12 SEPTEMBER 1963, Page 10

The Total Passion

By COLIN MACINNES TN an age of increasing 'sophistication' and 'commercial debasement of emotion, there are splendid words that the sensitive avoid using • through embarrassment; and of these the most devalued word of all is love. So that if one says, today, 'I am in love with her (or him),' one does so almost with a blush, smirk, or a defensive leer, as if admitting to something quite incredible or, at best, spuriously sentimental. And yet the sensation is as real, and as powerful, as ever.

The word is used in many contexts, and is only definable adequately by its effects: that is to say, an abstract definition is almost meaning- less, but, quite' the contrary, an evocation of the consequences of feeling love. And of all the senses in which the term is used—love of a person, of family, of God, or of mankind—these -consequences are best known to most of us, and the most startling, when the love of another person is involved.

Some characteristics of the feeling are as follows: 1. Love is unexpected. Thus, say what any long-affianced couple may, I do not believe their love can have the, thunderbolt quality of the real thing.

2. Love is, with someone • unknown, or not known for long. It is the surprise of the en- counter that adds to the effect—its total unpre- dictability.

3. Love must have a sexual. basis, whatever other feelings it may involve. Thus, the three other kinds of love described above are not so in this sense, though there is a strong sexual element in family, and in mystical religious, love.

4.- Love is essentially a discovery not of the beloved, but of oneself. One may imagine it is the adored who is adored; but it is because he, or she, reveals the adorer to himself, and heightens his own self-awareness, that he loves.

5. Time is the enemy of love: it can never last for long. This sharpens its drama and augments its agony. The true love that turns to affection and esteem is no longer love.

6. Love is agonising in the sense that to be in love is a perpetual torment, but to be out of it (having once been in it) is to feel one is only half alive.

What, roughly, happens? Petrarch meets Laura at, say, a party; or, more usually, at a more lengthy and intimate gathering given by friends, for crowded parties are a great enemy of love, though a firm friend of mere 'affairs.' Petrarch, for peihops twenty-four hours, or at the most a week, w ill think quite calmly and agreeably about Laura, till, hey presto!, a thought, a scent, a sound, or a visual image (even in her absence) will suddenly assault him like a sledge-hammer And he will know, beyond possibility of doubt, hat Latira is, always was, and for ever will be, he unique human creature intended for, and Already belonging to, his infatuated self.

Now, though there are said to be cases of unrequited passion (and this does exist in purely physical desire, which is far from being the whole 3f love), there is a chemistry of love whereby Laura will recognise Petrarch as instantly as he as her (if not, indeed, she being a woman, some .ime before). But Laura may belong to another —and so, indeed, may Petrarch. Yet this makes no difference whatever to their emotion. For 'love is which means many things, means also that it is ruthless, and blind totally to con- . sequences. Love, in its essence; is amoral. The participants, of course, may:have moral or social instincts that inhibit their desire to make their lovg entire; but the emotion itself will not thereby be altered in the slightest.

At this point we may ask how -true it is that. 'all the world loves a lover.' In my belief this wise saw and modern instance, like most of such, is not true at all; since popular proverbs are devised by folk-wisdom—or, smugness—not to reveal truth, but to comfort the conventional. Those who are themselves lovers will- not hate the lover, but feel mild sensations of benevolence, as for fellow members of a freemasonry. But those who are not lovers will feel envy and resentment towards those who are: they will be vexed they do not share their joys, and will wait hopefully for their almost .certain down- fall. 'All the world loves a lover who, is impreg- nable, and therefore no longer a lover,' would be a realistic gloss on this old text.

So Petrarch now courts Laura, and so, of course, does she him. Instantly each is possessed by an abominable ingenuity, both towards the other and the outside world. Towards the world, they are immediately dowered with a profound -in- • stinct for deception; for, knowing the world is hostile to their love, yet knowing also that their active instinct to protect it is far stronger than even the world's causal malice, they will develop, overnight, to guard their shared secret, the wisdom of serpents and the apparent innocence of doves. Towards each other, they will be franker than either will ever be. to anyone ever again—yet also more secretive, 'since they know profoundly they must hide absolutely any fact, of present character or past history about them- selves, that might put their love in danger even for a second.

Each aspect of the other will become invested with a magic. Laura's behind is rather, big? How beautiful, in Petrarch's eyes, will sumptuous behinds be—however little he cared for such before he suddenly found Laura. And Petrarch may snore? How sonorous his snores are . . . how endearing of him that he. should thus lay himself tenderly open, next morning, to Laura's affectionate rebuke! • Laura writes letters and so does Petrarch. The thrilling moment is the receipt of these, cherished missives, rather than the actual reading of them. There, among squalid bills, and dull letters from friends (and even former lovers), lies this one envelope with its inspired, miraculous hand- writing! Of these letters, he or she will read first the start and finish: both for the proof that love still burns, and there is no serious rebuke (the opening), as well as 'for the assurance that all is well, and nothing has been discovered (the closing of the letter). Love gives, even to the tongue-tied or illiterate, an extraordinary episto- lary eloquence. He who would ordinarily find difficulty in penning even a half-sheet becomes, when in love, possessed by the gift of tongues: the secret of the effect being that anything the lover writes is heartfelt, and anything the loved one reads seems glorious. Love gives to any words an alchemy: no thought is banal, no expression of it trite, no news whatever without immense significance.

At this point, again, we may pause, to reflect on the immense difference the telephone has made in the conduct of love affairs: it has, indeed, almost banished the letter—which is a pity,, since even tape-recordings, tied with blue ribbon are ,not quite the same kind of memento as are, envelopes and letters. The chief differences this gadget makes are the possibility of imme- diate communication, ,and the greatly extended duration of erotic converse, when apart. And . even in cases where the love is watched anxiously by jealous eyes—and possibly two pairs of them . —with a little ingenuity (as by using call-boxes) it is possible to exchange thoughts in secret to a degree that the always compromising letter made impossible. Dangers can also be averted by this medium ('Honey! I left my umbrella at your flat! Please throw it out of the window —quick!'). And since meetings are the prime ob- jeet of all lovers always, the telephone can greatly assist in arranging these discreetly.

As to where meetings can take place—if we suppose the love affair to be inhibited by discretion on both sides—the alternatives open to the lovers are far wider than they were even fifty years ago. My own dear father, for example, of whom his future parentsln-law disapproved (correctly), was obliged to court my mother clandestinely in the Brompton Cemetery. The chief trouble was, in those days, that there were so few places where an unaccompanied woman could go alone—for no woman can be certain that a man, whatever he may promise, will arrive first at the chOsen destination to hold the fort until she herself appears. Even so, it is surprising to discover, in 1963, that the really convenient, unembarrassing places to meet in entire intimacy are still relatively rare. (This is one of the many things one discovers only when one is in love.) For though there are so many discreet and handy spots for an encounter, very few of these are such as will leave the lovers entirely to themselves. And as soon as one seeks for one that does, obstacles rear their ugly unforeseen heads at once. A hotel? They keep records. A friend's flat? The friend is then privy to your secret. The country? But one cannot continually, nor conveniently, make love in fields. Alas, one must admit that, as in so many areas of our lives, the possession of money is an enormous help here: the- decorous pied-a-terre, for instance, which our great-uncles so often used, is still a much to be prized, if costly, convenience.

Meetings, however delicious, provide, as it happens, the main woe of love affairs. It would seem there is a law devised by Venus whereby, in any successful adoration, the most carefully made arrangements for assignments must so often go awry! What man has not waited, racked by jealously fearful pangs, long past the hour she promised she'd be there? What woman like- wise—knowing full well the fickleness of man— has not similarly burned with anguish? Yet which of :us has not known, that most delicious of moments when, despairing bitterly of the be- loved'S ever appearing, he suddenly shows up ivith' a perfectly legitimate exCiise?.

Another change in the conduct of love (but not in its essence) in the past fifty years is that the idea Of 'separation has lost 'moth of its terror. True, if the loved one is in Australia, and you are in Huddersfield, intimate communica- tion may seem frustrated: Yet giVen courage (and: once again, money), it is possible, at any rate, to reach anyone almost anywhere, whereas in the past a farewell was a real farewell, and often irreVcicable. This convenience, of course, has had the effect of diminishing the agonising joy in the very prentiousness of love—,-and also, 'incidentally, 'of' Making 'splendid words `Adieu!' or `Farewell!' less' meaningful. One 'caniuit 'say "'farewell' with the same conviction if one 'possesses the means to bujr a Pad-Am tieket,` as one could at the dockside as the big ship' sailed off' for ever to Sitez and Madras. Let 1.1S. pauSe here to consider the other types of loVe; and see how they differ froni the total passion we have been trying to evoke. `I love my friend' is, I believe, strictly meaningless: for What one feels, surely, is an immense affection —perhaps' as 'deep as true love, and certainly more lasting-=but never that kind of electric fervour—wild, irresponsible,' yet totally com- mitted—that the lover feels. Even the phrase 'I love my "wife for husband)' means, I believe, something entirely different.. Couples can cer- tainly be in love, in our sense, at the beginning of their marriage; but since its impermanence is a very condition of obiessive love, althoUgh the love-in-marriage may be finer and more en- during, it 'cannot qualify as being a grand passion.

'I love My'ohildren'? This, as a matter of fact, can collie closer in spirit to the real thing, since there is a strong erotic.eletnent in parental love (and vice versa); and it can also share with pas- sionate love the characteristics of jealousy, anxiety, possessiveness and infatuation. Yet since —manifestly—the love for a child cannot be con- summated erotically, it remains a splendid love of a very different kind.

' The love Of God, in its true sense (that of giving), is surely a profounder and more all-con- suming passion even than the love for any human person; and as I have said, in mystical and even monastic love, a powerfully erotic element is preSent. Btit Over the love of God there hangs no threat of human tragedy: although human life is tragic, it is precikely to escape from its human limitations in time and space that the lover of God directs his worship to the throne of the Almighty. This is, of course, something so different from the love of a person fixed in time (its prime condition, in fact) that the word `love,' in this case,. clea'rly carries an entirely special meaning.

`Love of mankind'? Though the notion that this is widespread is generally believed—and though a lot of persons credit themselves with feeling it—I am myself extremely sceptical of its being any kind of reality, save in the rarest and finest of human beings. One must, after all, if one comes to think of it, be a very fine kind of man or woman to be able to `love mankind.' What most of us mean by this is a generally " diffused, sentimental (and irresponsible) benevo- lence, or else by 'mankind' we mean our own kind of mankind. At all events, save in unusual cases I think the word love' is misused altogether here. At best, the sentiment can only involve toleration, acceptance, refusal to be prejudiced—all excellent, if minor, virtues, and certainly devoid of ,the element of involvement that is inescapable when' one considers the word `love.'

The popular illusions about this kind 'of love may even lead one to question whether human love, as I have described it, is not purely a subjective feeling—which, in many civilised countries and for many centuries, may seem not to have existed at all. Of course, the instant reply to this comes from the 'voice of one's own ex- perience: surely, one painfully reflects, the pangs and ecstasies I endured could not have been unreal! Yet is loVe' as we Western Europeans understand it perhaps not an invention of the troubadours and romantics, who have convinced us that we ought to feel what, without them, we would not have done? What of cultures, par- ticularly in the Orient, where marriages are arranged, and where—outside the brothel—there are no 'love affairs' at 'all? And what is one to reply to those who, even in Western Europe, and appearing to be in every way normal, assure us—and they are, I think, many—that they have never experienced passionate love at all? And what can we answer to any who agree with us that 'love affairs' (in the sexual sense) un- doubtedly exist—an entire physical attraction— but that the love in which every fragment of the human person seems involved is no more than an illusion? And what rejoinder may we give to the homosexual who assures us that a total passion is by no means confined to men and women? Possibly, in the last case, concede his point; but the 'others do require a fuller answer.

And when we look to literature for texts to support our affirmation that the grand passion does exist, we may find that the confirmation given by writers is often a dubious one. Cer- tainly, there is a profusion of 'love' poetry, but is not the vast majority of this narcissistic—the poet in love with himself, and the idea of love, rather than truly with an object of his desire? And if we consider the drama, it really is striking how little is the part the love of person for person plays in it. One may think at once of 'Oh, Mr. President, sir . . .!' Shakespeare, and certainly the sonnets lend powerful support, but in general I think it will be found that while animal sexual love, and love of friends, and love of family, and love of coun- try (or the converse of all these) do play an enormous part in his creations, the illustrations of total passion of a man for a woman are on the whole exceptional. Romeo and Juliet? But was this not emotive, and not yet enno- tional-sexual? Othello and Desdemona? But can Othello really be said to have loved Desdemona in this sense, since' he seemed unaware of any- thing about her save for his own illusions? Orlando-Rosalind, or • the Duke-Viola-Olivia? But are these not basically bisexual love affairs, not the unique man-woman obsessidn? And if one thinks of an even greater dramatist (not poet), Moliere, apart from dowries and 'intrigues,' the element of true love is almost lacking altogether.

The novelists are not much more helpful. How often they speak of the love one character bears for another ... yet how rarely do they make us feel it! Did Emma Bovary, or Marcel Proust's `I,' ever love anybody but themselves? Who are the great lovers of English fiction? Who in Swift, Defoe or Dickens, to name our greatdst novelists, or even in Jane Austen, to name a lesser one? Do any of these writers convince us they had experienced love, as opposed to love affairs, unrequited passions; sentimental unions or, in the case of Jane Austen, maidenly pavanes brilliantly described, but observed •from the out- side? Does anybody at all believe in Hcathcliff? Truth to tell, the only three novels I can think of in which the total passion springs com- pellingly to life are Manon Lescaut, Carmen (the book, not the libretto) and Colette's Le Bre en Herbe.

All the same, this passion does, I think, exist, and any one of us may any day become its victim. Age is no barrier nor safeguard:' 'though perhaps the teens and forties are the most perilous periods—in the first because one is in love with everybody, in the second because one may make the fatal mistake of believing love is no longer possible, and thus be doubly vul- nerable. It is truly a miraculous experience— but perhaps one best savoured when looking forward to, or back upon, it. At the time, one can scarcely be said to live one's own life at all, but somebody else's: or almost a third person's—not one's own, not the beloved's, but that of oneself-in-love, a creature possessed by a vast hallucination.

And yet, when at last one falls out of love, what loss there is! It is like emerging from the salt sea to the shore: in the sea one had to swim hard to keep afloat, but how much more splendid was that unexpected buoyancy! And how far preferable to the tread of familiar feet on the hot, heavy, tedious sands! And if Laura, love fled, now seems less astonishing to Petrarch, time can never remove from him, nor her, the recollection of their golden moments, nor the faith that they may come elsewhere again; for it was a time when life had meaning in itself, by the very fact of being, and no meaning for it needed to be sought in art, philosophy or even religion, since to be in love was to be, in one's own life, for a brief illusory spell, an artist, and a philosopher, and almost a deity.