June 16th, 2006

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The Compositional Semantics, Zen, and Metaphorical Exploration of Love

Rosencrantz: Do you think Death could possibly be a boat?
Guildenstern: No, no, no... Death is "not." Death isn't. Take my meaning? Death is the ultimate negative. Not-being. You can't not be on a boat.
Rosencrantz: I've frequently not been on boats.
Guildenstern: No, no... What you've been is not on boats.

We all know that love has a million definitions. These different meanings are often a source of constant disappointment and grief as we come to learn that perhaps all love is unrequited. But perhaps not for any reason that is a big deal. All love is unrequited because all specific instances of love are unique. Love is a vessel that we pour meaning into and what each of us pours into each vessel is unique. There is no equal trade in love, but the inequality does not mean an inequity. There is no loser in the exchange. The economy of love is not a zero sum game. So all love is unrequited only in the most vacuously true sense, better to unask the proposition of return on investment than to try to evaluate it. Note to self, read up on the Christian theological concept of the Economy of Grace (thanks logodaedaly).

But that's not what I logged in to write about. I want to write about the paradoxical ways we modify the word love to usefully constrain its infinite potential meaning.

One can feel love. This typically is a passive abstract state of being, despite the fact that to feel an object is an extremely active concrete tactile experience.

There is "love" and there is "in love". Love is a thing we can point to and talk about and describe. "in love" is a place, a state of being surrounded by a substance, an immersion, an environment. You can't describe "in love" any more than you can describe "towards the tree". You need to attach a verb to give it meaning and then it isn't an object, it's an action, it takes place in time.

One can fall in love. This is a moment of transition. Many people desire to fall in love. Falling usually leads to something you have to climb out of. It doesn't take any energy to fall, it takes energy to deal with the consequences of the fall. We often can't control when we fall or why we fall. Falling happens to us. Only after we fall can we take control and do something about it.

"Jump off a cliff and build your wings on the way down." (Ray Bradbury)

One can be in love. This is the most interesting process of all. Being is usually the ultimate passive experience. "To Be" is the word we use when we don't have a verb, when no action is occuring, but syntax requires a verb anyway. But Being In Love is a process of active engagement. Being In Love is something that lovers DO. Being in Love is like Just Sitting in Zen. If death is the ultimate not-being, then perhaps we should say "I live in love", much as we say "I live in Chicago". "In" implies a location. Living in Chicago is not a passive experience, it is a process of daily engagement. You can't not be in Chicago (though you may have been not in Chicago).

If jumping/falling off the cliff is falling in love, and successfully building your wings is being in love...what is it to fail to build the wings? The wings are key to understanding why it is not bad to fall in love. You have to fall before you can fly. Falling in love does not imply hitting the bottom...though I guess if you're really planning ahead you put a nice cushy net down there...or a trampoline.

Or perhaps we have all the time in the world to build those wings. Perhaps there is no cliff, no ravine, no bottom. Perhaps in life we are falling or we are flying. The falling is NOT "to fall in love"...because "to fall in love" is the transition from flight to falling. Falling in love knocks us out of control. To be falling is to be out of control. To be flying is to have a handle on things. We may be flying whether we're in love or not. We may be falling whether we're in love or not. But when we "fall in love" we are surely knocked out of the air. Sometimes freefall is exhilarating. Sometimes it's terrifying. Some people get addicted to it. Some people avoid it. Other's simply experience it. No matter what, the first obligation of a faller is to build wings. Those wings may be made of "being in love" or they may be made of something else entirely.

There is "to love" and there is "to be in love". To love is to feel the emotion, to have the experience of that object that can be pointed to and described. "To be in love" is to live in a place, to be immersed in a substance.

"It isn't just that I love her, it's that I am in love with her." "In" isn't the only important word there. "Am" is equally important. Love has gone from feeling to location and now the action is existence, the action is living in that place. "I've frequently not been in love." "No what you've frequently been is not in love." Existence is assumed but too often forgotten. We lose sight of our active role in the process of being, the action of being in love.

There is "I am in love" and there is "I am in love with Bob". It is interesting that to be in love with someone does not require them to be in love with you. It is not "(I am in love) with Bob" but rather "I am in (love with Bob)". Bob's process of existence is the source of the love that I am immersed in; Bob and love are the same thing and that thing is the place that I live in.

There is "Alice and I are in love." We both live in a place called love. But the place I live is (love with Alice) and the place she lives is (love with me). We are not living in the same place (all love is unrequited) and that is a good thing. It's no good to have source and sink overlapping. I am immersed in the source that is love/Alice, she is immersed in the source that is love/me. "Love" is a placeholder for the places that we have to discover, build, and inhabit. "Love" is a name for a kind of wing that we might build. "Being in love" is the process of flapping the wings. Don't stop flapping or you might cease to be.