Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Love and its Friends and Foes

Note: I do apologise for the post's apparent, excruciating length. But if you are daunted or plain lazy, I don't mind, just do not complain about a lack of fortune from now on because it's your choice whether you read it or not...

One may wonder and wonder: what is the subject that since the dawn of human civilization has been most talked about, most thoroughly explored, most ruminated over, most suffered for, yet somewhat the one that has been the least understood?
Hand on heart, ‘tis love!
Love. Indeed, the more I discuss it, the more susceptible I feel to this inexplicable sense of spiritual mystification. It is the one subject where you start with a platitude, and even though you may eventually bring your discussion to an inglorious close, you may still find yourself uttering platitudes upon platitudes, until the next terribly made porn film parts you and this innocent feeling if exigency that is pumped through the intricate blood vessel system of your spiritual innerness. Thus the inquiry as to love’s platonic side ends, and its sometimes irritating physical aspect kicks in with all the imposition and might that nature is capable of.
What if one devotes some time and effort to love’s apollonian side? Where do we start, indeed where could we, as all - too -human humans seek the roots of platonic love?
‘In Plato!’ shouts the learned man. But I say he, with all his marvellous erudition, should look elsewhere. But where exactly? Plato was one such learned gentleman, living in a precociously civilized, albeit often barbarous society that was ancient Athens. Truly I admit, I have only read one of his works dealing with the subject of love, and enlightening and captivating though The Symposium may be, it exposed to me what stood in the way of Plato, indeed what was the barrier between him and his understanding of the ever elusive subject of love. Is it not all too clear? The problem is contained in his very advantage: his erudition. Had he not been so darn clever, he would have understood love better!
I would also ask you to please excuse my rather mocking tone, glazed lightly with youthful arrogance, for an 18 year-old such as myself, publicly sharing his views on love, or at least confiding as to how he feels about love, could easily turn into the Achilles heel of his public persona, where he would be the subject of most iniquitous derision, dismissed as a vain attempt at manhood, in his course of trying to prove it is there, both in his head and in his pants.
I have come to the conclusion that in all likelihood, one has to rid oneself of both these attributes. That would apologetically leave the heart, because in the heart meet the two extremes, the two ends of the spectrum, for what pulsates there in your thorax straddles what you would definitely find below it, and what in most cases may eventually be discerned above it...
Following this analogy, it is only logical to accuse the heart of being the ego of the human body, where the genitalia is the id, as opposed to the superego which is usually found in the head, though I have to say the latter is without any shadow of doubt, the more indiscriminate of the two. In other words, the heart is the clearest, most unrelentingly raw manifestation of human instinct. The key word here is of course, raw. What exactly should that be the strongest link of the sentence? Because at the same time, it is by far the most obscure part of it, and also the part that is most underrated... rather like my guitar playing...
In all essence, the platonic, or the dark side of love, is massively under-explored, I feel. But I am here to tweak a bit with people’s idea of it, by recounting a story, or a film to be precise, and hoping that ultimately, my retelling of this story would aid people’s perception of the Holy Spirit of Love, or whatever you may call it, should you be daring enough to be one of those types of people who have never seen A Scent of a Woman and yet at the same time claim their favourite movie to be Titanic: usually some young, naive 12 year olds, or just grown ups who have never got around to growing a brain stem.
Sure, the film lacks the wittiness of A Scent of a Woman, yet the journey of, well as Hollywood likes to call it nowadays, ‘self discovery’, is undoubtedly there, and I would argue to a far, far more impressive extent.
The film’s name is Orisiya, or Destiny, as translated from Bulgarian. It was made in 1983, and I would simply state that very few films have ever made such an immediate, almost tearfully sobering impact on me.
Now, I won’t bother with explaining the plot; I would instead let the astonishingly well-written synopsis on the Internet Movie Database do this for me:

‘ This is a screen version of the short story 'Dervish Seed' from great Bulgarian writer Hikolai Haitov. The action takes place in an old-time village in the Rhodope mountains. A boy grows up in a mountainous village. To make sure that the 'dervish seed' of their clan will be preserved, his relatives decide to arrange a marriage for him. His fiancée is a beautiful girl. The Boy is hardly 14 when he is married off to a girl he sees for the first time on his wedding night. The young people fall for each other, but they are still kids, unable to cope with hardships all by themselves. Neither has yet emerged from their childhood and simply gets carried away by childish games, so that the morning the bride is still the maiden she was before. The girl's brothers strike a bargain with a neighbor and swap their sister for two goats. A rich man, who also is setting his affection upon the girl, pays off a ransom and takes the girl off. Years pass by. Both the boy and the girl have families of their own, yet their hearts are in agony for good. Torn between hatred for his rival and his love, for 40 years the Boy is destined to see his beloved busying herself in the neighboring garden. But towards the end of the film when her husband is taken ill, he gives her a hand in tending the man who has broken his life. Love has vanquished the barbaric wish for revenge. The primitive consciousness of the character has evolved to a higher level of humane thinking. In fact, this spells the film's main idea: though one may not find happiness, one can still fulfill the higher purpose of one's life.’

Not only is this plot summary well-written, it is actually appropriate! Bearing this in mind, I hope the basic story is thus more or less clear.
Indeed, the Boy in question, with all his desperately apparent youthfulness is robbed, unexpectedly, of the young girl he is due to marry. The film, in its initial stages, portrays their childish playfulness, their slow transition to mutual self-discovery, coming just short of true sexual awakening. Indeed, the unaccustomed viewer may find those early scenes rather strange, as the two young lovers possess a rather animalistic sort of approach to their initial relationship, albeit in a very pure, innocent almost beautiful way, and when it comes to the end of the film, you would undoubtedly realise the appropriateness of those scenes as chosen by the director. Indeed, they play an intrinsic, a vital part of the atmosphere established in the film. And what an atmosphere! There is no soundtrack used save for the rough bustling of bells found on the necks of goats, so as to recognise them. Indeed, this is the sort of sound which most aptly sums up village life in the mountainous, God-forsaken, unforgiving terrains where the action takes place. The other background texture of sound which may eventually qualify as music, is the ghostly silence of masses upon masses of snow falling down the frosty earth.
And what is it all got to do with platonic love then?
The crux of the story comes right at the very end. Indeed, the plot itself overall is incredibly simple, for the film’s true worth is contained in the atmosphere created from the director’s point of view, and the final, ultimate twist which concludes it, regardless of how populist this itself sounds.
The young, embittered Boy persistently longs for the Girl’s return, and the film goes as far as actually giving us access into the extreme depths of his spiteful mind. We are provided with vivid, violent recreations of scenes from the bitingly resentful imaginative schemes of which his simple, peasant soul initially conceives: from slitting his enemy’s belly open, to burning him alive on the stake, with his ominous laughs echoing throughout the snowy precipices and meadows of the village’s surroundings.
Those scenes unrelentingly shower us with incendiary spite, with sadistic desirousness which thrives in the young Boy’s heart, as the years pass by.
Despite all this, he never truly takes any action against his Enemy, and the fruits sown by the Devil in his heart, are ultimately not cultivated in such a precipitous manner as his sheer embitterment initially promised.
Years go by, and the Boy has married another beautiful woman, and has a family. His sons eventually grow up and get married themselves. At the back of his mind however, he is mentally on the look out for the neighbouring house, where his Enemy has likewise created a family with the Girl. As the Boy’s sons eventually leave the house and go on living their own lives, the Boy (now a man in his fifties, of course) gradually becomes alienated from his surroundings. One morning, as he learns of his Enemy’s grave illness, he takes it upon himself to go up to His house, and as he inevitably comes across the Girl (now a grown woman and a mother, of course), he pities her greatly, because she is the one who in the cold, callous winter snow, has to collect wood sticks for the fire which keeps the house warm, along with his Enemy in it. Else, he would die.
The true nobleness, the towering virtue of his act is contained in that he himself takes up the responsibility for the chopping up of wood in the virtually frozen forest, so that he could relieve the Girl from doing this herself, and possibly perishing in the process, due to the coldness of the weather and the strenuousness of the act, which requires a man’s resilience and strength. In other words, the Boy ultimately ends up helping the Girl in her care for her ill husband – the Boy’s nemesis, his bitter, lifelong enemy, all for the sake of keeping Her alive and well. This is how in this God-forsaken, tiny mountain village, plain, spiritually guided wisdom has ultimately prevailed over hopeless, juvenile spite, resulting in the great, insurmountable devotion of the Boy to the Girl. We may be reminded here of the Imbd synopsis:

“ Love has vanquished the barbaric wish for revenge. The primitive consciousness of the character has evolved to a higher level of humane thinking. In fact, this spells the film's main idea: though one may not find happiness, one can still fulfill the higher purpose of one's life.”

This is no simple tale of ‘love conquers all’, by any standard. In fact it provokes certain questions as to the nature of love and how it ties in with life itself. The Boy’s virtuous act is distilled from the memory of the childhood innocence of his initial relationship with the Girl. From this, he gathers the nobleness and gentility that is sustained in the moral value of the story. The overpowering thought of his innocently heartfelt past with the Girl, is what in the end prevents him from barbarous belligerence with his Enemy, and that very same thought, so deeply it finds itself embedded within his consciousness, that it ultimately succeeds in making him a person of greater moral stature than his Enemy, and a heart that is indelible from this lifelong loyalty towards the Girl.
Now, this type of logic may find itself actually complimenting the theory put forward by Aristophanes in the Symposium – that love and the act of love reminds us, perhaps on an unconscious level, of our initial, primordial state of being. This allegedly involved three beings, male, female and an ‘androgynous’ being, conjoined to form a sphere of effective ‘wholeness’ and physical and spiritual unity. Zeus’ ever prompt, severe, inflexible, heavenly justice however smote them, only to leave those beings, separated, thus resulting in what we would now refer to as human beings of opposing sexes. Thus, the Boy’s love, from the point of view of my argument, carries him into the realm of longing for past innocence and idyll, of the times when he affectionately recalls as being the happiest of his life, involving his first steps with the Girl. Aristophanes’ argument purports a similar idea of love being our simple longing for an arcadian past. All in all, both ideas carry a virtually identical line of reasoning. Indeed, the Boy’s longing of love long lost, in the end carries the torch of his elevated way of thinking, transforming his ineffective spite, into a nobleness that is both egregious and effective.

The story is likewise an exploration of free will. Where does the idea of free will thus fit in here? Well, for instance, if we shed some further, even more penetrating thought on the subject of the Boy’s spite, we may be able to discern the concept of free will within it. In my opinion, the story and the message that it tries to relay to the viewer, is the fact that despite the monstrosity of the desires which our minds may give birth to, one is not bound by any physical limitations, and one is absolutely free to attempt at their actual realisation, for nothing in the corporeal world, least of all a God, would intervene and stop you from accomplishing whatever you have set your mind upon. The Boy effectively spends his whole life pursuing the thought of his Enemy’s demise and painful death, and his true bride’s longed-for return. He is completely free to roam the darkest, most ghastly chambers of his brain, but he remains adamant deep down inside himself, that one’s internal paroxysms are to be overcome, and tamed by the force of the residue of the grace associated with the past; that one cannot escape the comforting thoughts of the humane touch of innocent warmth and affection, however long ago it may have been experienced. In this way, the Girl may have been taken from him physically, but her spiritual presence remains preserved in the archives of his heart, so as to keep one step ahead of the spiteful practicality of his vehement drive for revenge. Therefore, one is free to accumulate as much contempt and bitterness as possible within one’s own head, but the heart more than makes up for it, through the rawness of its instincts, because the powerful longing for an edenic past which I have extracted from the story, and which Aristophanes puts forward in the Symposium, in the Boy’s own heart, ultimately takes preponderance over and eschews the base, the spiteful and the ugly side of human course of vengeful action.
Hence, by means of this precise realisation, we arrive at the most truthful manifestation of platonic love. The story itself for me serves exactly this purpose of explaining how our awareness of the nature of platonic love is as equally important as our actual experience of it, because by knowing, by recognising the true significance of this type of love, we would be paving the way for the raw, edenic, instinctual realm of our hearts, to be more open to actually acquiring it in the first place. Thus learn to be less susceptible to the ‘pangs of disprized love’, and you will taste the truth of what’s written above.
Here, I have ended on a promised.


At 19 June 2008 at 16:11 , Blogger ¡Benjaminista! said...

Something tells me this movie is unavailable in Canada - but I prefer reading to viewing anyway, and your analysis is I'm sure just as artfully done. Is there a Christological theme here, love as inseparable from sacrifice?

At 19 June 2008 at 22:46 , Blogger IPCHUK said...

It's interesting you should refer to christology here, and certainly, one should approach the film and the characters presented in it, as half-human, half-divine, since they function symbolically to convey the meaning of the story.
However, what I really find appealing about it is the brutal rawness of the characters - the wisdom here is not of the complex Neitzschian viturperative type, but rather it involves the grandiose spiritual effort of simple, peasant people to sacrifice all their inherent spiteful brutality, in favour of the ennobling feeling of love, which here is presented as something to be earned. And anyway, there is no honesty quite like that of simple peasants who are somewhat naturally predisposed to it due to the uncomplicated nature of their thinking, which more or less lacks the prejudices of learned philosophers.

At 22 June 2008 at 22:22 , Blogger B.B said...

You just made my evening.


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