LOVE IS AN ACT: IN PRAISE OF ROMANTICISM

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It is time to be honest about love.

We are going to argue that love—truly romantic love—rejected as cheap and backwards these days, will save the world.

First, we admit that love is rare, and it dies rather quickly. Everyone experiences this. We like something if it benefits us, and all sorts of human relationships are based on practical arrangements. Love, and here we will skip a definition, since it refers to what most of us have experienced at some point: it is mad, complete, mystical, and full of desire. It is not friendship. It can strike us before puberty, but after puberty, the charisma involved largely partakes of sexuality.

It is a truism to say love requires focus. Love must be intense, have intensity—if it is what we know as love, it must be intense—and this brings us to love’s desire for beauty. It wouldn’t make sense for love to involve many things, for this would be to dilute and diminish by spreading too thin, all that love is, and we agree love must have intensity.

Love must have a physical dimension, and to have the force and importance love requires, love should be rare, but not so rare as to be beyond human possibility, and a certain social comprehension. Individual human beauty fits this criterion—human beauty is rare, invokes intensity and focus, and though rare, is accessible.

In the same manner that durable, attractive, and rare metals such as silver and gold will always signify value in terms of wealth in society, human beauty, whether we like it or not, is the coin of love.

We begin with individual human beauty.

But now we have two more elements.

These elements are based on the idea that love is an act.

Do we mean in the sense that “acting” is fake? “To be able to act” is simply what a successful person is able to do. One can say that beauty is “fake,” in the context of love; but this is to assume that the attractive, which is desired, is insincere, but how so? Acting, like beauty, might be construed as fake in “matters of the heart,” but this view, in the name of a fake “depth,” is the superficial one. If something is truly desired, and if any action, including “acting,” belongs to the category of achieving what is desired, how can it then be deemed superficial? We are forced to use acting, action, and act, and all these three words imply—since we are not talking of friendship or the spiritual, but the concentrated madness of love.

When we say “acting,” we do not include lying, or being dishonest in any way which hurts the beloved. We mean “acting” with the goal of loving one person. The “act” is for love, not for “playing around.”

After beauty, there are two layers of “acting” involved:

One: micro-acting, which refers to the natural charm of the person, an unconscious extension of physical attractiveness, and

Two: macro-acting, which involves the actual “behavior of love;” making vows and uttering words of promise, committment, passion, excitement, praise and, naturally, love.

Micro-acting is crucial. One can be physically attractive, but have very little actual charm. Physical beauty is necessary, but even necessary is micro-acting, the way a person smiles, their personality, how they “act.” We have all seen the attractive face which loses all its beauty the moment we experience that dull something in the person behind it. Beauty exists cleverly and minutely.

Macro-acting takes work.

Micro-acting is just the way the person is.

All three, personal beauty, micro-acting, and macro-acting, mutually enhance each other, and all three are present in love.

Acting, even as we are describing it here, in a heightened, non-pejorative way, is typically seen as wretched, superficial, dishonest, and unseemly.

But what we are saying here is that acting is at the heart of romantic love, and romantic love could not exist without it.

Romantic love is not necessary to marriage and children; there are many societies where marriage is arranged, or where women are second class citizens, or worse, and therefore breeding does not require love at all.

Here we notice two things. Romantic love, which may lead to marriage and children, is not necessary to these two things.

But when it is, it requires women to be free and equal to men.

If this is true, is the western tradition of romantic love directly involved in equality for women?

And if romantic love does require “acting,” is this why romantic love is easy for other societies to disparage, and why romantic love is increasingly viewed as insincere, useless, and crazy—especially with increasing contact between the west—and societies (Islam, for instance) which put more of a premium on breeding, and submissive women, than romantic love?

Recall that the major trope of romantic love as “madness” comes from Plato, who opined human breeding farms as a national ideal. (Plato redeems himself in other places, defending love, and the equality of women, but his pragmatic side had moments in his famous society blueprint, “The Republic.”)

What if romantic love is the true path to free and equal women, to a free and equal society, and love itself?

What if romantic love faces grave danger before the more practical forces of not only societies which enslave women, but groups who view romantic love as a backwards and superficial act?

Much has been made recently of the unlikely alliance between feminists and Muslims—how could these two groups possibly be allied?

Both oppose romantic love.

Islam prioritizes modesty—marriage in which the woman is subordinate.

Romantic love does not fit into this scheme.

Feminists (and many sexual progressives) dislike romantic love—since it prioritizes attractive and flirtatious females. Indicted here is the great western tradition of dead white male literature of the roaming, independent, pining male poets, and their beautiful female muses.

But the great tradition of romantic love does not feature enslaved, uneducated, subordinate women. Nor does it feature empty-headed, sexual bimbos, either.  And women can be beautiful in millions of different ways.

The Romantic poets, Keats and Shelley, loved educated women.

Equals. Women who could appreciate their poetry. Women (think of Mary Shelley) who were writers, as well.

Poe’s “Ligeia” is an entrancing, mentally and spiritually powerful, woman. Poe rejected as a literary ideal the merely sexual or physically attractive female. Flirtatious women meant nothing to Poe. But the woman poet was a source of great admiration for the American.

The great tradition of Romantic love features strong women. Otherwise it is perverted Romanticism.

Two wars. One should never fight two wars.

Women do not put on uniforms and go to war against other women. Men do that.

In nations where men fight other men and keep their women veiled and subordinate, men fight two wars, one against men, and another against their women.

These societies which fight two wars tend to lose out to the countries in the west—whose women are free and educated—the result of the western romantic literary tradition.

Here’s to Romanticism—often portrayed as reactionary, but it is quite the opposite.

Our readers have noticed we have championed the poet, Ben Mazer, who is just now bringing out his Selected Poems to a great deal of acclaim.

Ben Mazer and Scarriet are leading the revival of Romantic poetry.

We must admit that romance is an act—in the superficial meaning of that word.

We must admit to love’s superficiality.

Even as we defend it.

It is through poetry that micro-acting and macro-acting become one; and the poet achieves the charm of the lover—which all desire to possess.

Romantic love may just be the answer to world peace.

If the world heeds this essay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ISLAM HAS MADE THE WEST VEXED

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A small part of Islam has made the West vexed

With bouts of terror and hatred. When Muslim pride is rubbed raw,

When Islamic pride, embarrassed by the Westerner, over-sexed,

Terrified embarrassment having nowhere to hide,

As Western invaders break Allah’s moral law,

Stealing not only oil, but soiling the essence of women and young—

(A far cry from a quaint National Geographic photograph of camel dung—)

A secret internet sharing of shame travels far and wide

Among shamed, humiliated Muslim hordes,

As British Empire surrogates, U.S. and Israel, throw fuel on the fire

For further control which an Empire affords;

And add to this, the manipulated Sunni/Shiite mire—

You have what we have, and the desire to stop it

Cannot stop what drives it—too many parties do not want to drop it.

Blame Churchill and the British Empire.

Let China and Russia put out the fire.

The U.S., with its befuddled liberalism, and sex,

And freedom, and right-wingers, will only perplex.

Westerners should just stand back.

The West made the Sunnis mad in Iraq.

Oh man. Godless Japan. Can you make Hello Kitty toys attack?

JE SUIS SACRED

There are matters of which no jest can be made –Edgar Poe

My reputation, my reputation! I’ve lost my reputation, the longest living and truest part of myself! Everything else in me is just animal-like –Shakespeare

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Sophisticated, freedom-loving, Westerners, waving their flag of David Letterman Grin to the sound of sitcom sexual humor laugh-track laughter, are as sensitive as any to the pain of inappropriate lampooning—even if it is only teasing; even if it is only humor.

What happened in Paris on January 7th has elicited the usual rhetoric of hand-wringing, caution, outrage, sympathy and platitude from the pundits.

Here’s a typical sample from The New Yorker:

A religion is not just a set of texts but the living beliefs and practices of its adherents. Islam today includes a substantial minority of believers who countenance, if they don’t actually carry out, a degree of violence in the application of their convictions that is currently unique. Charlie Hebdo had been nondenominational in its satire, sticking its finger into the sensitivities of Jews and Christians, too—but only Muslims responded with threats and acts of terrorism. For some believers, the violence serves a will to absolute power in the name of God, which is a form of totalitarianism called Islamism—politics as religion, religion as politics. “Allahu Akbar!” the killers shouted in the street outside Charlie Hebdo. They, at any rate, know what they’re about.

These thoughts don’t offer a guide to mitigating the astonishing surge in Islamist killing around the world. Rage and condemnation don’t do the job, nor is it helpful to alienate the millions of Muslims who dislike what’s being done in the name of their religion. Many of them immediately condemned the attack on Charlie Hebdo, in tones of anguish particular to those whose deepest beliefs have been tainted. The answer always has to be careful, thoughtful, and tailored to particular circumstances. In France, it will need to include a renewed debate about how the republic can prevent more of its young Muslim citizens from giving up their minds to a murderous ideology—how more of them might come to consider Mustapha Ourrad, a Charlie Hebdo copy editor of Algerian descent who was among the victims, a hero. In other places, the responses have to be different, with higher levels of counter-violence.

But the murders in Paris were so specific and so brazen as to make their meaning quite clear. The cartoonists died for an idea. The killers are soldiers in a war against freedom of thought and speech, against tolerance, pluralism, and the right to offend—against everything decent in a democratic society. So we must all try to be Charlie, not just today but every day.

Here—from New Yorker staff writer George Packer—is a string of careful, factual, sentences earnestly saying “the right thing” about the tragedy.  This is not the argument of a mind trying to understand the tragedy.

When one puts together a string of sentences like this, one sentence, one passage, invariably contradicts the next: Mr. Packer says we must not “alienate the millions of Muslims,” but at the same time points out that “only Muslims (not “Jews and Christians”) responded with threats and acts of terrorism.” The implication is that Christians and Jews have never killed to send a message.

Mr. Packer also says “the killers” are “against everything decent” and “against the right to offend.”

We must be decent and offend?

No, say Packer’s defenders—it’s more complicated! 

Of course it is. 

It is too complicated to understand.

You “get it” or you don’t.

The words of Mr. Packer finally don’t matter.

Mr. Packer has made the right gestures.  He feels his platitudes-full-of-contradictions.  And we, who are sincere, feel them, too.

Mr. Packer has given the signs that he is 1) sufficiently aware of the complexity and that  2) he is sincere.

Now we can go on with our lives.

Understanding, however, is very different.

Will no mind in the West try to understand?

Simply because to truly understand will be seen as “support for terrorism?”

Supporting the terrorists would be a horrific, unconscionable, thing to do.

In public, we wear platitudes for all to see.

To be safe.

Let us attempt, however, just as an experiment, to understand the matter.

All of us know humor as two things:

1) a gift, a joy, a release, a comfort, a witty surprise, a sparkling insight.

2) a weapon which can demoralize, hurt, and dismantle reputations.

How can the same thing have these two opposing attributes?

What are we doing exactly, when we lampoon?

And what exactly, do we mean, by the sacred?

Is the sacred truly something we (an individual, a tribe, a nation) can point to and identify?

Or by the sacred can we say generally: whatever it is that cannot, or should not, be lampooned?

Does lampooning have a limit?

Is there ever a reason not to lampoon?

What is that reason?

How far are we willing to pursue the idea that “nothing is sacred?”

Why should we reasonably lampoon something?  Just because we can?

Or, for another more—relevant—reason: to hurt or injure what we are lampooning—for a purpose? Are we allowed to reasonably ask this: why are we attempting to injure, pain, or hurt?  “Freedom” is great, but “freedom” always implies “freedom to do…what? And why?  Should we ever do something—just to be “free?”

Now arises the great principle: in a free society, I don’t have to respect what you respect, and if what you respect disrespects me, I have a right to disrespect what you respect, in turn.  Not only in individual cases, but on principle.  And so we have the shootings in Paris.  Disrespect in the abstract (cartoons) gave way to disrespect concretely. (violence)

Disrespect in the abstract = Good.

Disrespect in the concrete = Bad.

Hurt my Respect = Okay.

Hurt my Body = Not okay.

Is this all we’re talking about, finally?  Is this the distinction that we either ‘get’ or do not?

Love a movie star in the abstract = okay

Meet the movie star and somehow get them to fall in love with you = okay

Stalk the movie star = not okay

If we remove all the religious and social and political aspects, is this all it really is?

Or, even more simply: Use your words

So, if we are “merely” dealing with the simple and the dangerous (like fire), prevention should be the first priority.

There will always be those who are not good with words, but are good with weapons.  They will always exist.

With this in mind, does it make sense for the educated to lampoon the uneducated?

If the whole matter is really something which is 1) beyond words and is all about 2) preventing wordless danger, shouldn’t caution rather than freedom, be the watchword?

We can yell Liberte’! from the rooftops of Paris all we want, but shouldn’t a calmer judgment prevail in assessing what happened in Paris several days ago?

The hot-headed Mark Steyn fears that “a lot of people will retreat even further into self-censorship,” but what does this even mean?  Should we now offend Muslims even more?  Will that make things better?  Should we start killing more Muslims?  Is that the answer?  Give offense.  The offense is taken. Now give more offense.  Somehow we think this is not going to help. Somehow we think this is not civilized.

Is self-censorship working out the truth for ourselves in secret?  Or does it mean not thinking about the issue at all?

Common sense says we ought to punish a wrong.  But who exactly should be punished?  All Muslims?

There are plans to publish more of the offending material.  Is this what Mark Steyn means when he talks of a “retreat even further into self-censorship?”

The trouble with spreading offensive material in the name of “freedom,” is that the true target will only be offended, not enlightened; and those already enlightened will not need the offensive material to be enlightened. So what, exactly, is the point?  To breed more zealots?

The emotion attending the whole issue is such that we really are in a situation beyond words.

Here’s the danger.

As a driver, have you ever accidentally cut someone off  and tried to apologize with sign language alone to the offended driver in the other car? You can’t do it.  It’s impossible.  How easy it is to give someone the finger, shake your fist, to express anger without words.  There are universal signs to express anger, hatred, rage, disgust.  We need no words to express the worst of human emotions.  But you cannot quickly tell someone in a clear manner, without using words, “I’m sorry I cut you off; I didn’t mean to cut you off! I’m so sorry!” There is no universal sign for this.  You can smile or shake your head or shrug, but they will not understand: What?? Are you making light of what you just did to me???  

Whenever we enter a realm in which the debate becomes a series of gestures, pro and con, where arguments of words are no longer effective, even though we are still using them, mere brutality prevails, and the repair of a wrong becomes impossible, no matter how sincerely it is desired.

To offend with a broad brush is not freedom.

It is lack of reason.

HOW TIMES HAVE CHANGED—MERRY CHRISTMAS

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The art of pop music may be simple, but its sociology is endlessly complex.

The Beatles first movie, A Hard Day’s Night, released 50 years ago last summer, featured the no. 1 song, “A Hard Day’s Night,” from the album of the same name; it was an immensely successful Beatles signature song which charted for the entire second half of 1964, and into 1965.

The lyrics of “A Hard Day’s Night” express what is now a rather outdated sentiment: the hard-working man comforted by the domesticated wife.

It’s been a hard day’s night and I’ve been working like a dog. It’s been a hard day’s night and I should be sleeping like a log. But when I get home to you I find the things that you do will make me feel alright. You know I work all day to get you money to buy you things. And it’s worth it just to hear you say you’re going to give me everything. So why on earth shall I moan cos when I get you alone you know I feel okay. When I’m home, everything seems to be right. When I’m home feeling you holding me tight.

These words sum up the key trope of society.

Fifty years ago, in the post-war boom, a husband working “all day,” could support his stay-at-home wife, who in turn, was happy to please her husband by “holding” him “tight.”

Here—in a pop song—is the single most pertinent social and economic fact of our era: the man can no longer support his wife; she must work, too, and further, she often chooses to work—an added feature in the collapse of the life “A Hard Day’s Night” depicts.

Not only do the lyrics of “A Hard Day’s Night” reflect

1. the crucial economic fact of our time,

but the changes implied in the song are at the center of every significant social issue, as well:

2. feminism, as just mentioned; also

3. the plight of Blacks, with the absence (and incarceration) of black fathers, and,

4. the rise of radical Islam, driven by hatred of the “freedoms” in the West, precisely those mostly feminist ones which have undone the world of “A Hard Day’s Night.”

We do not wish to seem guilty of our own “fundamentalism” by making the lyrics of “A Hard Day’s Night” the template of everything that matters, but isn’t it remarkable how words such as “when I’m home, everything seems to be right” and “I work all day to get you money to buy you things,” an innocent, euphoric, pop song from 1964, sits, in its simple expression—that very innocence now questioned—at the center of everything?

 

 

 

WE CAN STILL SAVE POETRY

sapph

The most significant change in poetry in the last 200 years has been in both form and subject matter, but formal concerns are really  insignificant compared to content, simply because poetry  has become prose and yet is still classified as poetry, and this practical truth trumps all others—no matter how much the formalist poet may protest. You want rhyme? Go to popular music.

But this is not an argument against formalism in poetry; we merely seek to look at the whole issue of old and new poetry as cunningly as possible.

The relationship between life and letters is more complex than the ‘include everything’ modernist would have it, while the pure formalist would reduce the relationship to one of pretty smoke.

But now let us really put our philosophy to work: Subject-wise, the most significant change in poetry is that poetry is no longer concerned with love.

Why were poetry and love nearly the same thing for hundreds of years?

Formal excellences are many, each fit a case, and they work when they work. So much for the rhetoric on that.

Love is the third of the Great Triad which includes Letters and Life—for several reasons.

1. Love is a popular topic. Life and Letters cannot enhance each other if Letters is the domain of a few, or merely a rote academic pursuit.

2. Love is of universal interest precisely because it incorporates every aspect of human existence: behavior, desire, morals, judgment,pride, children, spirituality, generosity, beauty, loyalty, attachment, manners, rhetoric, passion, urgency, delicacy, and the civilized. It is from a practical standpoint, not a romantic one, that love is significant. To reject love the subject matter as ‘romantic sentimentality’ is to reject it for reasons even less substantial.

3. Since so much of old poetry is a love story, to revive the topic again will reconnect old poetry and living poets.

We told the formalists to go to popular music if they wanted rhyme; we could go to popular music for love, too.

But love is like the sea no amount of tears or poems will fill. Popular music will inevitably be about love, and what about poetry?

For the reasons we have just given, Love ought to be Poetry’s template once again.

If poetry’s loud little brother, popular music, makes love its theme, this should not affect what the poets write about.  Sure, if a plaintive singer can sing more profoundly on love than a poet can, the poet should be rightly uneasy and embarrassed to be outdone by the songbird.   But the poets should persist: the topic of love is vast and without end, with nuances abounding, and as we said, it is the only proper subject for lyric poetry.  Exceptions will arise, but even when poets write of walls, what are they really writing of but love?  Let us err in the direction of swoon.

Love is a subject which includes a great deal which seems to have nothing to do with love.  Love is a great way to talk about other things.   At least, in poetry.

If poets think Love is not political enough, well what do we think is at the bottom of the most pressing issues of our day?  Islam and the West disagree most profoundly on sexual freedom.  Love is the most important topic, wherever we look.

Why Love was chased from poetry by the Modernists is surely an interesting topic in itself.

But it is time Poetry saved itself with the one thing that can save it.

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