An Ethics of Love – Overture

AN ETHICS OF LOVE

Overture

In place of a conclusion: an overture. Indeed: would separation, the death of love, be the necessary conclusion of love? Is love bound to follow the path of deceit, solitude and separation that we have drawn here? That this is a pessimistic message should not be the criterion to reject it. The question is whether this discourse represents at least partially the reality that surrounds us. Arguably, it does. But there would be much more. There could be much more. Love can take other forms. Love can, certainly, emerge out of scenarios distinct from those presented here. Love can stem long after the initial epistemological encounter, for instance. But love can also remain, unlike what we argued, more an epistemological enigma than an ontological one, for instance when lovers are separated by a long distance. There, what I know of the loved Other, that is, my thoughts obsessed by her as a cognized object, prevail over my awe at her existence. And there are yet other scenarios. If Levinas missed parts of the picture by making of love a fecundity-to-be, we, too, failed in acknowledging a genuine plurality of love trajectories. Separation, for instance, can lead to other outcomes. Our analysis presupposed the solitary climate of Levinas’s thought. There, the breakup would be a final lesson, almost a punishing slap to the naïve subject who once hoped to transcend his own self. Seeing love this way is still applying, at once, a teleological format, and a metaphysics of presence: it is seeing the breakup as the final word of a relationship, and it is setting this eternal state through a generalization of the reality of the breakup in the present. Following Levinas’s own words on time, 1 one must also acknowledge that time is the medium of the unexpected, of the surprise, of what can transcend my understanding of life. We cannot say that love is the universal impossibility of a relation with the Other as Other; we can never claim to know the possible, future evolutions of love. Judging love is always a hasty project.

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This acuity misses precisely what lacks the appearance of a singularity: the everydayness of love. Because love is not only either the intense impression or illusion of oneness with the other, or, inversely, the strong sense of separation expressed by the breakup. It is also the simplicity of a casual discussion on a movie, of a meal shared in silence, of a walk in a park.

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But finally, all these regretted omissions still leave a veil on the most fundamental aspect of love relationships. In the ambition of his philosophical project, Levinas is still preoccupied with universal and final statements as to what makes love. He wants to evaluate the actual condition of the self-Other relationship, at each time and in general. To do so, he looks at major events of the relationship: the encounter, fecundity, etc. We also followed the same attention towards events, with the breakup, for instance. But this acuity misses precisely what lacks the appearance of a singularity: the everydayness of love. Because love is not only either the intense impression or illusion of oneness with the other, or, inversely, the strong sense of separation expressed by the breakup. It is also the simplicity of a casual discussion on a movie, of a meal shared in silence, of a walk in a park. There, undeniably, the Other and the Same cohabit: I am me, and she is her, and for once, for a few minutes, a few hours, the Otherness of the world, the ultimate problem of western philosophy, disappears. This, Levinas missed. And this is why, in a final twist in the plot, love, an inhabited love, a cohabited love, could perhaps be the ideal locus of my encounter of the Other.

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References

Image courtesy: Afremov Art Studio

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Footnotes

  1. See for instance Emmanuel Levinas, Time and the Other, trans. Richard A. Cohen (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1987), 76.