Adolescent & divine loves
December 27, 2012 § Leave a comment
“That does not keep me from having a terrible need of—shall I say the word—religion. Then I go out at night to paint the stars.”
~ Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother
“With the death of god, the human need for myth did not die. Instead, we live in the wake of an impenetrable structure where nothing is sacred” (Antic). So opens a recent, relatively uninformative article on the changed face of metamorphosis under capitalist thought. The argument centres around the notion of paradisial syndrome, as found in This Incredible Need to Believe (2006), although no reference is made to its author, Julia Kristeva. The paradisial syndrome is described by Kristeva as a stabilizing agent that allows for cohabitation with others similarly stabilized. The example used is the belief in an “absolute partner” (17) or true love in a world that requires hyper-rationality. The pursuit of love is often the strongest expression of the remains of a religious belief in individuals belonging expressly to secular society. Kristeva writes,
the perpetuation of the paradisial syndrome, notably in the idealization of the bourgeois couple, as portrayed by TV soap opera cliché, or by ‘People’ magazine-type glamorising of the life of the couple, has become a pillar of global morality. This show business, commercial, or vulgar variants upon an excessively secularized paradise are intrinsically religious; they are the visible secular face of the deep need to believe that nourishes adolescent culture. (18)
[NB: In the reading that follows, I take it as assumed that most of culture never passes the “adolescent” phase & is, therefore, homologous to the adolescent.]
The significance of the couple isn’t accidental. From their biblical ancestors, the couple has represented the perpetuation of humankind on both the biological & psychological topoi. Only the latter needs elaboration. By nurturing their young & caring for the elderly, the family has established the potential of endless historicization in reaching their arms to either side. The family is the link in the chain of history. This takes root in the mind as “progress”. At the height of this idea’s popularity, the production of sons becomes peculiarly valued as the best means of conserving a name — both regal & otherwise.*
This is evident today especially in the literary output, for “the birth of the European novel takes shape around the character of the adolescent” (Kristeva 19). Love is the ideal subject for story-tellers not only for the relatively universal interest it enjoys, but because the subject of love — first love, true love — is an escape from history (this could be the very reason love is so popular a subject); the past is forgotten & the future is understood only vaguely as an infinite rejuvenation of the initial loving moment. While linear, stories have always been concerned with the breaks in linearity. This is, in fact, the noble work of the novel: hypothesizing schisms from previous genres & modes of thought, & sometimes enabling change. To go back further, the Greek antecedents of the novel were Romances (reflected in the term “Roman” used in many European languages today), where we encounter nothing but breaks from generative time. The action of these works does not happen in the familiar world, nor the contemporary world. Perhaps the most evident difference is that the conflicts of love hadn’t yet found their interiority, so that each obstacle was exterior & extravagant.
Monotheism is in great part responsible for the radicalization of the perspective on love. For instance, “in Christianity henceforth the copresence between human & divine is to be a gift of love, received & given back, that in its very gratuitousness fulfils a promise & brings into being a pact, thus tracing the outlines of the optimal space for a social & historic exchange” (31). Paganism could never achieve such an encounter — one need only think on Leda, Europa, or Cassandra. The god-relationship, especially in the Christian tradition with which Kristeva concerns herself primarily, emphasises love to the extent that god is love; each earthly love of couples is doubled by divine love so that a true union is at once particular (situated) & the ideal symbol.
This has brought the argument full circle: The pursuit of love is often the strongest expression of the remains of a religious belief in individuals belonging expressly to secular society. “We hail from the same continent of thought”, Kristeva imagines saying to her agnostic & atheist friends at the end of the book, “we often rise up against each other because we are in reality right against one another” (106) — where to be “right against” is to act as support & allows the rising up to happen as if between brothers. She means to account for our various inheritances from religion: a history that seems to regenerate itself no matter how frequently its notions are challenged or destroyed. By placing the history of religion in the same timeline as the scientific, Kristeva employs the trick of hereditariness to find a less reactionary understanding of faith in the modern world.
Why love? Of all the progressions eventuated by Hyper-rationality, marriage has had the inverse development of being pursued emotionally — a position that the hyper-rationalists widely adopt.
*Such ideas no longer hold the currency that inspire tragedies, yet “the changing family structure” continues to threaten notions of generative time that society relies on to repress suspicions of life’s absurdity. Since the emancipation of women, this has been regularly debated in popular culture. It is a sublimated issue which harks to the human desire to believe.