predictable blah, blah, blah. But even writers who play in an entirely higher league, like Michel Foucault (The Use of Pleasure), prefer to elegantly steer clear of the actual topic. It makes me wonder if purely philosophical teachings are sustainable at all if they lack practical relevance.

Literature has always been rather close to the issues of love, maintaining a very intimate liaison. Love, at any rate, has a great deal to do with sensual concepts and direct sensual experience, and thus has much in common with the so-called arts. Love is subject to very personal ideas, illusions, and obsessions that are hardly to be classified or even categorized in any structured way. Naturally, there is not only one type of love.

We are part of nature and thus subject to chemical and biological laws, like all other living beings. But we are also sociocultural products and as such not adequately explained by blood analysis or hormone tests. It is time to bridge the gap between the so-called humanities, such as sociology and philosophy, and the so-called natural sciences, such as chemistry, biology, genetics, etc., and – somewhere in between – psychology. We should put the existing antagonisms aside and rather have all disciplines join forces in order to reach higher levels of understanding.

Often without even being aware of it, we are torn between movies, music, novels, and many consumerist narratives that praise «romantic» love, and supposedly «true» love which impulsively overwhelms us now and then. Is our feeling really genuine or is it mere calculation? Where are we real and where are we fake? Can we even know this apart from ourselves? These are some of the questions I would like to explore with you!

Photography: Youssef Limoud

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