By Sam Heidepriem
Philosophy is, in my view, the most honorable employment of the human mind, and my favorite practitioner of this noble craft is Haddaway, whose magnum opus vindicates the principle that when it comes to the most basic inquiries into the human condition, profundity consists in straightforward concepts and Spartan formulation. Haddaway uttered three syllables, and as far as I can tell, the boat’s still rocking. Really, what is love? As an object of our understanding, love has suffered the familiar tragedy of common concepts, namely that the universality of its invocation produces in each of us the illusion of a clear grasp on a notion which-as becomes apparent under scrutiny-we handle with little practical, let alone theoretical dexterity. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, and I can imagine no occasion more apt for a serious meditation on the essence of human love than the one we allocate in its honor. Hence, the musings which follow. Should they strike you as utter nonsense, it’s cool-deride them to your satisfaction-but, please. baby don’t hurt me. Proposition the first is that love comprises a dual character divided between the categories of form and content. The formal dimension emerges due to the fact that love-rhapsodic and transcendent its sensation might be-must be subjected to a certain measure of structure if it is to meaningfully endure. Form provides a rough procedure for rendering durable the raw experience of love, which originates in love’s other dimension-that of content, by which I simply refer to those unique qualities of the person one loves that together compose the specific material of that love. Formal and substantive love endow the loved one with separate characteristics: considered formally, one loves another inasmuch as this person has been elevated to the status of a loved one-it’s a matter of protocol indifferent to the individual at hand; substantive love considers the loved one in his or her specificity and loves this specificity, with no concern for whatever procedural obligations this love entails. I submit that it is the manner in which formal and substantive dimensions are disposed in relation to each other that accounts for an isolated love’s unique dynamics.Moreover, to consider love in terms of form and content allows that we avoid what would surely be a painful exorcism from contemporary romantic vernacular-I mean that of true love, which I propose arises at the moment in which the formal and substantive components of love perfectly coincide. An aside to the boys: at that convergent point, and at that point only, it’s probably time to take a knee. My second proposition contains considerably less philosophical rigor than the first. I really just like this idea, and have no sense of its theoretical merit. Take it or leave it.Every day of our lives, each of us is possessed of innumerable thoughts, each as transient and elusive as a petal in the breeze; yet nonetheless real, and, for its time, undeniably present. Many of these are alienating and destructive: our individual limitations preoccupy our reflections; we obsess over failures personal as well as social, and our impulses to create, to engage, to live truly actively are consequently crippled. So here’s my theory: the nature of love is such that when our thoughts gather about the person we love, those diligent, parasitic anxieties relentlessly enervating body and mind suddenly recede into the oblivion of our apathy. We feel stronger and more alive, and in each of us the compulsion to gleefully cast oneself naked of defenses into life is given a new birth.